A senior Coca-Cola executive Sunday confessed that the company had mishandled the scare over contaminated products in Belgium and France, which led to the biggest recall in the U.S. soft drink giant's history.
"I admit we perhaps lost control of the situation to a certain extent," Philippe Lenfant, director-general of bottling division Coca-Cola Enterprises, told Belgium's RTBF television.
Lenfant said the crisis--in which more than 200 people in Belgium and France reported vomiting, stomach cramps and dizziness after consuming Coke drinks and countries across Europe pulled 2.5 million Coke products off shelves--was much worse than what the company was prepared for.
"We have a crisis-management strategy . . . but the crisis was bigger than any worst-case scenario we could have imagined. The first couple of days of the crisis we didn't know [the cause], and I humbly admit perhaps we should have said so more clearly," Lenfant said.
He blamed the media and the Belgian government for frightening consumers and inflaming the crisis beyond France and Belgium, where the two bottling plants at the heart of the contamination are situated.
"Things were said that took on extraordinary proportions, and then [the scare] became international and more difficult to manage," he said.
Lenfant said Coca-Cola initially focused on contacts with the authorities in a bid to end the scare and only later realized there was a public information and perception problem.
"I think we will have to go about seducing consumers and the media in the weeks and months to come," he said, adding that Coca-Cola had stepped up quality-control operations for its drinks.
Coke has blamed the symptoms on poor-quality carbon dioxide used to put fizz in drinks bottled in Antwerp, Belgium, and the smell of a toxic chemical, phenol, that contaminated the outside of cans at its plant in Dunkirk, France.