And so goes the cola war.
What happened to the Pepsi-UBBA agreement is in dispute.
UBBA contends that Pepsi reneged on an agreement it made in May to give discounts to some black grocers belonging to UBBA.
Ron Hall, acting UBBA president, said the program was supposed to allow UBBA members to buy soda collectively, thus entitling them to discounts Pepsi gives its large customers.
But Hall said Pepsi officials, after agreeing in May to provide the discount to UBBA members, told him in late June that the price cuts would violate the law.
"Pepsi backed off the agreement," said Hall, who declined further comment.
Pepsi says there was a misunderstanding over the terms of an agreement the company and UBBA ballyhooed at a news conference in late May.
Tod MacKenzie, spokesman for Pepsi Cola Co. at its Purchase, N.Y., headquarters, said Pepsi agreed to offer UBBA merchants the best price available to stores of their size. He said that UBBA mistook that to mean the best price available to any store.
Soda prices are determined in part by quantity sold, MacKenzie said. Thus, supermarkets and other outlets that sell the most get the lowest price because costs of distributing to them are lower.
UBBA officials thought they would get the supermarket price for soda, but Pepsi by law cannot offer one group of small merchants a better price than other small merchants get, MacKenzie said.
An offer to provide a special marketing and advertising program to UBBA merchants still stands, he said. UBBA, so far, has declined that offer.
Pepsi has "every intention to go forward with this," MacKenzie said. ''The next step is to get UBBA to buy into the program and go forward with it."
The former Pepsi official who developed the agreement, Ronald Cuie, contends that Pepsi did indeed back off from the agreement. The reason it did so, he says, is that the agreement would have cut into its profits from small mom-and-pop stores, a lucrative part of Pepsi's business.
Cuie said his bosses told him they would not go forward with the program
because a group of white merchants had threatened to sue the company if the price were not made available to them as well.
"They said if they did it for UBBA, they would have to do it for everybody else," Cuie said.
Cuie is embroiled in a personal dispute with Pepsi, which fired him shortly after the UBBA agreement was announced.
Pepsi officials said there was no connection between Cuie's firing and the UBBA dispute, but Cuie contends that he was the fall guy for the promotion gone awry.
Cuie says the discounts Pepsi offered UBBA were similar to discounts it quietly gives other groups.
MacKenzie said all Pepsi promotions were carried out within the law. He said Pepsi simply did not give discounts to stores outside of their own ''tier" - that is, stores with certain sales volumes.
When first asked about the UBBA dispute, MacKenzie said price discounts never were part of the Pepsi-UBBA promotional program.
"Pricing was not part of the announcement (in May) and quite obviously could never be," he said. "It was never proposed and it would be impossible to do so. . . . All customers have access to the exact same prices."
In a later interview, he said the company had agreed to offer UBBA the best price available, a statement that was at the source of the ''misunderstanding."
Many of the questions in dispute ultimately may be resolved in court. Cuie has sued Pepsi, arguing that he was discriminated against and fired because he is black.
Pepsi says Cuie was fired for mismanagement after an audit uncovered irregular practices within his department.
Cuie contends that his superiors were angry because of the controversy over the UBBA agreement.
MacKenzie, however, said Cuie's work-related problems began before the UBBA pact was unveiled. He said Pepsi, after receiving an anonymous tip, investigated finances at Pepsi's Eastwick plant in Philadelphia, which Cuie managed.
MacKenzie said many illegalities, including fraud and conversion of funds, were found, although he said Cuie was not "personally implicated in the alleged scheme."
Cuie was fired, MacKenzie said, "because the wrongdoings occurred on his watch."
Cuie said he was aware of problems and fired an employee just last
December. Pepsi later hired the man back after an arbitrator ruled in the employee's behalf, MacKenzie said.