August 7, 2015 / 4:28 PM / 4 years ago

Coca-Cola near deal for organic juice company Suja: sources

Bottles of Coca Cola are seen in a store display in New York February 9, 2010. Coca-Cola Co reported stronger-than-expected quarterly sales on Tuesday as higher demand for its beverages in China, India and Brazil offset a drop in North America, sending the world's largest soft-drink maker's shares up 2.6 percent. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD) - RTR2A0NG

(Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) is nearing a deal to buy a minority stake in U.S. organic juice company Suja Life LLC, people familiar with the matter said on Friday, as the soft drink giant tries to identify the next big hit with consumers.

Carbonated beverages have suffered from slow growth in recent years as consumer sentiment shifts toward healthier beverages. Coca-Cola’s investment would value Suja, a start-up that counts Hollywood celebrities as investors, at around $300 million, the sources said.

The deal, which gives Coca-Cola the option to buy the remainder of Suja in three years, would strengthen the Atlanta-based company’s hold on the cold-pressed juice sector and better position it to compete against PepsiCo Inc’s PEP.N Naked Juice brands. It would be Coca-Cola’s second investment in the sector, following the purchase of Odwalla in 2001.

The sources asked not to be identified because the investment is not yet public. Representatives for Coca-Cola and Suja did not respond to requests for comment.

Based in San Diego, Suja makes juices and smoothies under cold pressure to kill harmful bacteria and preserve nutrients and taste. It sells its drinks through, Inc (AMZN.O) and at health food stores and national grocery chains.

Suja was founded in 2012 by entrepreneurs Annie Lawless, Eric Ethans, Jeff Church and James Brennan. Its investors include Alliance Consumer Growth Partners and Evolution Media Partners, as well as actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Jared Leto and Sofia Vergara.

Coca-Cola created a venture and emerging brands division in 2007 to find and invest in growth opportunities. It has invested in firms such as Honest Tea and Zico Coconut Water.

Similar venture-capital style deals include Starbucks Corp’s (SBUX.O) $30 million purchase of juice company Evolution Fresh in 2011 and White Wave Food Co’s WWAV.N investment in juice brand Daily Greens earlier this year.

Reporting by Lauren Hirsch and Olivia Oran in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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