June 17, 2019

VSU Students Gain Valuable Business Experience Through Immersive Internship with Coca-Cola

Ben Heller and McCulley Cregger

VALDOSTA — A pair of Valdosta State University students recently gained access to the inner workings of one of the world’s most famous brands through a week-long internship with Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, which bottles and distributes Coke products throughout the southeastern United States. 

McCulley Cregger and Ben Heller, from VSU’s Harley Langdale Jr. College of Business Administration, experienced a whirlwind week that included tours of Coca-Cola facilities throughout the region, marketing meetings with Coca-Cola employees, and numerous inspections of stores, gas stations, and universities where Coca-Cola products are sold.

The students learned firsthand what makes the large company run successfully, from strategic product placement in stores to specialized marketing strategies that vary by community to strong relationships with each Coca-Cola buyer, no matter how small.

“This whole experience was eye-opening,” said Cregger, a Valdosta native who graduated in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing and a minor in advertising and promotions. “My favorite part was going into large stores and seeing the creative displays and how intentional Coca-Cola is about where they put their products. I love subliminal marketing, and they have it pretty much broken down to a science. It was great going out into the field and seeing all of it. This was an amazing experience.”

Heller, a management major and a supply chain and entrepreneurship minor, said it was illuminating to see what goes into the physical processes of distributing Coca-Cola products across a wide territory.

“Being able to go behind the scenes to see the logistics of a large-scale, 24/7 company was incredible,” said Heller, a Savannah, Georgia, native who expects to graduate in Fall 2019. “I learned how they establish and maintain strong relationships with buyers and communities and cultivate a healthy work environment throughout their facilities. It brought concepts I’ve learned in the classroom to life. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.”

During the internship, Cregger and Heller developed a proposal to bring a Coca-Cola Innovation Station — a vending machine that offers new Coca-Cola products — to VSU’s campus. The students conducted research and recommended locations for the Innovation Station based on traffic flow, visibility, and accessibility. They plan to pitch the idea to VSU administration soon.

“When it comes to the colleges and universities that we service, we strive to be a partner and not just a vendor,” said Andy Britton, marketing assets manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Company United. “We’re always looking for opportunities to engage with students. This program helps students see our business like never before, which is a valuable learning experience. I tell students, ‘You think you’ve seen everything, but once you get through this program, you will never see Coca-Cola the same way.’”

The internship ended with Cregger and Heller giving an extensive presentation on their experience to Coca-Cola employees and VSU professors. Carla Gervin, career strategies coordinator for the Langdale College of Business Administration, said experiences such as these are invaluable to students’ professional growth and development.

“It allows them to apply the principles they have learned in the classroom to a real-world employment setting,” she said. “This was an amazing experiential learning opportunity for the students, and it's helping prepare them for their post-college careers. The Langdale College of Business Administration is thrilled to have Coca-Cola's help in ensuring students receive the skills and knowledge necessary to begin remarkable careers.”

VSU partnering with Coca-Cola to offer student internships reflects the university’s commitment to providing more transformational and experiential learning opportunities to its students.

Founded in 1902 and headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, Coca-Cola Bottling Company United is the third largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the United States. The company’s 10,000 associates located across the southeast are engaged in the production, marketing, sales, and distribution of some of the world’s most refreshing and recognized beverages.

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