By Patrick May / The Mercury News
Coca-Cola apparently believes the second time is a charm.
After waiting nearly 40 years since first introducing New Coke, only to have it bomb, the company is bringing the ill-fated product back to the world that didn’t want it in the first place. As part of a promo it’s doing with the producers of “Stranger Things,” now entering its third season, Coke will introduce a limited number of New Coke cans in both the show and in real-life in early July.
Re-introducing a flop is sure to add even more folk lore to a global corporate heavyweight that has been oozing its own self-made mythology since company founder Asa Candler in 1891 first erected the iron-clad veil of secrecy that surrounds the one of the world’s most famous recipes.
Here’s a sampling of that legendary lore:
Keep it in the vault
Producers of the radio program “This American Life” in 2011 “came across an article on the history of Coca-Cola in an old copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Coca-Cola’s hometown newspaper,” according to an article in Time. “Published on page 2B on February 18, 1979, the article received little attention at the time. But, producers say, that’s because no one realized the photo used to illustrate the story is a hand-written copy of John Pemberton’s original recipe, jotted down by a friend in a leather-bound recipe book of ointments and medicines, and passed down by friends and family for generations.”
This recipe is nutty!
“The long story of Coke’s secret formula begins with Pemberton, a veteran from Georgia who emerged from the Civil War with a morphine addiction,” says the report. “Hoping to cure his ailment, he dreamed up Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, a brew that included kola nut and coca wine. But in 1886, as Atlanta passed prohibition legislation, he reformulated the drink without alcohol, renamed it Coca-Cola, and began selling it in Georgia pharmacies.”
Paranoia strikes deep …
Asa Candler, an early president of the company, bought the formula in 1887, according to the article, but he worried rivals would obtain the recipe “so he insisted no one ever write it down again. Staff removed all labels from ingredient containers and identified them by sight and smell only. Candler even went through the company mail so he could shred invoices that employees might attempt to sell to other drink makers.”
Is the secret out?
According to the sleuths at “This American Life,” Candler and his colleagues were too late: “The book of remedies with the copy of the Coke recipe had already started its travels,” according to Time. “This American Life tracked down the book to a widow in Griffin, Georgia, who says her husband was fishing buddies with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer. It’s now in a bank vault, too.”
And yet, the mystery remains …
Even though the world may have deduced the general ingredients on their own, the report says nobody has yet to figure out the so-called “Merchandise 7X flavoring” that gives Coke its telltale taste and alluring effervescence. “The company has always said, and as far as I know it’s true, that at any given time only two people know how to mix the 7X flavoring ingredient,” Mark Pendergrast, historian and author of For God, Country and Coke told “This American Life.”
“Those two people never travel on the same plane in case it crashes; it’s this carefully passed-on secret ritual and the formula is kept in a bank vault.”
Forgotten, but not gone
According to Mental Floss, New Coke hung around for a while, even though most people thought it was history. “After consumers berated the company into bringing back their original flavor just months after New Coke’s debut … the company tried to rebrand it as Coke II and continued offering it to bottlers until 2002. It may have been in the hope that persistence would pay off: The revised formula allegedly contained fewer ingredients and was cheaper to produce than Coke Classic.”