The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Coke chief waits for pesticide fizz to settle

New Delhi, Aug. 20: Two weeks after the controversy over high levels of pesticide residues in soft drinks erupted, Sanjeev Gupta, president of Coca-Cola’s operations in India, has said he expects the storm to blow over in two to three weeks.

Speaking about the crisis on the sidelines of a Confederation of Indian Industry conference here today, Gupta said: “Chand pe jo daag laga hai, woh jald hi dhul jayega (The blemish on the moon will be washed away soon).”

A confident Gupta said: “We expect to be exonerated soon.”

On Monday, the Kerala health director said laboratory tests showed “no traces” of pesticides and cadmium. “Traces of lead were well below the permissible level,” director V.K. Rajan added.

Several other test reports are awaited on Coke and Pepsi soft drink samples. The most crucial is the one commissioned by the ministry of food processing and due to be released in three weeks. Tests have also been carried out by several state governments, including Bengal and Bihar; Delhi High Court, too, has ordered tests.

Gupta said the reports would prove that his company is in the clear. Indirectly admitting that consumer confidence had eroded after the Centre for Science and Environment revealed its findings on August 5, the Coke chief said: “Consumer confidence is coming back.”

CSE had said tests on random samples of soft drinks had shown dangerously high levels of cancer-causing pesticide residues.

Gupta said he would prefer to remain silent till the reports were released. He refused to say if Coca-Cola would begin using the ISI mark which is optional for soft drink companies at present. The Coke chief said there would be no decline in sales during the festive season that is fast approaching. He is sure that consumer confidence would be fully restored by then.

Gupta said test reports from Kerala and Rajasthan had given a clean chit to Coca-Cola. He said his company would be able to erase the stigma created by what he termed “a sensational and non-scientific report by the Centre for Science and Environment”.

Gupta, one of the speakers at the CII conference on rural marketing, said: “The rural distribution model applied by Coke in its thrust on rural marketing is copying successful models like that of Hindustan Lever Limited and Colgate, among others.” Earlier, the Coke chief had said marketers in the country needed to make a number of trade-offs in availability, affordability and acceptability while entering rural India.

Gupta said he did not agree with the view that rural marketing was a costly distribution exercise. But he added: “Replicating conventional urban distribution modes can prove to be expensive in rural India. This is where marketers need to adapt.”

Clean chit for samples

The Food and Drugs Administration today gave a clean chit to two soft drink samples collected from the Coca-Cola plant in Pune.

“Samples of Thums Up and Limca collected from the Pune plant are free from pesticides,” said U. Khopragade of the administration. He said the tests were the first of several lined up by the organisation. “These are the results of only two tests. All soft drink samples will be tested,” Khopragade said.

He added that results of tests on samples of soft drinks collected from other Coca-Cola and Pepsi plants in Maharashtra are likely to be released tomorrow and on Friday. Khopragade said the results could vary from plant to plant as pesticides were present in the water mixed with the soft drink concentrate. The tests were ordered in Maharashtra after the CSE revealed its findings earlier this month.

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