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Cigarette war in Calcutta - Godfrey Phillips alleges mop-up by rival distributors

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  • Published 4.12.08

Calcutta, Dec. 4: Calcutta is witnessing a cigarette war, with a New Delhi-based company hurling charges of arm-twisting at distributors of a big player.

Godfrey Phillips India Ltd, which last week re-entered the Calcutta cigarette market after 15 years, says the distributors are buying entire stocks of its products from shops and destroying them. It has also alleged that retailers are being warned not to stock Godfrey Phillips brands, such as Four Square.

Distributors of the two companies clashed physically today over such alleged arm-twisting, police said, after which two FIRs were lodged at Phoolbagan police station.

One FIR, by Godfrey Phillips assistant manager Prasun Chakraborty, named the distributors who, in turn, accused the Godfrey Phillips distributors in the second complaint. The Telegraph is not naming the other company because its spokesperson wanted time to consult its legal department.

“The distributors (of the company) are mainly behind the attack against our products but the company’s officials are also directly joining hands with them at times,” alleged Bhisham Wadhera, executive vice-president (sales) of Godfrey Phillips.

He said that two days ago, “I spoke to a senior official (of the other company) about the development. I told him that his company should refrain from such activities. He denied any knowledge of it but said he would speak to his people. But nothing has happened.”

An officer at Phoolbagan police station said: “Distributors of the two tobacco companies fought each other. Later, both groups lodged FIRs. An investigation is on.”

He added that according to the Godfrey Phillips complaint, the distributors of the other company began buying up Four Square cigarettes from shops in the Kadapara area, and this led to the clash.

“The distributors said they wanted to run a quality check before these cigarettes could be sold in the market. The rival distributors objected and this led to a heated exchange and then a fisticuff,” the officer said.

Godfrey Phillips is focusing on two brands in Calcutta — Four Square Fine Blend and Tipper. Four Square is priced at Rs 20 for a pack of 10.

The skirmishes with distributors are taking place everywhere in Calcutta, Wadhera alleged. “It started in Golpark but has now spread to Park Street, Chowringhee, Bhowanipore, Howrah and other parts as well.”

After pulling out of Calcutta in 1993, Godfrey Phillips, which also makes the well-known Red & White cigarettes, re-entered the city market on November 25.

The company, whose co-owners include the multinational Philip Morris – owner of the iconic cigarette brand Marlboro – and K.K. Modi, said it aimed to reach half the city’s 33,000 cigarette outlets and would be happy with a 5-6 per cent share of the market. Some 35 crore sticks are sold in Calcutta in a month.