2024 Bottler of the Year

Buffalo Rock Company



EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP: Matthew Dent, President and CEO


DISTRIBUTION FOOTPRINT: Alabama, Georgia, Florida


FLEET: 2,349 vehicles

The fellowship that members feel to be part of their community can inspire people to volunteer their time and money to building and supporting the society and culture that they adore. In the bottling world, companies recognize the importance of being proactive members of the communities they operate in and serve. For Buffalo Rock Company, Birmingham, AL, the company’s culture is centered on investing in its people and communities.

“[I]t’s incredibly important that Buffalo Rock invest in its people and culture at the same rate, if not faster, than we are in all of our other things such as operational items and infrastructure,” says Emily Cotney, senior vice president chief employee experience officer and legal counsel at Buffalo Rock. “Our officers’ No. 1 priority is to invest in people and tools that help us achieve our purpose. Our purpose is building brands, but also incredibly important [is] that we accomplish that with an intense focus on serving our customers and our communities.

“That’s why two of our core values are committed to serving our communities and then also customer success drives our success,” she continues. “We believe that our customers have to be successful in order for us to be successful. To that end, we spend a lot of time encouraging local relationships in all the different communities that we’re in, and maintaining local sales teams has also been important for Buffalo Rock as well.”

Matthew Dent, president and CEO at Buffalo Rock, elaborates that a dream of the bottler’s is “to grow careers and continue to be successful at achieving our purpose.”

That purpose, he explains, can be broken down to three parts.

“Building brands is the first part of it and at the core it’s what we do, but accomplishing it through legendary service and remarkable people is how we want to do it,” he says. “Success in achieving our purpose isn’t just a sales outcome. There is a lot more to it. We obviously want the outcome to be that we build brands and we’re successful at it, but how we do it really matters. Having the service level that our retailers expect and they’re also pleased with, that’s what we want.”

Echoing Cotney’s earlier sentiments, Dent also highlights the remarkable people who allow Buffalo Rock to deliver its level of service.

“We actively invest in career development and strive to have the best people from within our communities that are part of our team. It’s vital that we build talent the right way and that’s probably our most important thing,” he says.

Employee-Partners from Buffalo Rock’s Birmingham franchise
Employee-Partners from Buffalo Rock’s Birmingham franchise volunteering on its MLK Serve Day. Image courtesy of Buffalo Rock Company

Extending beyond the Buffalo Rock partners and people, however, is the company’s commitment to the communities it serves.

“One of our core values is based on a commitment to serving our communities,” Cotney says. “This can be seen in many ways throughout Buffalo Rock. Our company just served an annual United Way campaign that we host in each of our regions, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars that directly impact the communities we serve. Each franchise also individually participated in an annual Martin Luther King serve day, which is the most recent example. They had a great time volunteering all over our footprint.”

For these reasons and more is why Beverage Industry has named Buffalo Rock its 2024 Bottler of the Year.

Strategic growth

The 123-year-old bottler has seen its share of evolutions during its history. Approximately six years ago, Buffalo Rock realized that shifts in the market prompted the need for investments to support its next evolution.

“Going back to 2018, 2019 at that time we decided to launch a full investment across our total infrastructure and it was going to be in multiple phases, as of right now we’re about half way through that,” Dent says. “The genesis of the infrastructure investment plan was three-fold. No. 1 the business complexities have grown to a point where we truly needed to make some investments.

“Two, our customers continue to grow as well and their requirements of us and what they expect of us in terms of capabilities, service level, culture, all that has grown as well,” he continues. “And the third piece would be just the strategic growth that we have. So we’ve had numerous big plans on the horizon at that time that have all come to fruition.”

Dent notes that in 2022, Buffalo Rock moved into seven new facilities and the investment project is about halfway through completion. He adds that the bottler is working on two ground-breaking facilities this year.

“The first was in Tuscaloosa, AL It’s the first of our newly designed franchise sales centers and so the investment in Tuscaloosa is going to be our model for similar future investments and other areas where we consolidate picking and heavy ops at all of those other areas into a more scalable location somewhere else,” Dent explains. “And then what we do is provide our local franchise team with a first-class, long-term home that’s not only engineered for meeting the customer’s needs and their service expectations, but also driving focus across our core values with a heavy focus on talent development and engagement, so we’re really excited. We’ve broken ground in Tuscaloosa and we should be in it by August.”

For the company’s Santa Rosa County campus in Florida, Dent notes that it also will “house a multitude of functions in one location.”

“It’s a long term scalable solution that’s set to meet all of our company needs as we continue to expand. The motivation for this project is both consumer and customer driven,” Dent says. “The gulf region has had high growth for quite some time and it’s expected to continue so all of our research led us to that area in Milton, FL, right off interstate I-10 and it’s a perfect location geographically for our routing and meeting our customer needs.

“The consumer and customer needs with what’s going on with that growth area is what drives our need to invest in the infrastructure to meet those demands, and we expect to break ground this summer on that project,” he continues. “Since we announced it, we have been heavy in design. We’ve been picking construction partners and we are breaking ground very soon, and intend to be in by fall of ’25.”

With the company’s core belief, Dent notes that the Santa Rosa Campus will serve as a flagship location for career development in the Northwest Florida area.

“We expect this to be one of the largest facilities in the area, and where it’s located, in the city of Milton and Santa Rosa County, in general we think there’s going to be significant job growth there which we’re very excited about,” he says.

Wayne Wisdom, senior vice president and chief business operations officer at Buffalo Rock, further explains that the facility is expandable by another 30% in terms of square footage and is embracing the benefits of automation.

“The facility has been designed for future automation,” he says. “[It] will have a concrete slab, roof height, electrical service, etc., all planned for on the front end, which will make future transitions more manageable when that time comes. Day 1 this facility will have a number of key features.”

Among those key features include an employee experience level ― similar to recently added facilities ― a medical office for all eligible Employee-Partners and their family members ― similar to Huntsville and Birmingham, AL, locations ― ample yard footprint to support its freight feeds, eLogistics on site, and state-of-the-art warehouse solutions to support accuracy and efficiency.

We in the last couple of years have publicly stated our intention of getting into alcohol, and so when we talk about impacting future operations we are on that path today and expect to be in the alcohol business by end of summer 2024. We’re really excited about it. We’ve got a number of brewery partners in the space, and it’s going to be exciting to launch this.”
— Matthew Dent, president and CEO at Buffalo Rock

Highlighting that Buffalo Rock’s infrastructure investments were driven out of necessity, Dent notes that they were designed to help the bottler best support the consumers and customers.

“We have a stark reality in 2018 that we had outgrown pretty much all of our prior facilities, but especially in these two key areas,” Dent says. “We had also made five acquisitions between 2020 and 2023. These targeted additions, which we knew we were going after when they were coming, really drove our need to get in front with these projects and get them to where we could operate these acquisitions with success.

“The decision to partner with System Logistics, that’s in Birmingham, and install one of the largest Vertique automated assisted pick systems in the beverage industry, to do that in Birmingham was one of the best decisions we’ve made,” he continues. “The investment has helped us deal with the complexity of our product portfolio, which this system has the capability of managing up to 2,000 SKUs and 20 million hard cases, but it’s also a key driver of being able to achieve the levels of operating excellence that our customers demand.”

Beyond Tuscaloosa and Santa Rosa, Buffalo Rock has made investments in the Georgia area.

“[W]e have a couple of other major things that we’re focused on in the Georgia region … one of the facilities we moved in 2022 was in Columbus, GA, and we anticipate supplementing that with another new facility in Georgia and it could come as early as this year as well, we just don’t have anything to announce at the moment,” Dent says. “We expect to expand our manufacturing in Birmingham probably in 2026, but we don’t have any more details to share at this time.”

Buffalo Rock officer team
Pictured Buffalo Rock officer team: Matthew Dent, President and CEO; Emily Cotney, Senior Vice President Chief Employee Experience Officer & Legal Counsel; Kevin Conaway, Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer; David Miller, Senior Vice President Customer Strategy, Marketing & Brand Development; Robin McKean, Senior Vice President Integrated Services; Wayne Wisdom, Senior Vice President Chief Business Operations Officer; and Mike McDonald, Senior Vice President Manufacturing & Supply Chain. Image courtesy of Buffalo Rock Company

An evolving portfolio

As Buffalo Rock is keeping a pulse on the needs of customers and consumers, the bottler also calls attention to its growing and evolving portfolio as motivation for its investments in operations.

Among those, Dent highlights its expansion into Gatorade, the expansion into Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) System 2, acquisition of certain KDP System 2 territories as well as its newly announced entrance into alcohol.

As more beverage manufacturers and distributors are blurring the lines between alcohol and non-alcohol operations, Dent notes that though this might be getting more attention now, it is nothing new.

“Ever since I’ve been in the beverage business the alcohol distributors have been in the non-alc space,” he says. “That’s been a reality ever since I’ve been in the business, for 28 years we’ve essentially competed against them in every non-alcoholic category with a variety of brands. In many other parts of the country, bottlers in both the Pepsi and Coke networks are also beer wholesalers.”

Although this duality has been around for decades, Buffalo Rock’s announcement of entering the alcohol space is a new chapter for them.

“We in the last couple of years have publicly stated our intention of getting into alcohol, and so when we talk about impacting future operations we are on that path today and expect to be in the alcohol business by end of summer 2024,” Dent says. “We’re really excited about it. We’ve got a number of brewery partners in the space, and it’s going to be exciting to launch this. Stay tuned as there’s a lot more to come.”

Yet, whether it’s through new markets or the more traditional liquid refreshment beverage market, Buffalo Rock has developed a portfolio that delivers something for everyone, Wisdom notes.

“We continue to expand in brand packages and small packs, if you think about minis, small PET, zero product growth and all the things surrounding continued innovation,” he says. “I think we understand the need to keep up growth toward our 2,000 plus SKUs, which is a reality that’s right around the corner and these are all things we’re doing to be successfully competitive.”

This is exemplified by the bottler’s 2020 deal in which it signed a landmark deal with KDP in Alabama and then expanded into Northwest Florida, which allows KDP brands to ride on the same truck with competitive brands in order to improve efficiency and share competitiveness within product categories, the companies noted at the time of the deal.

“The theory of that deal was very innovative and provided operating advantages for both PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper, by us stacking brands within the categories like Wayne said and bringing scale,” Dent says. “Bringing that kind of scale and breadth of product offering is what generates the value.

“But the biggest win we’re able to provide is more consumer choice, whether it’s full calorie or no calorie or something between or something to fit a daypart that’s specific or functional,” he continues. “We think we have something for everybody, and from a retailer perspective, they are very excited to bring our service level to all of these brands within their stores.”

Cotney further highlights Buffalo Rock’s willingness to be early entrants with emerging brands and categories.


“What we want is to have a total beverage portfolio that can offer something to everyone,” she says. “Some examples of what we’ve done in the past few years is that we were early to Bang Energy, we were also early into Celsius, we were carrying Polar before the rest of the Pepsi system, we also carry Jarritos and brands like Fruitshoot and Vita Coco. We want to have something for all the different parts of the communities that we serve and to be a partner with our customers too. Like Matthew said, they are thrilled by the service levels that we have to offer. So we want to be able to provide a portfolio to meet all their needs.”

Whether its packaging, category evolution or much more, Dent notes the importance of the company being nimble in order to change as fast as or even faster than the consumer changes “because at the end of the day, the consumer is driving everything that us and our customer base wants to fulfill their demand with.”

This mentality will continue to be seen by Buffalo Rock not just this year, but in the years to come.

“[For] 2024, if you think about expanding our portfolio, we’re obviously continuing to expand the categories we’re in and growing our partnership with both PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper and all those things are still in motion and we’re excited about that,” Dent says. “Emily has led us into our entrance of the alcohol space, and that is a significant moment for Buffalo Rock.

“It will be the first time in our almost 124 year history that we operate within the alcohol space and it’s a truly momentous time for our company,” he continues. “I think our retailers are excited about that, and the brands we can bring and we can bring a broad portfolio over time into the space that is going to have a lot of scale and overall benefit at retail as we provide consumers with new choices in the alcohol space.”