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Kiri bottlers on the spot as stockpile of expired drinks choke distributors

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SPOTLIGHT | A new soft drink bottler has to contend with more challenge than it probably bargained for when it set its production plants about four months ago — a number of Kiri Bottling Company agents and distributors have raised the red flag over poor returns leading to proliferation of expired drinks on the market.

Kiri Bottling Company, which joined the increasingly crowded carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks market on June 11, is being accused by agents of maintaining expired stock on the market by commission.

A distributor only identified as Steven, whose distribution point is Porombo in Nebbi District, said Kiri products were finding stiff competition in the market and large quantities were remaining in their stock.

“We had a lot in stock and it was true the drinks were expired. The company, however, collected them and took them back to the store,” he said.

A September 19 returns/ distributor sheet for the company shows that some agents had as many as 100 cartons of expired soft drinks in stock.

Steven attributed the increased expiry of Kiri products on market to unpopularity of the products.

Kiri bottlers, located in Nangabo in Wakiso District, has on its brands of flavoured carbonated soft drinks Kiri Cola, Kiri Orange, Kiri Lemon, and Kiri Fruity.

The company also produces non-carbonated Ono fruit flavoured juice brands.

“There is a lot of competition in the market and the purchasing rate for the products is very low,” Steven said.

Kiri faces competition from the traditional beverage producers Coca Cola and Century bottlers (Pepsi), as well as Riham bottlers who, like Kiri, largely produce brands identical to those from the traditional bottlers.

And, like Riham, Kiri soft drinks (soda) are packaged in 330ml bottles with almost identical to those for other brands and sold at Shs1,000. To add to the competition are a plethora of beverage brands that flood the market, leaving many retailers grappling with sales.

But another distributor, apparently unhappy with the state of affairs, claimed that the company had asked some agents to continue selling the expired drinks to unsuspecting consumers “to cut losses” associated with returns.

Ario, a sales agent in Logiri in Arua District, also echoed similar sentiments. He said Kiri products stay in stock for long leading to their expiry. He admitted that suppliers have on several occasions compelled them to sell the expired stock.

Amid the allegations, the bottling company remains tight-lipped and have been avoiding giving media interviews. Several email messages and calls on their mobiles went unanswere or without replies.

One of the directors, Abdul Rahim, managed to pick his call but terminated it as soon as he learnt it was about media queries. He said he would call later but would not pick up repeated subsequent calls.

Although the company’s presence on social media has significantly dimmed over the last one month, Crime24 confirmed that Rajesh Singh Chauhan, the plant manager, is very much in business going by distribution of stock to retailers in and around Kampala.

A visit to the company offices in on Plot 81 in Nangabo county, Watuba, hardly yielded a comment as the directors were not ready to speak to the media. However, a staffer who preferred anonymity for fear of reprisal said there were challengers in handling distribution and returns in far-flung areas.

“In Kampala and the surrounding districts, you won’t hear of anything like expired products of ours. Today [Friday] alone, we released juice batch that expire in August 2019, and last week we released the soda batch that will expire in March next year,” the staffer said.

The staffer claimed that areas like West Nile are relatively distant for the company of four months like theirs, noting that this could explain why the returns department was not as effective in recalling expired products.

Kiri Bottling Company was registered as a company in March 2018 and officially launched its production in on June 11 “to redefine the idea of celebrating life.

The company that runs under the slogan of celebrating lifesaid Kiri, in Swahili, means ‘to admit’. It brands itself as “there is nothing more important than to admit to three things: great taste, great quality and great service.”

But lingering issues in returns and stocking raises questions on the last part of their marketing gimmick as many would want to question the ‘great service’ offering.

“We realized the need for quality beverages at an affordable price and that is exactly what we set out to
do. Our quality ingredients, the awesome packaging and the delightful flavours will definitely take your
taste buds for a ride,” Kiir says in its marketing.

 

UNBS to look into the stock pile

The spokesperson of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), Godwin Bonge-Muhwezi, said they were not aware that Kiri was selling expired soft drinks.

He said UNBS will send a team on the ground to establish the veracity of the claims before taking appropriate action.

“We will send our team to the areas cited and if we find out that expired products are on sale, we will seize them and the law will take its course,” he said.

Muhwezi said the sale of expired or sub-standard products is a crime and that if found guilty, the distributors will be taken to court.

Is expired soda bad?

According to online sources, the amount of chemicals and beverage additives in carbonated drinks makes leads to the drinks being formulated to last a longer than their shelf life indicate.

Food scientists estimate that diet soda is good for up to four months past its shelf life expiry date, while soda with regular sugar content can safely be consumed up to nine months after its listed expiration date.

An expired canned soda will not release gas when the top is popped. One can also test for bad soda by pouring into a glass and observing for fizzes. If it no longer fizzes up or if it appears watery and there aren’t any bubbles, then it is not no longer good for human consumption.

But these tests do not mean there are no risks for consuming them past their indicated shelf life. The precaution is to avoid expired drinks.

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