Coca-Cola bottler dips on sales blow

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SHARES IN Coca-Cola Beverages slumped by more than 6 per cent yesterday after the soft drinks bottler issued a disastrous sales update.

The shares fell 9p to 128p after the company blamed its poor sales on the war in Kosovo, the continuing economic crisis in Russia and the adverse publicity related to the recent health scare in Belgium, which forced the company to clear Coke from retailers' shelves.

Sales were also affected at the end of June by the recall of eight million bottles of mineral water from a Polish factory after a contamination scare. Total sales in the first half of the year fell by 5 per cent. The Ukraine and Belarus saw particularly steep declines. But even stripping out these expected problems, sales were down by 1 per cent.

Coca-Cola Beverages, which has been a stock market disaster since its flotation last year, is merging with the Hellenic Bottling company, listed in Athens. The terms of the deal, which include a cash alternative of just 150p per share, have been attacked by investors. The company said it did not expect the latest setback to affect the merger.