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‘Festive’ slash in cola prices

Calcutta, Sept. 16: A customer walks into a sweet shop in Bhowanipore and asks for a glass of lassi. “Why buy a lassi for Rs 10, when you can get a Pepsi or Coke for only Rs 7'” suggests the shop-owner. But doesn’t the price tag on the bottle read Rs 10' “Not any more,” says the shopkeeper. “Because the drinks are not selling, we have been told to slash the prices.”

Enter: Rs 5 for the small bottles of Pepsi and Coca-Cola and Rs 7 for the big ones. Exit: Rs 7 for the small bottles and Rs 10 for the big ones. While both companies claim it’s all in the spirit of the festive season, retailers have a different tale to tell. A shopkeeper on Central Avenue says distributors told them about a week ago that prices had been slashed. There was no mention of the Pujas, but there was talk of wooing back the market after the recent “jhamela”, and keeping the prices down “as long as the slump continued”.

Both companies denied the price change had anything to do with the Centre for Science and Environment findings released on August 5, which found high levels of pesticides in 12 brands of soft drinks marketed by the cola companies and led to a dramatic slump in sales. The government has since given the soft drinks giants a clean chit, and Coke said sales had picked up.

A Coke official said the new prices were here to stay. “The rollout began nationwide in a phased manner about a year ago. There have even been advertisements, on trucks and banners. The Pujas were the ideal time to implement the price change in Bengal. It’s all part of our company plan to increase affordability for the consumer. We have been building up the campaign, and now that it has been launched here, we will continue in a bigger way,” he added.

Pepsi had a different explanation. “It’s a festive offer that will continue for some time,” a Pepsi spokesperson said today. In conjunction with several other consumer-friendly initiatives, this is a seasonal move, only for the Calcutta consumer, he said. He added that it was all part of Pepsi’s festive promotions, which are implemented elsewhere in the country as well.

But retailers say sales haven’t improved since prices were slashed. “The sales fell when the trouble started, and the fall in price hasn’t boosted it yet. Humko lagta hai ki jab tak yeh bikega nahi, daam kam rahega (We think that until the drinks start selling, the low prices will stay),” a shop-owner said.

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