Three wholesalers told betterRetailing they had received a warning letter from CCEP, while another wholesaler said its staff had received the same warning from CCEP employees. One said: “The letter didn’t say we’d face any penalty, but it did warn certain Coca-Cola products imported from the US weren’t suitable for UK consumption.”

Explaining its claims, a CCEP spokesperson told betterRetailing: “A number of Fanta products from the US are being sold on the British market. We are not responsible for the import of these products and we are concerned that a number of these drinks do not comply with UK labelling laws. 

“We have been alerting wholesalers to this and asking that they don’t stock these US products – given the lack of compliance – and sell the Fanta drinks range made by CCEP in the UK. 

“Clearly, it is up to wholesalers to decide whether or not to sell imported stock – we ask only that they ensure the labelling is correct and in accordance with UK food and labelling laws so that retailers are not put at risk of potential action by trading standards.”  

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A fifth wholesaler said imported Fanta Mango had become one of its top sellers. They added: “Coca-Cola normally flexes its muscles when products come into the UK from outside Europe, and it has made wholesalers aware of issues around certain flavourings and banned substances. 

“They sell really well, and wholesalers are being asked by retailers to get them in.”

One store owner said their wholesaler withdrew imported soft drinks lines from sale following complaints by CCEP.

Retail expert David Gilroy claimed CCEP will be unable to quash supply of the drinks. He explained: “If there’s value to be had, and if it’s not illegal, smaller wholesalers will sell them, and I don’t blame them. 

“They’re not going to get the best terms with CCEP and they’ll want to be able to compete the best they can.”

More than 90% of independent shop owners surveyed by betterRetailing believe Coca-Cola European Partner’s crackdown on US soft drinks is to protect sales of its UK lines.

Just two of the 25 retailers surveyed agreed the brand was looking to protect independent retailers. One respondent said: “They need to think harder about new product development.” Another added: “Coca-Cola needs to give us what our customers want.”