DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Coca-Cola Co. is buying roughly half of Saudi Arabia's Aujan Industries for $980 million, pairing the U.S. soda giant with one of the Middle East's top independent beverage companies.
Under the terms of the deal announced Wednesday, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola will get a 50 percent stake in the part of Aujan that holds rights to the company's brands, and 49 percent of its distribution company.
The companies say it is the largest investment yet by a multinational firm in the region's consumer goods industry.
Aujan sells the popular Rani line of fruit drinks and the nonalcoholic malt beverage Barbican throughout the Middle East. It also holds the regional license for Vimto, a British spiced fruit drink that is popular with many Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.
Adel Aujan, Aujan's chairman, said the nearly $1 billion Coca-Cola is investing will allow his company to boost its manufacturing capacity while benefiting from Coke's international experience and buying power.
"This new relationship will potentially take our brands to many more markets that the Coca-Cola Co. operates in," he said in an emailed response to questions.
Still, Aujan said it's too early to say how soon products like the company's Rani juice drinks, best known for containing chunks of fruit, could hit American store shelves.
The company's products currently sell in about 70 countries, including parts of Central Europe, Africa and Asia.
The acquisition doesn't include Aujan's manufacturing and distribution business in Iran, which is subject to multiple U.S. sanctions.
Family-run Aujan was founded in 1905 and is based in the eastern city of Dammam on Saudi Arabia's Persian Gulf coast.
It employs more than 2,500 people and expects to generate revenue of more than $850 million this year. Aujan said that is more than double what it brought in just four years earlier.
With the Coca-Cola deal in place, "we expect to be able to double that figure again in the next five years," he said.
The fast-growing Middle East has some of the world's highest rates of nonalcoholic drink consumption, said Ahmet C. Bozer, who heads Coca-Cola's Eurasia and Africa Group. He said Coca-Cola was drawn to Aujan not just for its brands, but also because it is a well-run, successful business.
The companies expect the deal to close in the first half of 2012.