The sacking of senior managers at Equator’s Bottlers Company in Kisumu has raised fears that the company might shut down any time.
Among those sacked were former CEO Enrique Huertha, human resource manager John Karari, sales director Daniel Koech and credit controller Eugene Mathenge.
Former managing director Wilson Daley resigned early this year. Five employees who were sacked have won their cases and are set to receive compensation.
But the company’s credit controller Julius Gicheha, in a replying affidavit filed in court denied the claims.
He acknowledged that Equator Bottlers Limited was acquired by Coca Cola Beverages Africa in 2017 and is now a subsidiary of the company.
Gicheha said CCBA will continue its operations in Kenya, saying there were no plans to close down. He denied the company was experiencing financial difficulties.
Meanwhile, workers are anxious following claims the company might be shut down because of fraud and several labour-related cases.
Sources last week told Weekly Citizen that the firm’s owners were mulling over closure due to the many petitions.
“We fear the company could be relocated to another country. It is currently facing many suits,” a worker who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation said.
Equator Bottlers employs thousands either directly and indirectly. Residents fear many people could lose their jobs.
A staffer, who asked not to be named said the livelihoods of many people would be affected if the company is closed.
The company which was bought two years ago by the CCBA has since moved top managers to the head office in Nairobi.
“Some of the top managers have been sacked. Others resigned immediately the management was relocated to Nairobi,” a source said.
In 2017, Huguet said in an internal announcement that CCBA had reached a deal for a share purchase of the franchise.
Equator Bottlers established in 1966 as a franchise of Coca-Cola, bottles and distributes Coca-Cola’s range of soft drinks in seven counties in western Kenya.
The counties include Kakamega, Busia, Siaya, Vihiga, Bomet, Kericho and Kisumu. It has 20,000 outlets serving an estimated 6.5 million consumers.
The firm is at the moment locked up in legal battles with various parties over fraud related activities.
Three years ago, CCBA acquired the Kisumu based firm in one of the biggest buyouts in corporate Kenya in recent history.
CCBA, Africa’s largest Coca-Cola bottler then announced it had bought the entire 100pc in Equator Bottlers, a franchise bottler of the Coca Cola Company.
Equator Bottlers CEO said in an internal announcement then that CCBA had reached a deal for a share purchase of the franchise, though the transnational was still undergoing regulatory approval.
“CCBA through its subsidiary has entered into a share purchase agreement with the company’s shareholders for the purchase of all shares in the company,” said Huguetto in a staff memo then. “The proposed transaction will not be completed until various conditions in the agreement are satisfied, including approvals from the regulators.”
Equator Bottlers was established in 1966 as a franchise of Coca-Cola.
It produces the returnable glass bottles of sizes 200ml, 300ml, 500ml and one litre and distributes other outsourced alternative beverages in cans 330ml and non-returnable PET Dasani, Minute Maid and other carbonated soft drinks.
The buyout set the ground for a restructuring at the lakeside plant, which could see some staff being laid off under the new management.
Coca Cola Beverages Africa was formed less than two years ago through the combination of African non-alcoholic ready-to-drink bottling interests of SABMiller plc, the Coca-Cola Company, and Gutsche Family Investments. CCBA currently produces and distributes about 40pc of all Coca-Cola beverage volumes in Africa and is the 10th largest Coca-Cola bottler worldwide.
In Kenya, Coca-Cola in 2014 acquired Keringet water, a product of Crown Beverages, a subsidiary of South African beer maker SABMiller for Sh23.4 billion. The deal involved Coca-Cola acquiring rights to SABMiller’s 19 non-alcoholic brands in Africa including the brewer’s flagship Appletiser brand. SABMiIller had acquired Crown Beverages in 2011.
In 2013 Equator Bottlers Limited was awarded by the Coca-Cola Central, East and West Africa as the fastest growing bottling partner. Its Sh130 million pet (plastic) line was commissioned in November 2014 and has a capacity of 30,000 bottling per hour.
The first expansion was carried out in early 2011 which involved relocating from the plant’s site at Kisumu’s Central Business District to a new state-of-the-art production plant on Nkrumah Road, located near the airport.
Bitter memories still linger in the minds of Kisumu residents when Kisumu Breweries was about to close down.
Most of its managers were sent to Nairobi before hundreds of workers were eventually retrenched.
The giant brewery is slowly coming back to the lakeside city after numerous calls by locals that it should return.
Uhuru Kenya is scheduled to official open the Kisumu Brewery soon.