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Coca-Cola crates are pictured in Abuja, Nigeria.AFOLABI SOTUNDE/Reuters

Entrepreneur Larry Tanenbaum is betting there is life after sugar for Coca-Cola Co. by acquiring the global beverage company’s Canadian bottling and distribution network with plans to double the size of the business.

Mr. Tanenbaum, co-owner of Toronto’s NHL, NBA, CFL and MLS franchises, teamed up with former NBA player Junior Bridgeman, who already owns a Kansas City-based Coca-Cola bottler, to purchase a country-wide beverage distribution network with 5,800 employees and 50 sales centres.

The new company, Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd., named Ken Tanenbaum as its executive chairman. He is Larry Tanenbaum’s son and vice-chairman of family-controlled private equity firm Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Ltd. In addition, Kilmer executive vice-president Todd Parsons, former chief operating officer at frozen baked goods company Give & Go Prepared Foods, will be the bottling company’s president and chief executive officer, while Coca-Cola veteran Stephen du Toit will be chief operating officer. The transaction closed at midnight on Friday and Ken Tanenbaum, Mr. Parsons and Mr. du Toit were in a Brampton, Ont., bottling facility in the middle of the night to watch their first Coca-Cola-filled trucks roll out at what they called “zero hour.”

The new owners invested on expectations that Coca-Cola will evolve into “the complete beverage provider,” serving up milk, juice, sports drinks, coffee, tea and bottled water alongside the soft drinks that made the company a household name, said Ken Tanenbaum in an interview. He said Coca-Cola currently serves one of eight beverages that the average consumer drinks each day and “we believe we can double the amount of business we do with every customer.”

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has tried to stay in step with consumer tastes as it built a 200-brand beverage portfolio, and Mr. Tanenbaum said as sentiment shifted against drinks that contain sugar, the company successfully introduced new products, with 19 of its top 21 brands by sales now with reduced sugar.

Coca-Cola recently invested $85-million in a Peterborough, Ont.-based dairy facility that will produce fairlife ultrafilterd, a lactose-free brand with more protein and less sugar than traditional milk. In Britain, Coca-Cola recently spent US$5.1-billion to acquire global coffee chain Costa Ltd. The company also made headlines last month by confirming it is researching beverages derived from cannabis, saying in a news release that along with other beverage companies, “we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD [cannabidiol] as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages.”

Coca-Cola spent the past two years auctioning off its North American bottling operations to focus on product development and marketing; the Canadian unit was the last to be sold and at least four companies bid for the business. Mr. Tanenbaum and Mr. Bridgeman are buying a company that the U.S. parent took private in 1997 in a transaction that valued Coca-Cola Canada Bottling at $890-million.

The Canadian bottling company will be 51-per-cent owned by the Tanenbaum’s company, with the remainder held by Mr. Bridgeman, who has a three-decade relationship with Coca-Cola. The Louisville, Ky.-based entrepreneur played basketball for the Milwaukee Bucks and L.A. Clippers in the 1970s and 80s and during his 12-year pro sports career, Mr. Bridgeman bought three Wendy’s franchises.

The investment did well and Mr. Bridgeman subsequently snapped up more fast-food outlets, eventually owning more than 300 restaurants in a variety of chains. Over the years, Coca-Cola was both a supplier and sponsor of Mr. Bridgeman’s basketball camps.

Over the past two years, Mr. Bridgeman sold his restaurant holdings to buy into Coca-Cola’s bottling network. Working with his sons, he acquired territories in Kansas, Missouri and southern Illinois through a company called Heartland Coca-Cola, in a deal that closed a year ago. Forbes magazine estimates that he is among America’s most financially successful former athletes, with a US$600-million fortune. Heartland executive Rick Frazier will be vice-chairman of the newly acquired Canadian bottling company.