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US: Coca-Cola criticised again over schools ad

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the US consumer advocacy group, has again criticised Coca-Cola Co for placing a misleading advert over its policy towards vending full-calorie soft drinks in schools.

CSPI said in a second letter to the soft drinks giant that Coca-Cola Co placed an advert in the Washington Post on 6 December which stated: "In North America, we voluntarily removed full-calorie, sparkling beverages from schools starting in 2006."

The complaint follows correspondence last month between CSPI and Coca-Cola after the same ad appeared for the first time in the Washington Post and several other newspapers.

Coke has taken these steps on school vending in the US and Canada but no such policy exists in Mexico, which CSPI argues is a part of North America.

Coke had explained that it grouped Mexico with its Latin American operations and therefore when it referred to North America this included only the US and Canada.

However, while Coke disagreed that the ads were misleading or false, it agreed to change the wording to refer specifically to the US and Canada.

In response to CSPI's latest letter, Coke said the change of ad artwork, the Thanksgiving holiday and its own internal clearance process had resulted in a delay which allowed the old version to appear again.

It said the old ad had been withdrawn and replaced with a new version referring only to the US and Canada. This ad is to run in the Washington Post this Sunday.

Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs at CSPI, said in advertising the company is "obligated to use the term North America as it's commonly used in society". The company had promised to change it, he added, and had had "plenty of time" to do so.

When contacted by just-drinks, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said the ad in question was withdrawn from rotation after it received CSPI's initial letter: "We received CSPI's letter on 16 November and took action to make the changes we promised. Ad copy/art is always submitted to media outlets in advance of the run date which is why CSPI saw the advertisement they did."

While the controversy over the ad itself may be put to rest once the new wording appears, Coca-Cola is likely to face further pressure going forward regarding its policy towards the sale of full-calorie soft drinks in schools.

CSPI has used this episode to highlight the inconsistency between Coca-Cola's approach in the US, Canada and in certain European countries and how it approaches selling soft drinks in schools in many other countries.


Sectors: Soft drinks

Companies: Coke, The Coca-Cola Company

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