Bloomberg News

Coca-Cola Beverages Tampered With in China, Government Says

December 06, 2011

(Adds report of previous incidents in third paragraph.)

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Coca-Cola Co. beverages were tampered with in northern China, where police are investigating after a child in the city of Changchun was killed and three other people were sickened in the incident, the government said.

“Dangerous substances” were added to Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid strawberry-flavored pulpy milk beverage, according to a statement posted on a website affiliated to the Jilin provincial government, where Changchun is the capital. The world’s largest soft-drink maker said today tests showed the death and illness weren’t related to the quality of its product.

Coca-Cola reviewed production and warehousing processes, checked retained samples of production batches and had tests conducted by the China National Center for Food Quality Supervision and Testing, the Atlanta-based beverage maker said in an e-mailed statement. Its Sprite lemon-lime drink, the nation’s biggest seller, was tampered with in 2009 and 2010 cases of mercury poisoning that injured two people in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported at the time.

“Tests and reviews indicate our products are safe and within standards, and reaffirm the incident is not related to the quality of our products,” Coca-Cola said in the statement today. “We are 100 percent confident in the safety and quality of our products.”

Growth Market

Coca-Cola and its Chinese bottling partners will invest $4 billion in the world’s fastest growing economy over three years from 2012 amid plans to build more factories and win market share from rival PepsiCo Inc., it said in August. The company is also talking to regulators about selling shares in China, which Chief Executive Muhtar Kent described as “one of our most important growth markets in the world.”

Sales surpassed 1 billion unit cases in the six months through June, compared with 2005, when it sold that amount for the whole year, Coca-Cola has said. Each unit case has 24 eight- ounce servings.

Coca-Cola controlled about 62 percent of the country’s soft drinks market last year, followed by PepsiCo Inc. with 29 percent, Euromonitor International estimates. Minute Maid is one of Coca-Cola’s best-selling brands in China, according to the London-based researcher.

Food Protection

China has pledged to strengthen food protection after baby formula tainted with melamine killed at least six infants and sickened thousands in 2008. Tainted milk powder, banned additives in pork and buns dyed with chemicals have fueled food- safety concerns in China and spurred the government to pledge greater protection for consumers.

The incident involving Minute Maid milk drinks occurred Nov. 28, state-run Xinhua reported. Separately, two Changchun residents were hospitalized the same day after consuming the same product, according to the report.

The mother of the child who was killed remains in a hospital in stable condition, Xinhua reported today. The other two were discharged, it said.

Coca-Cola has been in contact with the affected families, Joanna Price, the company’s Shanghai-based spokeswoman, said today by phone. She declined to provide more information as the investigation is ongoing.

The Minute Maid drinks, made by Coca-Cola’s Jilin subsidiary, were temporarily taken off store shelves last week in Jilin after the incident, Xinhua reported. Government tests of samples showed the beverage to be safe, according to the news agency.

At least five calls to Changchun police’s news office today went unanswered.

--Michael Wei. Editors: Dave McCombs, Frank Longid

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Michael Wei in Shanghai at mwei13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Frank Longid at flongid@bloomberg.net; Stephanie Wong at swong139@bloomberg.net


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