Everyone loves a good myth. One that’s been perpetuated with verve is that only two individuals possess the Coca-Cola formula, and they can never meet for fear of the secret being lost. Let’s set the record straight: it’s not true. The legend might have its roots in a Coca-Cola advertisement, but the actual story is far more intricate.
While the iconic syrup gets brewed daily across different geographies with slight variations, it’s only logical that a number of individuals possess knowledge about the recipe to ensure its consistent delivery. Imagining a scenario where two people hold half the recipe each, not only sounds impractical but also like a business risk should one of them suddenly vanish. It’s similar to the advertising gimmick that Coca-Cola’s top two executives shouldn’t travel together.
Let’s Be Clear
Several individuals within the Coca-Cola company are likely privy to the formula. The finance team, particularly those at higher echelons, would be well-aware of the ingredients due to financial oversight. By studying the purchase invoices and production output, one can almost decipher the recipe, albeit with some effort.
However, how many have direct access to the authentic recipe? Even Coca-Cola’s director of marketing quipped, “not a lot of people know.” That’s ambiguous at best.
Even in a hypothetical scenario where everyone aware of the recipe suddenly vanished, the formula wouldn’t be lost. It’s securely stored in a vault near Atlanta, Georgia. It’s probable that the company has the recipe stashed in multiple locations, with distinct parts accessible to different personnel.
The origin of this two-people myth? The trail leads back to John Pemberton, the beverage’s creator. Initially, the recipe might have been known to Pemberton and a colleague or two. Over the years, as the drink’s popularity soared, more got initiated into the secret.
The secrecy took a deeper hue when Asa Candler bought the patent in 1891. While Pemberton had sold the formula to multiple parties, Candler reportedly attempted to destroy all written copies, relying on select individuals to remember the formula. This strategy might have worked in those early days, but it’s hardly a blueprint for today’s corporate juggernaut.
Come 1919, and the story takes another turn. The company was bought over by Earnest Woodruff and partners, who used the written formula as collateral for a loan. Post repayment, instead of destroying it like Candler, Woodruff safeguarded it in a vault in Atlanta’s Trust Company Bank. This protection doesn’t imply that only two knew the formula; several stakeholders would’ve been privy to the contents before it was vaulted.
Woodruff’s strategy to keep a written formula was perhaps more about branding than secrecy. By amplifying the enigma surrounding the formula, Woodruff sold the idea of Coca-Cola being irreplaceable. During his tenure, the narrative of only two knowing the full recipe was popularized, even though at least four known employees could make the syrup from scratch. In today’s era, such employees would surely be bound by ironclad non-disclosures.
The story of the formula being so tightly sealed that it would take a team of 11 hackers to crack open the vault may seem sensational. Yet, in 2011, the company shifted this formula from one vault to a more fortified one amidst fanfare, turning it into an exhibit at “The World of Coca-Cola.”
This move, more about brand mystique than actual secrecy, indicates that while the recipe is valuable, the lore surrounding it is perhaps even more precious. Even if someone did manage to steal the recipe, Coca-Cola can simply deny it and the myth, the legend, the brand allure remains intact.
Coca Cola Facts You Didnt Know
Sugar Varieties in Different Coke Bottlings
In the US, the majority of Coca-Cola bottlers opt for high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. However, specific versions like Kosher Coke, Mexican Coke, and the Coca-Cola sold in glass bottles within the US still use cane sugar.
Pemberton, Cocaine, and Coca-Cola’s Evolution
John Pemberton, the original creator of Coca-Cola, sold his recipe to various manufacturers. These versions of Coca-Cola contained cocaine, with some offering up to nine milligrams per serving. Asa Candler later reformulated Coca-Cola to reduce its cocaine content and by 1903, switched to using “spent” coca leaves, resulting in trace amounts of cocaine in the beverage. Thanks to improved extraction methods by Stepan Company, the trace levels were finally eliminated.
The Tragic End of the Pembertons
The founder of Coca-Cola, John Pemberton, sadly succumbed to cancer on August 16, 1888. His son, Charley, faced an even more tragic fate, dying from a drug overdose just six years later.
The “Soda-Pop” Misconception
The term “soda-pop” became popular as many believed that the bubbles in carbonated drinks came from soda or sodium bicarbonate. This misconception linked to other common products of that era which contained soda. A more accurate term would have been “carbonated-pop”.
The Origin of “Pop”
In 1812, English poet Robert Southey coined the term “pop” in a letter, noting its playful reference to the cork’s sound when opening a carbonated beverage. He amusingly remarked on the explosive effect of drinking too much of this effervescent drink.
Carbonation: From Health to Taste
Initially, carbonation was introduced to beverages for perceived health benefits. Now, it’s primarily for enhancing taste and prolonging shelf life. The carbonic acid formed from added CO2 provides a tangy flavor and the mild sting we associate with carbonated drinks. Additionally, this acid acts as a preservative, extending the beverage’s shelf life.
The Evolution of “Soft Drink”
The term “soft drink” is synonymous with carbonated beverages today. However, its original definition was any drink without alcohol. The evolution of this phrase’s meaning is an interesting journey in its own right.
Discovering Pemberton’s Original Formula
Mark Pendergrast, in his book “For God, Country, and Coca-Cola,” revealed a recipe he found within Pemberton’s records. The original ingredients included Citrate Caffein, Vanilla, Lime Juice, Citric Acid, and a unique mixture for the distinctive flavor comprising Orange, Lemon, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Coriander, Neroli, and Alcohol. Today, while many ingredients remain, there have been modifications like the introduction of phosphoric acid, reduced caffeine, and the swap of sugar for corn syrup by many bottlers. Despite Coca-Cola’s claim of maintaining the original formula, analysis indicates some differences.