Coca-Cola China Says Beverage Not Poisonous. PR Battle Already Lost.

December 2, 2011

Coca-Cola said Friday there was no “product quality issue” with its Pulpy Milky drinks, after a boy who had consumed the product died and three others fell ill.

Stores around the country pulled bottles of the fruit-flavoured milk drink from their shelves after a boy died and his mother fell into a coma in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin.

Two other people, a mother and daughter, were also hospitalised after drinking a bottle of Pulpy Milky, but have since recovered and returned home.

Investigators have said the drinks were tainted with organic phosphorous, a toxic pesticide[.] (AFP)

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that Coke is kinda screwed on this one. Even if an investigation finds some crazed lunatic out there deliberately putting pesticide in bottles of “Pulpy Milky” (barf), Coke is going to take a big hit. Remember what happened to Tylenol back in 1982? Nasty situation.

I’m sure that the PR folks out there have endlessly case studied the Tylenol horror show and now have detailed crisis management instructions in place for just such an eventuality. But when the Wall Street Journal runs an article with this headline: “Coke Says China Juice Drinks Not Toxic,” I think Coke may find it a challenge to dig itself out of this hole.

Moreover, I’m not sure that this helps:

“This case does not involve a product quality issue,” said Joanna Price, Coca-Cola’s China-based spokeswoman, without elaborating.

Well, just what does that mean anyway? I had already assumed that pesticide is not part of the normal manufacturing process of this stuff. If that’s true, then the toxic substance either found its way into the beverage while it was under the control of Coke or when it was in the hands of a third party (e.g. during transport, with a wholesaler, or at a retail establishment).

Either way, this is not a question of ensuring that the usual ingredients are up to spec, that the bottling machinery has not been contaminated, etc. This is, one would hope, the introduction of a substance foreign to the process of making this particular concoction.

Couldn’t Coke have simply said that they have confidence in their quality control procedures, that they are cooperating fully with the authorities, and that an investigation will be completed ASAP?

2 thoughts on “Coca-Cola China Says Beverage Not Poisonous. PR Battle Already Lost.

  1. S.K. Cheung

    Bad PR move, especially in China. They should have started with a statement of regret/contrition, a vow to investigate fully, and a promise to ensure that the entire supply/delivery chain is up to snuff. To say there is nothing wrong with their product does not mesh with the fact that a kid is dead and his mom is in a coma. Clearly there was something wrong with some of their product.

    That being said, pesticide ending up in milk seems rather fishy. My guess is it’s sabotage. Whether it’s the work of a lone deranged dude, or if it’s industrial, that I can’t speculate.

  2. Robert Park

    The thing about bottles of pop here is that it seems just anyone does the bottling work, or the quality of work is very inconsistent. Or else, why do I find so many bottles with inconsistent bottle cap colours, etc, at the street shops? I have no other rational explanation. If that’s the case, what are they to do? Solving the long-term problem using Tylonel’s playbook wouldn’t work. Homogenizing and certifying the colours just make even more of the same colours available to those who do re-bottling work? I have no idea what I’m talking about, but the conspiracy theories are flying.