Tuesday AM October 11th, 2010

A new book examines the world’s most valuable brand — Coca Cola. It looks at the company’s history, corporate behavior and the “real coke” versus “new coke” period. Ed Mayberry reports.

The Dirty Truth About the World's Favorite Soft Drink book cover The author talked with workers, politicians, activists and lawyers, but was granted just one interview opportunity with Coca-Cola executives. In his book The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth About the World’s Favorite Soft Drink, Michael Blanding investigates the company’s track record with environmental issues, water shortages and union busting. Along the way there are accounts of the “Real Coke” versus “New Coke” controversy, resulting in backtracking to “Coke Classic.”

“They actually did these taste tests and determined that people liked this new formulation of Coke better than the old one. The irony is that people really rejected the taste that they’d been shown to like better in favor of this image of Coke that had been perpetuated over the years. And within a year, sales of Coke had come bouncing back much further than before, and in fact they even outpaced Pepsi again, and so some people did start speculating that it was all just a public relations ploy, that they’d done it on purpose. But I think that it was more of a happy accident, and surprised even them.”

The first three chapters deal with the history of Coke. What about those stories of cocaine in Coke, back when it was introduced?

“Coke was spawned in this era of patent medicines, where in the late 1800’s when doctors were really scarce in the country, so it really was deliberately created as this kind of miracle drug combining the essence of coca leaves and cola nuts. You would have had to drink about 20 or 30 Cokes to feel much of a kick from it.”

Ed: “Why do companies use caffeine in the drinks, when it can be taken out?”

“Not only Coke, but other soft drink companies have claimed in the past that they put caffeine in as something that affects the taste. That’s actually shown not to be true.”

But as with caffeine in coffee, the consumer likes it. Blanding has written for The Nation, The New Republic, Consumers Digest and publications in Boston.