Tales from the Trail

Protecting Coke’s secret formula from WikiLeaks

December 2, 2010

Never mind the WikiLeaks fallout for U.S. foreign policy. Today’s kicker question at a National Press Club luncheon: how do you protect Coca-Cola’s famously secret formula from WikiLeaks, the online site now uncloaking a trove of  previously hush-hush U.S. diplomatic documents.  

“I guess that we have to have better systems than the U.S. State Department,” quipped Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola Co’s chief executive.  The world’s largest soft-drink maker’s efforts to keep the formula secret are a matter of legend. USA/

Kent said Coke’s recipe was known to only a few people and kept in a vault in Atlanta, Georgia, where the company has its headquarters. He said he wouldn’t know what to make of it even if he were to try to figure it out.        

“It’s on a piece of paper,” Kent said. “I’m not a food scientist or an engineer — and I wouldn’t know what all those letters meant.”  Coke, meantime, is riding high. 

The maker of Sprite, Fanta, Minute Maid and vitaminwater said volume in its once-ailing North America market rose 2 percent in the third quarter. That follows a 2 percent rise in the second quarter, which was its first increase in more than two years.

Kent waxed enthusiastic about Coke’s next big thing — an eventual nationwide rollout of its ”Free Style” fountain dispenser, capable of dispensing more than 100 different combinations of Coca-Cola beverages from a single gizmo.

“We believe it is going to be a game-changer for us. It gives consumers more choice. It gives us real-time data about consumer preferences,” he said.

The new machines have built-in technology and a Microsoft operating system that give the company up-to-date information on who’s drinking what — and where . In other words, at least on one level, nothing will be secret — not even your choice of soft drink.

Photo credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson (Andy Warhol’s “Coca Cola (4) Large Coca-Cola” at Sotheby’s)

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