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Soda Maker Says Smear And Fear are Ruining Business

April 12, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Sales of a popular 49-cent soda have fizzled and delivery drivers have been threatened in the wake of an apparent smear campaign that is spreading fear in minority neighborhoods, the drink’s bottler says.

Fliers distributed in minority neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania warn that Brooklyn Bottling Corp.’s Tropical Fantasy drink contains ″a stimulant that makes black males sterile.″

They also claim the Ku Klux Klan owns the company.

″Someone is really playing dirty pool and we don’t know where it’s coming from yet,″ said Eric Miller, owner of the small, independent bottler.

Some fliers claim the ″facts″ about the drink were uncovered on the television news program ″20/20;″ others credits ″60 Minutes.″

Neither show has reported on Tropical Fantasy, spokesmen for both programs said. The Ku Klux Klan has denied any ties to the bottler.

The bottler is cooperating with the federal Food and Drug Administration, which is conducting tests on Tropical Fantasy.

Meanwhile, Miller said angry customers began threatening Brooklyn Bottling drivers after the fliers appeared in New York City’s Harlem area about three weeks ago.

″My trucks have had bottles thrown at them,″ he said. ″I’ve had drivers surrounded in Harlem.″

Miller’s company began selling Tropical Fantasy, which comes in eight flavors, in 20-ounce, 49-cent bottles in September. The drink was first introduced in 12-ounce bottles four years ago.

Brooklyn Bottling sells its products in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, the Baltimore-Washington area and Florida.

″Once it hit the shelf it was an instant hit,″ Miller said of the new product. ″You’d go into these small stores and see one shelf of Coca-Cola, one shelf of Pepsi and four of Tropical Fantasy.″

Miller had expected the new product would push sales up to $15 million for 1991. But he said business has dropped drastically since the fliers began appearing.

His company also faces new competition from Coca-Cola, which introduced a 20-ounce, 59-cent version of Coke in the New York area three weeks ago.

Allan O’Neil, a spokesman for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New York, said distribution of the new product ″was in our marketing plan for 1991 and had been there for some time.″ He said the product had been test-marketed since 1988.

″As a company, there’s no way the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. has been involved in any of that,″ he said of the alleged smear campaign against Tropical Fantasy.

Asked if company drivers could be involved, he said, ″I have no answer to that question. I wouldn’t know. Our guys want what’s good for the business just as the company does.″

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