LONDON (CNNfn) - Coca-Cola relented to mounting criticism of the way it ducked a European health scare and issued a public apology Tuesday.
In an open letter to Belgian consumers, published in 15 Flemish and French language newspapers, the chief executive of the Atlanta-based beverage maker apologized for his silence and promised to make every effort to rebuild trust.
"I should have spoken to you earlier, and I apologize for that," wrote Douglas Ivester, chairman and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola. "To all Belgian people, I want to say that I'm personally very sorry for any discomfort or inconvenience. My colleagues and I will be working very hard to earn you trust again."
Ivester admitted that the company had failed in its pledge to deliver "consistently high-quality consumer goods" after problems were uncovered at two separate bottling plants in Antwerp in Belgium and Dunkirk in France.
The products affected were bottled at the plant in the northern French, and were all destined for the Belgian market, according to Coke's French subsidiary -- which may explain why there's no apology to French consumers.
Coke admitted that low-quality carbon dioxide had tainted both cans and bottles of its core products, including the soft drinks Fanta and Sprite.
Coke products were banned in Belgium and France last week after 200 people fell ill in both countries. Belgian authorities softened the blanket ban late last week, but France is still waiting for results from its own scientists before taken any action.
"To those people who suffered, especially children, my colleagues and I want to express a very sincere apology," Ivester wrote in the letter. "We strive to make sure that Coca-Cola always stands for good feelings, and we regret that it instead resulted in feelings of illness."
Coke has set up a special consumer hotline in Belgium (0800 15 156) and Ivester has told Belgian consumers to write him personally.
A leading consultant said Tuesday that Coca Cola was still the strongest brand in the world, despite the health scare, which it labeled a "hiccup." Interbrand, Newell and Sorrell values the name at $83.85 billion. Microsoft comes in a distant second at $56.7 billion.