Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent to Step Down Next Year -- 2nd Update

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Coca-Cola Co. said Friday that Muhtar Kent would resign from his role as chief executive in May 2017, to be succeeded by James Quincey, the beverage company's president and operating chief.

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Mr. Quincey is entrusted with finding a path forward for the soda giant as consumers increasingly turn away from sugar-laden drinks and toward foods seen as healthier and more natural. Coke said he has been involved with recent moves designed to fit these trends, including selling soda in smaller 7.5-ounce "mini cans" and reducing added sugar across the company's portfolio.

Mr. Quincey has risen up through Coke's international ranks, an increasingly important focus for the company, since joining Coke in 1996. During his tenure, he has led Coke's presence in both Europe and Mexico.

Mr. Kent has been chief executive since 2008 and will remain chairman of the company.

The company signaled last fall that Mr. Quincey was a probable successor when they unexpectedly appointed him president and chief operating officer over several other higher-ranked executives.

As chief executive, Mr. Kent has made moves to diversify Coke beyond soda, spearheading the company's $4.1 billion acquisition of Energy Brands Inc. -- maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater -- in 2007 before becoming CEO. Coke has spent more than $4 billion to acquire minority stakes in coffee maker Keurig Green Mountain Inc. and Monster Beverage Corp., a maker of energy drinks. Coke took a 30% stake in San Diego-based Suja Life LLC, a maker of organic, cold-pressed juices and acquisitions include Honest Tea, an organic tea maker, and Zico coconut water.

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Coke has built up a dairy business in recent years as it launched Fairlife,a lactose-free milk with 50% more protein and 30% fewer calories than regular milk, in the U.S. in late 2014.

Before rising to the top post, Mr. Kent won praise at Coke and its bottling companies for prying open Eastern Europe, much of the former Soviet Union and other emerging markets where long-term growth prospects were seen as more attractive than in the U.S.

--Mike Esterl contributed to this article.

Write to Austen Hufford at