Kenyan Coke bottler seeks to toss court ruling on nutritional labeling information

KENYA – Coca-Cola bottler in Kenya is contesting a High Court order to place labels with nutritional information on its soft drinks in glass bottles, according to Beverage Industry News NG.

Nairobi Bottlers, Kenya’s largest Coke bottler faulted the ruling of the late Justice Onguto earlier this year, saying he had overstepped his mandate as it was equivalent to legislating on the matter.

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Justice Onguto had given the soft drinks maker six months to label its popular brands – Coke, Krest, Sprite and Fanta, noting that failing to do so was discriminatory and against the right of consumers to make informed decisions on their health.

The Judge added that the beverage company discriminated against consumers who drank soft drinks from glass bottles.

In a filed appeal, Nairobi Bottlers Ltd wants the January 30 judgment issued by the late Justice Joseph Onguto, who died on March 1 after collapsing at a Sports Club, to be set aside.

“It was open for the judge to find that the appellant (Coca-Cola) conferred privilege on consumers of plastic-bottled beverages while denying the same to consumers of the glass-bottled beverages when both were available to consumers and the choice of one over the other was the option of the consumer,” said the firm.

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The appeal arose from a suit filed by Mark Ndumia Ndung’u, who complained that the company labelled its plastic bottled beverages but not the glass bottles.

Mr Ndung’u told the court that he liked drinking Coke and claimed he developed stomach pain in 2014.

After seeking medical care, he decided to check whether his favourite drink had any information on nutrition and how to store it once opened.

The court heard that Ndung’u found no information and decided to inquire from the company’s customer care service, but the bottle had no phone number or email address.

He told the court that he then bought the drink in a plastic bottle and found that it had all the information he needed.

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The court heard that the same information is available on the Dasani water bottle, also sold by the company.

Mr Ndung’u had told the High Court that nutritional information was critical to consumers in exercising a healthy drinking habit with the right amounts of calories which is critical in avoiding lifestyle diseases such as obesity.

He had argued that all consumers are equally entitled to access the information on the labels and as such, there was no justification for the information not being available on glass bottles.

He had faulted the fact that the size of plastic and glass bottles was equal but instead of giving the said information in both, the soft drink maker was using the available space for brand names in big print.

But Nairobi Bottlers had argued that there was no legal obligation on a manufacturer, packer or distributor of soft drinks to display nutritional information and email address on the label of its products.

However, the late judge ruled that the exclusion of the disputed information amounted to discrimination hence directed Coca-Cola to ensure that the data is displayed on glass bottled soft drinks.

Whilst the judge also ruled that the matter involved great public interest, Nairobi bottlers now want that decision to be dismissed with costs to be borne by Mr Ndung’u.

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