Coca-Cola says its formula is locked firmly in its vault

Coca-Cola says its formula is locked firmly in its vault

Sales of sparkling cola are under pressure, but one man still believes its stock is high. Cliff Kluge, a pilot from Georgia, told ABC News this week he may have found the original recipe for Coca-Cola - and is selling it on eBay for as much as US$15m. 

Kluge claims he discovered the World War II-era document in a pile of letters he bought at an estate sale four years ago. Though he says he can't be sure it is a copy of the closely-guarded formula for the world's biggest-selling soft drink, he still put it up for auction at a starting bid of $5m. “We believe it is definitely related to Coca-Cola,” he told ABC.

Few agreed with him, however - or at least none who was willing to stump up. One person did match Kluge's opening bid but it turned out to be a 15-year-old hoaxer.

It is not the first time someone has claimed to have stumbled upon what some refer to as the Holy Grail of the soft drinks industry. In 2011, US public radio broadcast This American Life produced a recipe taken from notes of the friend of Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton.

The Coca-Cola Co denied the recipe was accurate, but the show said the bigger point was that nowadays, with the help of a gas chromatograph, anyone could find out the Coca-Cola formula if they put their mind to it. Was the company merely using the “supposedly super-secret formula” as a PR gimmick?

Of course, even if someone could accurately reproduce Coca-Cola, they would have a far harder time reproducing its massive distribution network that reaches into every country (and some that are only just) except North Korea and Cuba. When the US loosened sanctions against Myanmar last year, Coca-Cola was the first beverage company to announce its return, followed by PepsiCo, Carlsberg and, last week, Heineken.

Not even $15m buys that sort of coverage.

Of the latest recipe “uncovering”, Coca-Cola is playing it as it always does - claiming it can't be the real deal as the formula remains locked in its vault in Atlanta, its secrets known only by a handful of employees that never travel on the same plane in case it crashes.

"Through the years, many have tried to crack the secret formula, but no one has been able to reproduce the 'real thing,'” the company told Fox News.

Anyway, as I pointed out earlier this week, with every passing quarter of increased pressure on the cola CSD category there is less reason to seek to reproduce the granddaddy of them all. And with bottled water preparing to overtake carbonates in US sales, the drinks recipe of the future - a single H with a couple of 0s - is perhaps not such a well-kept secret.