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Dec172010

« the coke conspiracy of 1985? »

I don’t drink much soda (or pop, as it’s called in certain parts) but when I do I’ve always chosen Coke over Pepsi.  Pepsi tastes sweeter to me, Coke zingier.  Coca-Cola introduced New Coke, a more syrupy version of itself, with massive hoopla in April 1985, and many people — myself included — were appalled.  According to Wikipedia, “a psychiatrist Coke hired to listen in on phone calls to the company hotline, 1-800-GET-COKE, told executives some people sounded as if they were discussing the death of a family member.”

Less than three months later, without acknowledging any blunder, Coca-Cola introduced Coke Classic.  In 1992 they changed New Coke’s name to Coca Cola II, and began to phase it out in 1993.  Was the whole thing a publicity stunt?  I never gave it much thought.

Until September 2010.  I discovered Coca-Cola in green 12 oz bottles at the Costco.  The sign said, “COCA COLA OF MEXICO MADE W/ PURE CANE SUGAR.”  I bought a case.  Not only does Mexican Coke have a cleaner, less syrupy sweetness, but the heavy glass bottle completes the time warp.  It is the real thing, in a gray market kind of way (putting aside the Costco part). 

I became fascinated and dug a little deeper. It turns out that beginning in 1980, Coca-Cola switched Coke's sweetener from all cane sugar to 50/50 with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  By the time New Coke was introduced, it was 100% HFCS.  Did Coke Classic restore the beverage to its original, original recipe?  No, cane sugar remained absent.

Perhaps the New Coke debacle was a diversion from the sweetener switch-a-roo, but we'll ever know.  (I did encounter Fidel Castro’s opinion, however, in my research.  The longtime Coke drinker called New Coke “a sign of American capitalist decadence.”)

Why HFCS?  Author Michael Pollan writes in his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” that they made the switch because “HFCS was a few cents cheaper than sugar (thanks in part to tariffs on imported sugarcane secured by the corn refiners) and consumers didn’t seem to notice the substitution."

Pollan adds that “we soon began swilling a lot more soda and therefore corn sweetener [because] the price of soft drinks [had] plummeted.”  People began “to pay just a few pennies more for a substantially bigger bottle.”  

In other words, they supersized us.

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