Coke ships first drinks to Myanmar in decades

Bottles of Coca-Cola are seen at the Swire Coca-Cola facility in Draper, Utah March 9, 2011. REUTERS/George Frey

(Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co said on Monday that it had shipped drinks to customers in Myanmar, its first delivery to the southeast Asian country in more than 60 years.

Following the lifting of U.S. sanctions against the country, formerly known as Burma, Coke is working with local company Pinya Manufacturing Co to have Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light and Sprite distributed throughout the country.

Rival PepsiCo Inc said last month that it had arranged to sell some of its drinks in Myanmar, setting the stage for an intense rivalry between the soft drink giants as they jostle for share in a consumer market just emerging from decades of isolation under military rule.

Coke, the world’s largest soft drink maker, is working toward establishing a bottling entity in the country with Pinya and intends to start local production as soon as possible, it said.

In June, Coke announced a $3 million grant from its charitable foundation to a non-governmental organization to support women’s economic empowerment and job creation throughout Myanmar.

According to a September 6 statement on the website of Myanmar President Thein Sein, Coca-Cola is projected to invest $100 million in Myanmar over the next three years, creating jobs for nearly 2,000 local people.

The statement cited David Carden, U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the U.S. ASEAN Eminent Persons Group, formed by U.S. President Barack Obama and the 10 ASEAN heads of state.

A Coke spokesman declined to confirm the projection, saying it was still too early to say exactly how much the company would spend in Myanmar. He did say the plan is to invest “significant capital” there over the coming years.

Coke shares were down 17 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $37.73 on the New York Stock Exchange in morning trade.

Reporting By Martinne Geller in New York; Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, John Wallace