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Retailers yesterday reported a drop of 25% to 30% in sales of Coca Cola versus normal times, namely when the bubbles in the popular soda don't smell of sulfur.

When the crisis erupted about a week ago, after TheMarker revealed that representatives of the Central Bottling Company were quietly recalling bottles of Coca-Cola from stores, the damage seemed minimal. Although the company had neglected to inform consumers that there was a problem, at worst grocers reported a 2% dip in sales. But as the recall became public knowledge, then expanded to Diet Sprite, Kinley Soda and cans and glass bottles of Coke, sales fizzled, falling by about 10%.

Now stores are reporting a drop as steep as 30%.

The Central Bottling Company, usually but inaccurately known as "Coca-Cola Israel," blames the mishap on the carbon dioxide gas it bought from Makhteshim-Agan Industries. While insisting that consumers were not at risk, it advised them not to drink the affected beverages, and told them to call its hotline at 1-800-587-587 for replacement products. Usually the Central Bottling hotline gets about 250 calls a day. Now it's more like 100 per hour.

While Coca-Cola sales dry up, the competition is rocking. Sales of Pepsi, disseminated by Tempo Beer, and RC, distributed by Jaf-Ora, are up. Grocers report rising sales of non-carbonated drinks as well.

Certainly, the news is out. A survey by Panels Institute for Channel 10 News found that 93% of households had heard of the cola travails and 48% think the company is lying about the problem not posing a health hazard. Worse, from the Central Bottling'sview, 12% of respondents say they'll never drink Coke again. Of course, 65% of respondents continue to have faith and will put their money where their mouth is.