Coca-Cola is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, which makes it a highly valued company. One of the company’s greatest assets is the recipe for its number one product, Coca-Cola. This recipe has remained unchanged for over one hundred years—with one big exception.
In the mid-1980's, Coca-Cola changed its recipe and re-branded the product as “New Coke.” I remember drinking it and wondering why they changed it. It was awful. I don’t have crazy taste buds, but it wasn’t as good as the original. And I remember being mad at them for changing it.
This quote from a timeline on Coca-Cola’s website provides a good synopsis of the events surrounding the recipe change:
The formula for Coca‑Cola is changed for the first time in 99 years. The product, popularly dubbed “New Coke,” generated consumer protest nationwide. Product made with the original formula, renamed “Coca‑Cola Classic,” is returned to the market 79 days later.[i]
The decision by Coca-Cola to bring back the “original formula” was great news to me and others who missed the taste of “real Coke.” We were so happy. Our lives were back to normal.
I moved on just like everyone else did, but I haven’t forgotten this event. It was a nightmare that lasted for over two months, and I remember it because of the strong emotions it created.
Did Coca-Cola make a huge mistake? I don’t believe they did. I love Coke and am a loyal customer. But I believe there is something more to the story that may involve fraud.
There are numerous definitions of fraud. Merriam-Webster provides several, including this one: “an act of deceiving and misrepresenting.” [ii] Coca-Cola may have pulled a fast one on us and New Coke was just part of the plan. The following are a few questions that I have been asking myself:
- Why would Coca-Cola change after 99 years? The company told the media it was “adjusting its formula for modern taste buds.” [iii] My taste buds liked the original recipe, and there were a lot of other folks who agreed with me.
- How did they respond so quickly? In less than three months, Coca-Cola was willing to ditch New Coke and replace it with Coca-Cola Classic. It is difficult for me to believe that a company the size of Coca-Cola was able to admit their mistake and develop a plan to move forward that quickly.
- When exactly did Coca-Cola switch from real sugar to high-fructose corn syrup? In an article written in 2012, the author states that “nearly 30 years ago, Coca-Cola switched from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup.” [iv] This leads one to conclude that the switch occurred around the same time as the release of Coca-Cola Classic. The article also states that high-fructose corn syrup was a more affordable option than real sugar, giving another justification the company may have used for switching.
- Did they really bring back the “original formula?” This could have been the perfect time to replace sugar with high-fructose corn syrup. The taste of New Coke was so different from the taste of original Coca-Cola that my taste buds may not have noticed the slight difference between a Coke made with sugar and one made with high-fructose corn syrup.
Fraud comes in many forms, and to find it, you should ask more questions when things don’t make sense. This could be a grand conspiracy theory that explains how Coca-Cola pulled off a very sophisticated plan to save money by lowering costs, or it could just be the biggest mistake Coca-Cola ever made.
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