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Coca-Cola says 'This American Life' failed to reveal its secret formula

Relax, everyone. The radio program "This American Life" came close with its attempts to reveal Coca-Cola's top-secret formula. But the formula is still very much safe, and still very much top-secret.

So says Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. The soft-drink giant has been bombarded with queries, e-mails and phone calls from around the globe ever since this weekend's edition of "This American Life" that suggested that the top-secret Coca-Cola formula was not-so-secret at all and added that "...we think we may have located the recipe."

Referenced was a 1979 article that ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the discovery of a pharmacist's formula for a cola drink. That article has long led to widespread speculation that the recipe was the basis -- if not the actual formula -- for Coca-Cola.

Kerry Tressler, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, said the media relations department came to work Monday morning to the flood of media requests. "It has been quite a day," she said. She added with amusement that many of the media requests seemed to assume that the formula had been revealed and were waiting for a capitulation from the company or a confirmation of the "real" formula.

"Our formulation is our company’s most valued trade secret, and we will not be coming forward with that formula," Tressler said with a laugh. She said that there is always media interest in Coca-Cola -- "It’s one of the world's most valuable trademarks. People are very interested in that" -- but that this latest flare-up was completely unexpected. (We haven't been able to get through to "This American Life" for a comment, and there were problems with the website throughout the day Tuesday, leading to further speculation that it crashed because of all the interest.)

As the radio program tried to recreate Coca-Cola for audiences, a historian for the soft-drink giant put it to a taste test and confirmed that it was not, in fact, "the real thing," Tressler said. That didn't seem to stop the media from going into overdrive about whether the secret was out. There was such a flurry of interest that it all led to a second wave -- stories about all the stories. Yes, I plead guilty.

Tressler said that from her point of view, the interest couldn't have come at a better time: "This is our 125th anniversary. So it’s an exciting time for our company."

She did confirm the legend of the formula -- that it actually exists on paper, secure in a bank vault. As to rumors that only two people at the company know the formula at any given time? Well, that might be exaggerated. "We cannot confirm the number of people who are familiar with the formulation, but it is only a small handful," she said.

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: George Frey / Bloomberg News

Comments () | Archives (4)

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I listened it to show. The one thing I didn't hear mentioned was which type of Coke product that they used for comparison testing. The formula they aired talked about 30 lbs of sugar. The vast majority of Coke sold in this country uses high fructose corn syrup. That's actually a dead giveaway if the comparison compared to a product made with sucrose.

I guess some bottlers still use the syrup made with real sugar, and every year bottlers ship a Kosher version that uses real sugar around Passover. Supposedly the corn ingredient is not allowed during passover, although I've seen HFCS listed on Kosher labelled products like Heinz ketchup.

I prefer RC Cola.

Not to point out the obvious, but the thrust of the TAL story was that they failed to replicate Coke despite having the ingredients. These are the ingredients for any cola. 28/30 people at the supermarket on whom they tested the coke were able to identify the Coke.

That is great "faux" publicity for Coca Cola. They did not have do anything. They did not have to make a new product, develop a "New" Coke, or anything. All they had to do was to play along with the gag and get publicity all over the world. They could play this gag every few years for free publicity. Now that they have followed Pepsi's lead and purchased a major bottler, they are making more profit now than before and with the added free publicity? Maybe it would be smart to buy some Coke stock?


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