Coca-Cola Pays Off Vendors to Keep Quite About Contamination
Dinesh Narayanan
Times of India
May 02, 2006

MUMBAI: MNC soft drinks maker Coca-Cola regularly pays off its vendors to keep quiet when substances such as tobacco pouches, dirt and fungus show up in its beverages, classified documents of the company's marketing arm reveal.

A confidential memo and correspondences between officials of Hindustan Coca-Cola Marketing Company in ToI's possession suggests that such substances are frequently found in its products and the practice of giving complimentary products to vendors is routine.

The December 2005 memo lists 17 shops and restaurants across the city that returned soft drinks such as Coke, Limca, Thums Up and Maaza because they contained stuff like dirt, thermocol, tobacco pouches, fungus and, on at least one occasion, a blade. The company compensated them with several crates of products worth thousands of rupees.

Consider the evidence: a Mazgaon restaurateur returned a bottle of Fanta with a pouch in it and two Maaza bottles with dirt.

In return, the company placated him with 40 cases of soft drinks worth Rs 6,000. Another restaurant in Matunga got 10 crates of soft drinks worth over Rs 2,000 for a bottle of Thums Up which had a pouch inside. One crate priced at Rs 216 contains two dozen beverage bottles.

An Andheri restaurateur in the western suburbs who has had to face angry customers about four times last year over contaminated bottles said that Coca-Cola representatives were quite insensitive to the issue.

"I do not want compensation from the company. If they cannot prevent it, they should at least tell people not to drink straight from the bottle. Instead their promotional campaigns show models gulping down cola straight from the bottle," he said.

He added that e-mails to company officials go unreplied and representatives blame it on transporters and adulterators.

Coca-Cola, whose bottling plant in Plachimada village in Kerala is facing charges of polluting local water sources, admits that there were some instances when it had to replace contaminated products. However, it is not willing to admit error.

"On analysis of most cases, the products were found to be spurious. In some cases, the bottles have also been found to be tampered with," a spokesperson of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages wrote to TOI.

Replacing a stray faulty bottle is one thing, but routinely giving several crates of free products is quite another.

Also, the lure of free products would only encourage adulterators. "If a retailer is close to the distributor and local manager, he can get dozens of bottles of complimentary products," said a shopkeeper.

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