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How Coca-Cola's Deal With Green Mountain Shakes Up the Nonalcoholic Beverage Industry

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Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) sent shock waves through the nonalcoholic beverage industry when it announced a partnership with and 10% stake in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR  ) . The deal has implications for the future of beverage distribution and may lead to a similar deal between PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) and SodaStream (NASDAQ: SODA  ) .

What the deal means for Green Mountain and Coca-Cola
Although details of the deal were not released, the gist of the arrangement is that Coca-Cola's beverages will be available on Green Mountain's forthcoming Keurig Cold beverage system. In addition, Coca-Cola will purchase a 10% stake in Green Mountain for $1.2 billion, or $74.98 per share.

The deal is unquestionably good for Green Mountain, which needs to partner with established brands to offer a variety of beverages for its next-generation brewer systems. It is not yet known which brands will be offered on the Keurig Cold brewer, but with a lineup that includes Coke, Sprite, Fanta, and Minute Maid, Coca-Cola's brand portfolio legitimizes the new system.

In addition, Coca-Cola's equity stake provides investors with much-needed confidence in Green Mountain's fundamentals and outlook. The Securities and Exchange Commission has been investigating the company's accounting practices since September 2010.

In addition, the extent of the at-home brewing market opportunity is not yet clear. However, Coca-Cola's investment -- presumably made after conducting thorough due diligence and market research -- put investors' concerns at ease; Green Mountain's stock price is up more than 33% since the deal was announced.

Coca-Cola may not benefit from the deal as much as Green Mountain. Although the beverage maker needs to find ways to sell more carbonated soft drinks to American consumers, the at-home brewing channel is probably not a game changer for the company. Consumers may not be excited about paying, say, $150 for another brewer that makes beverages that are already available in inexpensive ready-to-drink forms. One analyst estimates that Coca-Cola's annual sales through Keurig Cold might reach $500 million, a paltry sum compared to its $48 billion in overall revenue.

Moreover, the move may strain Coca-Cola's ties with its bottling partners. Most of Coca-Cola's beverages are bottled and distributed through third parties that, in many cases, rely on Coca-Cola for all of their revenue. The bottlers will not be pleased that Coca-Cola is developing a channel that bypasses bottlers altogether, and continuing efforts to bypass bottlers could make it more difficult for Coca-Cola to maintain or expand its bottling and distribution network.

Why PepsiCo could link up with SodaStream
Although Coca-Cola's deal with Green Mountain has limited upside and possible downside, PepsiCo may be interested in doing a similar deal with SodaStream. In mid-2013, a rumor that PepsiCo would buy SodaStream for $2 billion was circulated by an Israeli newspaper, but PepsiCo denied it. After the Coca-Cola-Green Mountain partnership -- and with SodaStream trading near its 52-week low -- PepsiCo may entertain a similar deal with the at-home carbonated-beverage company.

SodaStream, which will directly compete with Keurig Cold when the new brewer is released, is now in a tough bargaining position. SodaStream needs a brand partner to help it counter the Keurig Cold offering, and PepsiCo is a natural fit. Moreover, PepsiCo may want to enter the at-home channel just in case it grows larger than anticipated. Since SodaStream is desperate for a deal, PepsiCo can extract concessions that it would not have been able to receive in mid-2013.

In addition, Coca-Cola is unlikely to undercut its bottlers by selling drinks in pods at a lower price than those in cans. As a result, PepsiCo can enter the space knowing that a price war is unlikely to ensue. Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog says pod margins are higher than those of canned beverages, reinforcing PepsiCo's incentive to follow its largest competitor into the market.

Foolish takeaway
Nobody knows the ultimate potential of the at-home carbonated-beverage business, but Coca-Cola's investment in the channel is going to help us find out. The company's deal with Green Mountain unquestionably benefits the maker of Keurig brewers, but it also provides a new channel for Coca-Cola to distribute its products in a difficult market.

Since Coca-Cola and Green Mountain both derive benefits from their partnership, PepsiCo and SodaStream may link up to do something similar if for no other reason than to avoid getting left behind by key competitors.

When partnerships are made to the benefit of both companies -- as is the case here -- all shareholders win.

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Ted Cooper

Ted Cooper is a value investor based in Texas. He does not ride a horse to work.

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9/1/2015 4:00 PM
GMCR $55.10 Down -1.50 -2.65%
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SODA $14.37 Down -0.87 -5.71%
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