BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: The same corporate communications unit that
endangered Coca-Cola's reputation two years ago faced another product
recall last week.
This time, 700,000 bottles of a new citrus-flavored drink, Fanta Pomelo,
had to be returned to company warehouses. Company scientists realized
the color and taste of the drink, which represents about 7% of total
daily sales of Coca-Cola products in Belgium, were slightly affected by
exposure to light.
Steve Leroy, communications director for Coca-Cola in Belgium and
Luxembourg, said he was especially careful to be accessible to national
and international media inquiries - the lack of which was a criticism of
the Coke team in 1999.
"I think the work we have been doing since the incidents of 1999 in
building relationships with journalists has had results," said Leroy,
adding that a Coke spokesperson is now available 24 hours a day through
a special media phone line.
Two years ago, Coke's international reputation took a beating when the
company was forced into recalling millions of cans and bottles across
Europe, the largest product recall in its history. The problem began in
Belgium when schoolchildren said they became sick after drinking
The trouble was eventually traced to the improper cleansing of the
sulfur used to make Coke's carbonation, but the company was accused of
being sluggish in both the recall and surrounding media inquiries.
Today, Leroy said Coke's seven corporate communications workers and five
public affairs officers in Belgium pride themselves on a "red phone
line" to government and media, resulting in the steady contact that was
missing in 1999.
"Last time we were not properly equipped from a PR point of view to deal
with the situation," said Leroy, who pointed to an understaffed
corporate communications team due to restructuring as part of the
problem. He said the company was honest with journalists, but was not
perceived as honest because communications officers were not as
accessible as they should have been.
In this latest recall, Leroy said he tried to counter any lingering
negative corporate perception by quickly and freely admitting company
mistakes. Neither recall has involved a health risk.
"Even though the words 'recall,' 'Belgium,' and 'Coca-Cola' are still
hot news, this latest problem resulted in extremely objective coverage,"
"Extensive and responsible press coverage has led to almost no extra
consumer inquiries, which shows that it worked."