Is Coca-Cola the same as it was 127 years ago?
KFC, Hostess, others use origins, nostalgia to drive business
According to the book, Sanders was afraid the new owners would ruin the chicken because he said they "didn't know a drumstick from a pig's ear."
A KFC spokesman, Rick Maynard, said the issue over the grease was indicative of Sanders' hands-on approach even after selling the business. Maynard said the important parts of the recipe are the seasoning, using fresh chicken on the bone, hand breading according to standards and frying under pressure. As for the chain's recently introduced boneless Original Recipe chicken, he said it uses the recipe's seasoning.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, the nation's No. 1 and 2 soda makers, respectively, also are known for touting the roots of their recipes.
In the book "Secret Formula," which was published in 1994 and drew from interviews with former executives and access to Coca-Cola's corporate archives, reporter Frederick Allen noted that multiple changes were made to the formula over the years. For instance, Allen noted that that the soda once contained trace amounts of cocaine as a result of the coca leaves in the ingredients, as well as four times the amount of caffeine.
In an emailed statement, Coca-Cola said its secret formula has remained the same since it was invented in 1886 and that cocaine has "never been an added ingredient" in its soda.
It's a line that's familiar to Terry Parham, a retired special agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency. After the agency opened its museum in Arlington, Va. in the late 1990s, Parham, who was working in the press office at the time, recalled in a recent interview with the Associated Press that a Coca-Cola representative called to complain about an exhibit that noted the soda once contained cocaine. The exhibit stayed and Parham said the DEA didn't hear back from the company.
PepsiCo also celebrates its origins and in the past two years held its annual shareholders meeting in New Bern, N.C., where Caleb Bradham is said to have created the company's flagship soda in the late 1890s. But the formula for Pepsi was changed to make it sweeter in 1931 by the company's new owner, who didn't like the taste.
In the 1980s, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both switched from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, a cheaper sweetener. The companies last year also said they'd change the way they make the caramel coloring used in their sodas to avoid having to put a cancer warning label on their drinks in California, where a new law required such labels for foods containing a certain level of carcinogens.
Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo say the sweetener and caramel sources do not alter the basic formulas or taste for their sodas. And they continue to hype up the enduring quality of their recipes.
This past spring, for example, Coca-Cola welcomed the widespread news coverage of a Georgia man who claimed to have found a copy of the soda's formula and tried to sell it on eBay. The company saw the fanfare as evidence of the public's fascination with its formula, and eagerly offered to make its corporate historian available for interviews to fuel the media attention.
Likewise, the company is happy to reminisce about the backlash provoked by the introduction of New Coke in 1985. The sweeter formula was a marketed as an improved replacement for the flagship soda, and the company points to the outrage that ensued as proof of how much people love the original. According to the emailed statement from Coca-Cola, that's the only time the company ever tried changing its formula.
The loyalty to that narrative is on full display at the World of Coca-Cola, where visitors mill about in a darkened exhibit devoted to myths surrounding the soda's formula. Tabloid-style headlines are splashed across the walls and whispers play on a recorded loop:
"Even if you could see the formula, you wouldn't understand it!" a voice says. "It's the greatest mystery of all time!" says another.
The museum gets about a million visitors a year, with a plaque at the end of one exhibit stating "Keeping the Secret Ensures That the Magic Lives On." But on a recent summer afternoon, at least one of them wasn't impressed.
"This part's boring," a small boy declared.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi
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