A Storm Over Tropical Fantasy

It was a Tropical Fantasy that turned into a nightmare. Last September the Brooklyn Bottling Corp. came out with an inexpensive line of soft drinks. At 49 cents for a 20-ounce bottle, Tropical Fantasy was priced to sell--and did.

"Our soda was becoming the No. 1 soda in the mom-and-pop stores," says the bottling company's owner, Eric Miller. That's when leaflets started appearing in low-income neighborhoods throughout the Northeast, warning minorities away from the product. The fliers claim that the soft drinks are manufactured by the Ku Klux Klan and "contain stimulants to sterilize the black man."

The Food and Drug Administration, which is investigating the matter, considers the claim "outlandish." So do white supremacists. "The KKK is not bottling business," says Imperial Wizard James Farrands of Sanford, N.C., who heads the largest Klan group in the nation. But frightened Tropical Fantasy drinkers are taking their thirst elsewhere. Angry customers have threatened distributors with baseball bats and pelted delivery trucks with bottles; some stores even refused shipment. Sales--originally projected to reach up to $15 million this year--have plummeted. Ironically, those who stand to be hurt by the smear campaign include the many blacks, Hispanics and Asians working for the bottling company. "If this is not solved, they're going to be unemployed," laments Miller. To put fears to rest, the New York City Council's investigative unit is also looking into the case. And Miller is issuing fliers of his own, hoping to reassure soda drinkers before his business fizzles.