India loses faith in Pepsi, Coca Cola
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India loses faith in Pepsi, Coca Cola

Observers say that cold drinks sale in Delhi and Mumbai fell by 20 to 25 per cent after CSE accused top companies of serving toxic drinks.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2003 12:37 IST
Sumeet Chatterjee (Indo-Asian News Service)
Sumeet Chatterjee (Indo-Asian News Service)

Marketing professional Jayesh Gupta can't recall a single day in the last four months when he didn't drink his favourite Coca-Cola -- either at his workplace or home.

But Gupta, 28, who works with a housing finance company, has decided not to "touch a drop" after learning that carbonated beverages of Coca-Cola and Pepsi here contain a high level of toxic pesticides.

"Drinking cold drinks just to chill out is not more important than my life. Whatever I saw on television in the last two days was a revelation to me," said Gupta, sounding anguished.

"Not only I have stopped drinking soft drinks but I am also telling friends and relatives in Delhi and elsewhere not to consume them."

Gupta is not the only one.

Alarmed by the findings of a green group that said a dozen popular brands of Coca-Cola and Pepsi sold in and around Delhi contained a deadly cocktail of pesticide residues, more and more Indians are giving them up, at least for now.

The New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said the pesticides found in their brands could cause cancer, damage the nervous and reproductive systems, and affect the immune system.

Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola have denied the charges.

But the CSE report has already led to a sharp plunge in the sale of the soft drinks, particularly in New Delhi.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi account for more than 90 per cent of the carbonated drinks market in India. As much as 6.5 billion cold drinks bottles were sold in India in fiscal 2000-01.

Industry observers say the sales of cold drinks in New Delhi and Mumbai have fallen by 20-25 per cent since the CSE report was unveiled on Tuesday.

"Usually the sales fall during the rainy season but this year the fall has been sharply higher. The reason is obviously the CSE report," said an industry source. "I think the sales will plunge sharply in the days ahead."

Retailers here said their daily sales had dipped sharply.

"Till last week I was selling 75-80 bottles a day. Now the off-take has come down by more than 50 per cent," said Dinesh Agarwal of Gokul Sweets, located in a southern neighbourhood here.

"People are switching over to other cold drinks like lemon juice and packaged fruit juice. Even plain cold water has become popular."

"In view of the conflicting reports we are getting from all sides, we have decided to review the availability of soft drinks in our hotels," said Ragini Chopra, a spokesperson for the Oberoi chain of luxury hotels.

A McDonald's official, however, claimed it was business as usual for them. "The cold beverages that we sell is not the same bottled product that is available in the market," the official said.

"We prepare cold beverages by using state-of-the-art equipment and technology."

Analysts say the sale of soft drinks is set to fall further in the domestic markets as more and more people become aware of the CSE claims.

Said Bobby Kewalramani, CEO of image management consultancy firm Prefect Relations: "There will be a dramatic effect on sales as the consumer perception about colas change across the country."

On Wednesday, protests were organised in Mumbai and protestors smashed up bottles of popular cola brands. Sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi has been stopped in the canteens of the Parliament.

First Published: Aug 07, 2003 16:41 IST