August 27, 2013

'Secret formula,' sure,
but sacred? Not quite

Coca-Cola and other food companies play up stories of product origins, but they're not averse to changing the recipes.

By CANDICE CHOI The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Marilyn Buamah
click image to enlarge

Security officer Marilyn Buamah guards the soda “secret recipe” vault while waiting for a tour group at the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. The vault is bathed in red security lights and monitored by cameras.

The Associated Press

In an emailed statement, Coca-Cola said its secret formula has remained the same since it was invented in 1886 and that cocaine has "never been an added ingredient" in its soda.

PepsiCo also celebrates its origins. In the past two years it held its annual shareholders meeting in New Bern, N.C., where Caleb Bradham is said to have created the company's flagship soda in the late 1890s. But the formula for Pepsi was changed to make it sweeter in 1931 by the company's new owner, who didn't like the taste.

In the 1980s, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both switched from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, a cheaper sweetener. Last year, the companies also said they had changed the way they make the caramel coloring used in their sodas to avoid having to put a cancer warning label on their drinks in California, where a new law required such labels for foods containing a certain level of carcinogens.

Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo say the sweetener and caramel sources do not alter the basic formulas or taste for their sodas. And they continue to hype the enduring quality of their recipes.

This past spring, for example, Coca-Cola welcomed the widespread news coverage of a Georgia man who claimed to have found a copy of the soda's formula and tried to sell it on eBay. The company saw the fanfare as evidence of the public's fascination with its formula, and eagerly offered to make its corporate historian available for interviews to fuel the media attention.

Likewise, the company is happy to reminisce about the backlash provoked by the introduction of New Coke in 1985. The sweeter formula was marketed as an improved replacement for the flagship soda, and the company points to the outrage that ensued as proof of how much people love the original. According to the emailed statement from Coca-Cola, that's the only time the company ever tried changing its formula.

The loyalty to that narrative is on full display at the World of Coca-Cola, where visitors mill about in a darkened exhibit devoted to myths surrounding the soda's formula. Tabloid-style headlines are splashed across the walls, and whispers play on a recorded loop:

"Even if you could see the formula, you wouldn't understand it!" a voice says. "It's the greatest mystery of all time!" says another.

The museum gets about a million visitors a year, with a plaque at the end of one exhibit stating "Keeping the Secret Ensures That the Magic Lives On." But on a recent summer afternoon, at least one of them wasn't impressed.

"This part's boring," a small boy declared.

 

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