Coca-Cola's Secret Formula Vault

Coca-Cola might well be the world’s favorite drink, with a reported 1.7 billion servings sold every day. Such is the mythology that has grown up around the Coca-Cola brand that its recipe is perhaps the most famous trade secret in history. Jealously guarded since first being committed to paper in the early part of the 20th century, it now resides in an extraordinary vault that doubles as a tourist attraction.

The Coca-Cola story begins in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1886 with a chemist called John Pemberton, Creator of delights such as French Wine Coca and Pemberton’s Indian Queen magic Hair Dye. Facing the spectre of prohibition, he set upon devising a non-alcoholic version of his wine coca. The result was a brownish syrup that he intended to market as a sort of ‘cure-all’. Quite serendipitously, however, a batch of this syrup was mixed with carbonated water, creating the drink that is known and loved today.

But for all his talents as a potion-maker, Pemberton was deeply flawed as a businessman. In 18891, he sold his business to Asa Griggs Candler for what turned out to be a regrettably low $2,300. Candler was quick to realize that the value of his purchase lay in Coca-Cola’s distinctive taste, and he forbade its recipe to be written down lest anyone copy it. In 1919, Ernest Woodruff led a team of investors who bought the company from the Candler clan. The purchase required a loan, which woodruff secured by offering the Coca-Cola formula as collateral. After finally persuading Candler to write it down for him, Woodruff deposited the recipe in the vault of the Guaranty Bank of New York. It remained there until 1925 when the loan was paid off and was then moved to the Trust Company Bank in Atlanta Georgia, where it stayed until 2011.

Despite countless imitators on the market, Coca-Cola has made a policy of rarely filling trademark lawsuits against them, since doing so might force them to reveal the formula in court. That said, the basic recipe is believed to include a mixture of caffeine, caramel, coca, citric acid, lime juice, sugar, water and vanilla.

The part of the recipe that remains elusive is ‘Merchandise 7X’, the ingredient responsible for the drink’s unique special flavor despite accounting for just 1 percent of its volume. Over the years, many have claimed to have uncovered the secret. For instance, in 2011, US radio show This American Life announced the rediscovery of a story published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1979. Alongside the article was a photo of the recipe from an old notebook that, it was claimed, belonged to a friend of John Pemberton. Nonetheless, Coca-Cola remains adamant that no one has yet come up with the correct formula.

Company legend has it hath only a tiny band of people know the recipe, and they are not allowed to travel together for fear of an accident in which the formula might be lost forever. In December 2011, the recipe was retrieved from its vault at SunTrust Bank and, under high security, was transferred a few minutes down the road to a new purpose-built vault at the company’s World of Coca-Cola exhibition. The decision to move the formula was apparently unrelated to SunTrust’s decision to sell off its Coca-Cola stock holdings in 2007.

In front of the watching media, a metal box believed to contain the recipe was placed into a newly constructed 2-meter high steel vault. This vault is never opened and is protected by a barrier that keeps the viewing public several meters away. The area is kept under surveillance, with guards on hand to deal with any troublemakers. By the door stands a keypad and a hand-imprint scanner, although officials have refused to confirm if there are simply for show


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