By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Caribbean Bottling Company described as “unbelievably strange” the quality control issues it has experienced with a specific batch of its 12-ounce Schweppes Ginger Ale cans, electing not to produce any more until the problems are resolved.
Walter Wells, Caribbean Bottling’s president and chief executive, told Tribune Business that the company had brought in “the big guns” from Coca-Cola and their can supplier to help identify and address problems that caused an ‘off’ taste with that specific product.
Stating that this was the first quality control issue that Caribbean Bottling had experienced, Mr Wells added that the company’s 62 other drinks product lines were problem free and remained in production.
While the problems related to a particular batch of Schweppes Ginger Ale produced during a certain time period, Mr Wells disclosed that Caribbean Bottling had not made any more of this product until its internal investigation was completed. No health risks have been detected, though.
“It’s an internal problem that affected two batches of Schweppes Ginger Ale produced by us, where some cans were affected and some not,” Mr Wells told Tribune Business. “There were pockets in the entire production run that we can’t explain.”
As the Bahamian bottler/producer for Coca-Cola, Caribbean Bottling has brought in regional quality control personnel from both the soft drinks giant and its can supplier in a bid to pinpoint the problems.
“It’s unbelievably strange, because it only relates to two batches of Ginger Ale cans produced recently,” Mr Wells said. “We have 62 other products produced by us, and there have not been any significant complaints with them recently, this year or in recent years.
“This is the first one for us. We were so concerned that we haven’t been producing any Ginger Ale for three weeks. We produce it in batches. Depending on how sales go, it may last for one week, two weeks.”
And the Caribbean Bottling chief added: “We don’t take this thing lightly. We pride ourselves in it, have been doing it for decades, and have been responsible in everything we do.”
The quality control problems came to light after a consumer who purchased one of the ‘faulty’ Ginger Ale cans went public last week, forcing Caribbean Bottling to issue a press release of its own.
In an e-mail that was copied to Tribune Business, as well as a host of other persons, a ‘Dione Bowe’ wrote: “
Yesterday, I (and three of my colleagues) purchased a Schweppes Ginger Ale soda from a vending machine at our office. To my horror and fright, after one sip I tasted and smelled a lot of bleach (or some cleaning agent).”
In its response, Caribbean Bottling did not confirm, and made no mention of, any ‘bleach’ or ‘cleaning agent’ type taste, just referring to an ‘off’ taste that had been detected with some cans. The company added that initial test results showed there were no health risks for Bahamians.
But Ms Bowe added: “I immediately contacted the Caribbean Bottling Company. I was told by Ms Rahming, sales manager, that the company was aware of the problem. She went on to say that the Department of Environmental Health was also aware of the problem, and they (Caribbean Bottling Company in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Health) were working to resolve the matter.
“Dumbfounded by the comment I also contacted the Department of Environmental Health and spoke to Sally Chisholm. She, after a few minutes of investigation, also confirmed Ms. Rahming’s comments to be accurate.”
In response, Mr Wells told Tribune Business that Caribbean Bottling had gone as far as “pulling cans off shelves” to protect Bahamian consumers. The company added that it had placed an immediate ‘hold’ on any Schweppes Ginger Ale inventory still left at its warehouse, and replaced all product that either been sold to Nassau retailers or shipped to the Family Islands.
Referring to Ms Bowe’s complaint, Mr Wells added: “This can fell through the cracks. I don’t blame her for that. She’s a consumer, and she has a right to be concerned.”
In her e-mail, Ms Bowe questioned why no public announcement had been made prior to her complaint given possible health risks. She also asked whether Caribbean Bottling should temporarily close or suspend operations until the problems were resolved, and said she was personally “boycotting” the company’s products.
However, Caribbean Bottling said preliminary test results showed there was no health danger or any other risks for Bahamian consumers. It added that the problems were confined to a “very small percentage of what was produced during a specified period”.
The problem batches have the 304 and 318 codes at the bottom of the can, and are being replaced at no cost to consumers.
“Aggressive efforts are underway to complete the investigation as quickly as possible to minimise the inconvenience to customers and consumers alike,” Caribbean Bottling said.
“This off taste does not affect any of the other 60-plus products produced by Caribbean Bottling Company, which for decades has taken great pride in producing quality products for the Bahamian market.”