BEIJING – Coca-Cola Co. said Thursday it plans to invest $4 billion in China as food brands scramble to expand in the nation’s fast-growing consumer market.

The investments will take place over three years beginning in 2012. The initiative will raise Coca-Cola’s total investment in China between 2009 and 2014 to $7 billion, the company said.

Global food brands are investing heavily in China, looking to a relatively healthy economy that expanded by 9.5 percent in the quarter ending in June to drive sales amid global uncertainty.

“China is one of our most important growth markets,” Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent said in a statement announcing the plans.

Chinese retail spending in June rose 17.7 percent over a year earlier, according to the government.

In July, Nestle SA announced the purchase of a 60 percent stake in candy maker Hsu Fu Chi for $1.7 billion. Earlier this year, Nestle also bought a controlling stake in Chinese food processor Yinlu Foods Group.

Restaurant chains such as McDonald’s Corp. and Yum Brands Inc.’s Pizza Hut and KFC also are expanding.

Kent said Coca-Cola’s sales volume in China for the first half of 2011 was double that of five years ago.

Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, opened five new facilities in China in 2009-10.