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Cola clash descends into bottle bout

New Delhi, Nov. 20: Whodunit ' ...That is the latest turn that the Coke-Pepsi battle over the slice of the cola drink market is taking.

It is a case of missing bottles where mud-slinging allegations have been hurled at each other over the destruction and burying of a pile of bottles.

Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (P) Ltd — Coke’s bottling arm — today filed a first information report with the police against what they allege as Pepsi’s action to destroy millions of Hindustan Coca-Cola’s returnable glass bottles.

Coke alleges that Pepsi’s conspiracy, done in connivance with its franchisee bottler — Charminar Bottling of the Jaipurias — was unearthed when a police team in Hyderabad visited the latter’s plant and found a huge number of empty Coke bottles buried under the earth.

A Coke spokesperson said the investigation is still on and the exact numbers of destroyed Coke bottles cannot be spelt out now. Each empty bottle costs Rs 10, he said.

Arch-rival Pepsi naturally has its own version of the bottle mystery. According to an official of the Charminar Bottling Co Pvt Ltd: “Since November 16, there have been raids in the facilities of Coca-Cola at Aminapura, Maula Ali and Kulsum Pura in Hyderabad in which as many as 53 lakh empty bottles have been seized. Bottles at the first two facilities have been found in gunny bags and in dilapidated conditions,” he added.

He said a few lakhs of bottles are routinely exchanged but the number in question here was very high and therefore reflects malicious intent.

“This seizure, which is 40 per cent of our entire glass stock in Hyderabad on any given day, has vindicated suspicion that Coca-Cola has been lifting our empty bottles from the market with an ulterior motive of blocking our sales in Hyderabad,” the Charminar Bottling official said from Hyderabad.

As for Coke’s allegation, a Pepsi spokesperson denied it and said that it was a mischief that has been resorted to by Coke as a measure to counter the raids on Coke and its aftermath.

Both Coke and Pepsi maintain that it is a common trade practice between the two cola companies to lift each other’s empty bottles from retail outlets, which store products of both companies and then they are routinely exchanged.

Coke says that that the Pepsi bottles in its premises were routinely collected by Coke truck operators last week. “When Coke approached Charminar Bottling for exchange of those bottles with Coke empties collected by Pepsi, the latter failed to produce any,” said Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, manager south, public affairs and communications, Coca-Cola India.

Coke maintains that Pepsi’s Hyderabad bottler has also sold a large number of Coke empties illegally in the grey market for quick financial gains. They allege that Charminar Bottling even took the risk of violating the environment laws, which prohibit underground burial of glass materials. The Battle of the Bottle has, it seems, reached the pits. This time literally.

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