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Lawsuit: Coke Fraud Started Here

The lawsuit says one of the biggest deceptions took place in Richmond in the spring of 2000. Despite an advance $400 million marketing allowance to Burger King, in late 1999 Coke sales in the fast-food chain’s franchises weren’t living up to expectations.

In February 2000, the suit states, Coca-Cola’s Burger King team figured out a way to increase sales: promoting frozen soda as a kid’s snack. They proposed to give customers coupons for a free frozen Coke with every value meal; so if kids liked the drink, they would show it by buying more value meals.

Before embarking on a nationwide campaign, however, Coca-Cola suggested Burger King run a three-week trial in Richmond. But the promotion got an indifferent response here; according to the suit, Richmond kids didn’t seem to like the slushy soda.

So Coca-Cola’s vice-president for the Burger King team ordered a marketing manager to hire a consultant to rig the survey, the suit alleges. The manager paid $10,000 of his own money to a Virginia man, the suit states, “so he could take hundreds of kids to Burger King to buy ‘value meals’ for the sole purpose of falsely inflating the survey results.”

Frozen Coke looked like a hit in Richmond, so Burger King spent $65 million in the next two years to buy equipment and market the drink, the suit states. But since then, the suit says, sales of frozen Coke have been only half of what the restaurant chain anticipated.

Burger King says in a company statement it cannot comment on “an internal Coca-Cola Company matter.” Whitley’s attorney gave no details about the identity of the “Virginia man” or which restaurants he visited. The phone book lists approximately 35 Burger Kings in the greater Richmond area.

A medium frozen Coke sells for $1.39, a large for $1.59. One Burger King employee says he wasn’t sure how popular it was — “it’s just Coke that’s frozen,” he says. Personally, he says, he prefers the frozen drink that’s cherry-flavored.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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