Coca-Cola Co. has moved to buy a controlling stake in the fourth-largest Coke bottler in the US.

The soft drinks giant said today (1 September) that it had agreed a "potential purchase" of a further stake in Brucephil, the owner of Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval and "certain other terms and conditions" would give Coke a majority stake in the bottler, up from its current 31% shareholding. Financial details were not disclosed and the only indication Coke gave for when the deal could be completed was "no later than early 2009".

A Coca-Cola North America spokesman told just-drinks that Brucephil's owner, J. Bruce Llewellyn, had approached the company to buy up the shares in Philly Coke, which accounts for 2% of Coke volumes in the US.

He declined, however, to comment on how the deal would benefit Coke. "It's premature to speculate on the impact on our business, or on what we might do, at this point," he told just-drinks from Atlanta.

There are signs that soft drinks companies are seeking more control over their bottling systems. In April, Cadbury Schweppes' moved to take full ownership of the Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group. In July, PepsiCo's largest bottler, Pepsi Bottling Group, formed a manufacturing joint venture to distribute products in the north-west of the US.

However, the Coke spokesman denied the Philly Coke deal was part of a wider move to gain greater control over the company's distribution network.

"This is a particular situation, it's a specific agreement based on a unique set of circumstances. We've said that over the long-term we do not see ourselves owning bottling companies."