Virgin Cola sales multiply in Belgium thanks to Coke health scare

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BRUSSELS--Virgin Cola in Belgium has witnessed an unprecedented demand for its cola drinks since the outbreak of Coca-Cola Co.'s contamination scare last weekend. With sales up tenfold in the last few days, Virgin Cola's distributor, Chaudfontaine, is having difficulties meeting extra demand from retailers that no longer stock Coke.

Sales of Coca-Cola's biggest rival, Pepsi, are also understood to have risen since the withdrawal of Coke's products in Belgium and neighboring Luxembourg, France and the Netherlands. In France alone, more than 50 million Coke bottles and cans have been cleared from retailers' shelves. No figures were available from PepsiCo.

Virgin says it has no plans for extra advertising or marketing to take advantage of Coca-Cola's health scare. "We will be making no change to our advertising schedule or our in-store promotion,'' said Philip de Prest, group marketing director for Chaudfontaine.

He added, "I think Coca-Cola has made serious mistakes in managing the situation and I feel they should have been more open about the problem. If they had behaved more like Perrier, when it had its problem with benzene nearly 10 years ago, then it would have looked better.''

Copyright June 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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