ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Nov. 30 -- U.S. soft drink giant Coca- Cola opened its second Russian bottling plant in St. Petersburg Thursday, using the occasion to announce it was doubling its investment in the country over the next two years. 'This plant represents a major commitment by Coca-Cola to the soft drink industry in St. Petersburg,' said M. Douglas Ivester, Coca-Cola's president and chief operating officer. 'We plan very soon to be Russia's leading soft drink.' Speaking in Russia's second largest city, Ivester also announced company plans to increase its current $250 million investment in Russia to $500 million by the end of 1997. 'We have built this plant here not as a means to build a business here locally, but to serve and develop the business we already have,' Ivester said. 'Today Coca-Cola is a part of St. Petersburg and Russia, just as it is a part of Sydney, London and Atlanta.' The $40 million plant supplements the existing, fully-owned bottling plant in Moscow where Coca-Cola is set to open a major expansion Friday. In addition, 10 Russian factories across the country produce Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite. A two-story high inflated Coke bottle stands at the entrance to the St. Petersburg plant, which will churn out 19,000, 2-liter bottles per hour and nearly 30 million annually. Assembly lines will bottle and label Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta and BonAqua in half-liter and 2-liter bottles for distribution to nine million potential customers across northwest Russia. Although more than two decades behind Pepsi, a major soft drink competitor also active in Russia, Coca-Cola has quickly caught up with its rival, and narrowed what was once a 2-1 sales gap.
Coke sales in Russia doubled between 1991 and 1993, and again during 1994. St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak welcomed the new plant, which will employ 300, as a boost to the local economy and jobs market. 'The construction of this facility will create an impulse for other international companies coming into St. Petersburg,' he said. 'I personally prefer to see a factory here in the city producing non- alcoholic drinks instead of rockets or vodka.' Sobchak said his city planned to transform undeveloped land near Pulkovo airport into a commercial zone, where a Wrigley's chewing gum plant and a supermarket are planned. While Coca-Cola flags and banners were lined along streets of the pre-revolutionary capital Thursday, some residents said a display of Coke flags on the granite obelisk that honors the 900-day siege of Leningrad in World War II, was insulting.