Alarm bells must have been ringing at Coca-Cola Towers this week – with not one but two alleged leaks of the fizzy stuff’s famous secret recipe.
Atlanta resident Cliff Kluge enjoyed a wave of publicity when he put a letter apparently detailing the secret formula for sale on eBay, priced at a cool $5m (£3.3m). Mr Kluge and his wife found the yellowing document in a box they bought at an estate sale.
“The fatty substances of the various ingredients will rise to the top but will readily dissolve in the syrup when made to bottle and will not show up in the finished drink so don’t bother about that,” the letter reads, while recommending the mixture be left to stand for 30 days. Naturally, Mr Kluge blanked out the key ingredients so buyers had to cough up for the privilege to see them.
“The fatty substances of the various ingredients will rise to the top but will readily dissolve in the syrup when made to bottle and will not show up in the finished drink”
Alleged Coca-Cola recipe
Despite the publicity, the parchment attracted no bids at the first time of asking. Mr Kluge relisted the item and sold it yesterday at the ‘buy-it-now’ price of $15m. Unfortunately, the buyer was a 15-year-old boy, and so it was not a legitimate bid, Mr Kluge told reporters (Kluge, by the way, admitted he couldn’t be sure the recipe was the real deal).
Meanwhile, author Mark Pendergrast published the third edition of his unauthorised history of the world’s biggest soft drink, For God, Country and Coca-Cola, which contains a version of the Coca-Cola recipe first concocted by chemist John Pemberton in 1886.
A variant of this recipe, however, has been available for some time (you can see it here). There are others on Wikipedia, including a recipe ‘discovered’ in 2011 by the US radio show This American Life, which in turn unearthed it from a 1979 issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This recipe is thought to tally fairly closely with Mr Kluge’s version.
Further back in time, there is New Yorker journalist E J Kahn Jr’s book The Big Drink, published in 1960, which supposedly revealed the mystical 7X ingredient that makes Coke taste the way it does.
As for Coca-Cola, the company has – unsurprisingly – been reluctant to confirm that any of these recipes are authentic. Coca-Cola’s archivist, Ted Ryan, told ABC News he thought Kluge’s formula was the recipe for a “Cola-type” drink. The company is adamant that the “real formula” is locked away safe and sound in the vault of its World of Coca Cola tourist attraction in Atlanta.
So, instead of ringing alarm bells, it seems more likely the week’s events have tickled Coca-Cola’s publicity department – as the video above makes clear, it’s not shy of stoking its own mythology.
Urban legends site Snopes.com, which has investigated the issue exhaustively, puts it like this: “Other than for the publicity value, there’s no need to go to any lengths to keep the Coke recipe secret. Anyone who could reproduce the drink couldn’t market the product as Coca-Cola, and without that brand name the beverage would be close to worthless.”
All in all, Mr Kluge will be lucky to get that $5m.