As it stands, Coca Cola products control a hefty 42% of the total soda market share compared to PepsiCo‘s 29.3%, but Coke was not always quite the soft drink juggernaut. Following its meteoric rise through the first half of the 20th century, Coke found its stranglehold on the beverage industry threatened by Pepsi and saw its total market share decrease from well over 60% in the 1950’s to only 24% in 1983. This crisis saw the Coca-Cola Company and its flagship drink undergo radical changes and despite the Coca-Cola referring to the current iteration of the soda’s formula as “classic” Coca-Cola, it is a far cry from the actual original formula first produced in the late 19th century.
The Original Coca-Cola
The name itself is a direct reference to the two original secret ingredients in Coke, caffeine derived from the kola nut and cocaine derived from the coca leaf and it was marketed as a “potion for mental and physical disorders” when it first brewed in the late 19th century. Following the formation of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906, Coca-Cola was forced to change its formula by eliminating cocaine, then eliminating coca leaf byproducts completely, and then finally reducing the level of caffeine in the drink. In addition to the chemical changes, Coca-Cola was also forced to stop marketing Coca-Cola as a medicine. After these alterations were made, the top-secret Coca-Cola formula was left relatively unchanged until the 1980’s, when Coca-Cola ignited a firestorm in the United States by releasing “New Coke”.
A result of the sweeter tasting Pepsi’s stiff competition throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, Coca-Cola’s then-CEO Roberto Goizueta and other executives saw it fit to change Coca-Cola’s taste and image to appeal to a younger generation of consumers. After extensive product testing and research, New Coke was released in 1985 and the initial response was positive as sales increased sharply during its few months. Coca-Cola also decided to ditch Bill Cosby as their official spokesperson and instead opted for the edgy and memorable Max Headroom character. Following the first signs of success, the American public began to loudly complain about the new tasting soda pop and the remaining supplies of the original Coca-Cola began to sell-out for vastly inflated prices. “Old” Coke soon became a highly sought after commodity and the Coca-Cola company was inundated by customer complaints that demanded the return of the original formula. Before the end of 1985, Coca-Cola re-released the old formula as “Coke Classic” and sales boomed, growing at a rate of over twice Pepsi’s growth rate and outselling both New Coke and Pepsi. While New Coke is widely considered one of the biggest and most expensive marketing failures of all-time, it is also suspiciously viewed as possibly planned, and therefore a genius marketing move. By taking original Coca-Cola off the shelves, Americans and many outside of the country found themselves missing the signature taste of the drink and flocked back to it more than ever upon its return.
The secrecy surrounding the Coca-Cola formula has become something of legend, with some claiming that only two Coca-Cola executives are privy to the coveted recipe. In actuality, the recipe is more or less public knowledge as Coca-Cola’s inventor John Pemberton recorded the recipe in his diary, and it is fairly simple. The recipe calls for caffeine, sugar, water, lime juice, vanilla, caramel, orange oil, lemon oil, nutmeg oil, coriander oil, neroli oil, and cinnamon oil. The publication of the recipe has led many Coke fans to brew their own Coca-Cola, and even sell them for consumers looking to shop online, likely to the chagrin of the Coca-Cola Company.
Although its secrets have been revealed, Coca-Cola still remains the top soft drink in the world and it has become something of a symbol of American influence globally. Andy Warhol considered Coke as an example of the equalizing effect of capitalism, as he stated, “what’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.” He solidified the mentality of those clamoring for Classic Coke after New Coke when he concluded with, “All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” Chill up at RedMart with Coca-cola.