In Winona, it's the end of the line for Coca-Cola's returnable bottles

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2012 - 8:17 PM
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, photo, Darvin Peterson loads glass bottles into a washer before they are filled up for the last time at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Winona, Minn. Nearly 6,000 6.5-ounce returnable glass bottles were filled for the last time after 80 years of production.

Photo: Andrew Link, Associated Press - Ap

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Coca-Cola's small-size soda has been downsized, permanently.

An independent bottling company in Winona, Minn., discontinued the 6.5-ounce sodas that came in a returnable bottle this week after saying it would be too costly to replace the aging production line.

The iconic green glass bottle was the last returnable Coke bottle in the United States. Buyers paid an extra 20 cents per bottle as a deposit and could return the bottle and get a refund of the 20 cents, but only in four counties -- Winona and Wabasha in Minnesota and Buffalo and Trempealeau in Wisconsin. No Twin Cities dealers sold the returnable Coke product.

The plant distributed 422,000 cases of Coca-Cola products in 2011. The returnable bottles represented about 2 percent of the total, or about 10,000 cases of 24 bottles each.

Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, still sells Coke in 8-ounce glass recyclable bottles, but the beverage company's returnables are now defunct.

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Winona, which has been distributing the bottles since 1932, employs 14 full-timers and a few part-timers and will remain open, said LeRoy Telstad, vice president and general manager at the plant.

Other sizes also discontinued

Employees used to distribute a returnable 10-ounce and 16-ounce bottle too, but both of those sizes in the glass returnable bottles were discontinued earlier this year. The bottling company still distributes other Coca-Cola products, including Powerade and other energy drinks.

The returnable bottles haven't been produced since about 1990. A final commemorative run of about 5,900 6.5-ounce bottles from the 1940s and 1950s will be sold for $20 per bottle plus shipping and handling as well as being sold at the plant at 8 a.m. Monday.

Each bottle has embossed lettering (no color applied), a red and white hang tag, and has been in circulation for decades. Proceeds will go toward the renovation and expansion of the bike and pedestrian path that circles Lake Winona.

"We wanted to give back to the community to commemorate that era," said Telstad.

Details on ordering will be posted at cocacolawinona. wordpress.com.

At an auction for executives, distributors and Coke enthusiasts earlier this week, Michael Faber, president of Viking Coca-Cola in St. Cloud, won the last bottle to roll off the line with a winning bid of $2,000.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633

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  • LeRoy Telstad, general manager at the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Winona, held up the last 6.5-ounce returnable bottle to be filled and capped at the plant.

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