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Winona Coca-Cola bottling company ends returnable glass bottle production

By Pauleen Le, ple@wkbt.com
Published On: Oct 09 2012 07:11:22 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 10 2012 10:37:33 PM CDT

WINONA, Minn. -- Tuesday marked the end of an era for the Winona Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

After 80 years of filling 6 and a half ounce returnable glass bottles, the last one passed through the conveyer belt.

The Winona Coca-Cola bottling company is actually the last bottler in the U.S. to carry the 6 and a half ounce glass bottles.

While this may be the end of the assembly line for these returnable glass bottles, it won't be the end of spreading happiness through one of the world's most loved soft drinks.

“This bottle is the original bottle of Coca-Cola,” said Clint Kuhlman, owner and president of the Winona Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

For 8 decades Clint Kuhlman and his family owned coca-cola bottling company in Winona has been filling millions of the shiny glass bottle with sweet bubbly goodness, and sharing it with the community.

“I started working in this business in 1948,” said Kuhlman. “I've seen a lot of packages come and go in my time here. We did 16-ounce coke [and] 32 ounce-coke. Those packages have gone by the wayside.”

Now it's the end of the line for another iconic package, the 6 and a half ounce returnable glass bottles.

“It's kind of a sad day to see it come to an end,” said Kuhlman.

A bitter sweet day at the company, but one Kuhlman's son in law and general manager, LeRoy Telstad said they've been preparing for, for a while.

“It's a celebration, and it's something that even though we expected this to happen at some point in time, we're ready for the change, and that's part of living positively,” said Telstad.

Telstad said while the glass bottles was a unique part of the business, they were also the smallest part of the business, only accounting for about two percent of the profits.

And the advantage of keeping them around was fizzling out.

“The industry standards that are most current and that are coming up in the future just go beyond of the design of this equipment,” said Telstad. “To replace it or to upgrade it would not be a good business decision.”

So Tuesday, as dozens of fans and coke connoisseurs from across the country gathered at the company to capture the historic end of an era, the Kuhlman and Telstad said while this liquid happiness will no longer come in a glass bottle, it will still be spread throughout the community, just packaged a little differently.

“Everything has moved to aluminum and plastic bottles,” said Kuhlman.

“We have four counties and 90,000 people to satisfy thirst with, and we'll continue to do that,” said Telstad.

The company will still stay in business producing its many other soft drink products, including Coca-Cola. It will just be in aluminum can and plastic bottle form.

The very last glass bottle filled will be displayed at the World of Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta Georgia.

About 6,000 commemorative glass bottles were filled Tuesday.

The bottles will be on sale starting next week.All of the proceeds will go towards the Lake Winona Pedestrian and Bicycle Path Restoration Project.

For more information head to cocacolawinona.wordpress.com.

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