Coca-ColaCoca-Cola (KO) is finally giving consumers a glimpse of its secret formula -- but just a glimpse.

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola moved its secret formula to a vault to be displayed in its World of Coca-Cola museum in downtown Atlanta as part of the company's 125th anniversary celebrations. The formula was previously stored in a bank vault at SunTrust Bank (STI), where it had resided since 1925.

Although the formula for Coca-Cola was created in 1886, when Dr. John Pemberton invented the concoction and founded the company, it was not written down on paper until 1919, when a group of investors, led by Ernest Woodruff, made plans to purchase the business.

Woodruff asked for the formula to be documented as collateral for his initial investment. At that point, the formula was stored in a vault at the Guaranty Bank in New York until it was moved to Atlanta's Trust Company (which later became SunTrust) in 1925.

What's Really on Display

Coke's Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent claims that the display of the formula will allow customers to "celebrate both the rich history of the brand's beginnings and the moments of refreshment and happiness to come for future generations."

Unveiled in a vault, Coca-Cola's secret formula has found a new home at the World of Coca-Cola. AP

Actual sharing -- as in laying eyes on the formula -- will have to be left to the imagination, since the formula itself remains hidden from customers. Standing between safe-crackers and the secret formula is a keypad and hand-imprint scanner attached to the vault.

But even if you could get your hands on the formula, it probably wouldn't be of much use anyway: Given the increasing use of high-fructose corn syrup due to cost cutting, the current recipe is likely very different from the original formula passed down from Pemberton.

Besides, the real secret to Coca-Cola's worldwide success isn't what's behind the lock.

Coke's Real Trade Secret (Hint: It's Not the Flavor)

The highly orchestrated pageantry is more of a reflection of Coke's marketing genius than the importance of its "trade secret."

Coca-Cola knows how to sell an image, and that's clearly on display in this display -- billowing "smoke" welcomes museumgoers into the exhibit that leads into a red-carpeted cylinder-shaped room (mimicking the shape of a can) displaying the vault.

It's the company's marketing genius that has made Coca-Cola the largest beverage company, beating out rival PepsiCo (PEP) and much smaller peers such as Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS). In fact, the company's production expenses pale in comparison to marketing expenses. Coke is the most recognizable brand in the world, and has customers in over 200 countries consuming 1.7 servings of Coke products daily.

By displaying the mysterious formula locked away in a vault hidden from view, Coke communicates to its customers that Coke is the "real thing," with a formula created 125 years ago, and guarded so carefully that competitors cannot access and copy it. The funny thing is that how the beverage itself is made is almost inconsequential.

Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Coca-Cola.


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Tristan Tandberg

here Here is a funny joke I saw about coke’s trade secret,
http://ponderingstuff.com/2012/02/01/we-need-to-force-coke-to-patent-its-drink-formula/

February 04 2012 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
key

coke sucks thats why i drink dr pepper!@!

January 04 2012 at 12:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
key

coke is nasty

January 04 2012 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pam Miller

Coke tastes nothing like it did in the 60's. Which is exactly why I am of the "Pepsi Generation"!

December 26 2011 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
glassguy2

go to any other country ,such as one in central america ,it is the old coke ,real sugar in glass bottles soooo good

December 26 2011 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
corsair807

don't drink coke or any other soda

December 26 2011 at 2:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to corsair807's comment
alfredschrader

Take regular Coke and squeeze some fresh lemon juice into it. The result is similar to Sprite with a caffien kick....Alfred-

December 26 2011 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

Amazingly I don't have any patents, but I have more trade secrets than Coca Cola. For example, I'm the only one who knows how to make a graviton matrix, a product with a 100 billion dollar world wide market.
During the 1930's and forties there were two forces in the soft drink business: Coke, and my uncle Henry who owned the Nedix soda company. It was while my dad was at Nedix that he invented Yoo Hoo chocolate drink.
My uncle Henry used to go on safaris to the Amazon in search of new flavors. I've tasted some very interesting things.
He used to bring back very strange animals which he let roam loose on his estate in Coral Gables.
Going there as a boy was incredible.

I invent something new almost every day. Right now I have the dough rising for a new double crust pizza.
What is this ? I take two hand tossed pizza crusts and place one into a Pannini-like grill press and top with cheese, then another round of pizza dough, and close the grill press. It grills the dough on both sides at once. When it comes out it's crispy on both sides. Then I drizzle good marinara sauce in zig zags over it. When you bite it, long strings of cheese appear.....Alfie-

December 26 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
point6000

I think china has asked for the secret and now wants it given to them so
THEY can make it (coke) and sell yet another item in the 'china-mart' stores and put this country
more down the tolet.

FAIR TRADE AGREEMENT!.... CHINA!....Give me a F'N break.

December 26 2011 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Walt

I GREW UP IN THE SHADOWS OF THE COKA COLA BOTTELING COMPANY, AND KNEW THE WOODRUFF AND CANDLER KIDS THESE WERE THE INHERITORS OF COKE...I WILL SAY THAT THEY HAVE MADE SEVERAL BIG MISTAKES, ONE WAS OF NOT BUYING PEPSI COLA WHEN IT WAS OFFERED TO THEM, AND THE OTHER WAS CHANGEING THE FORMULAR OF COKE....MY SON WAS PLAYING SOCCER WITH THE NEW PRESIDETN OF COKE IN THE EARLY 80S WHEN THEY CHANGED THE FORMULAR, WE WENT TO LUNCH WITH THE BOYS, WHEN THE WAITRESS SAID AS THEY DO IN ATLANTA " I GUESS TWO COKES FOR THE LITTLE BOYS" MY SON ACTUALLY SAID NO, I WANT ORANGE, COKE TASTE LIKE A FLAT PEPSI NOW, I FELT LIKE SCREAMING AND BRIAN SAID DON'T WORRY, THIS IS MILD TO WHAT THE HATE MAIL WE ARE GETTING, WE PLAN TO GO BACK TO THE OLD STYLE IN 22 DAYS, TO STAY ALIVE....CUTE ONE.

December 26 2011 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sekinu2

Id love to see coke offeran original version of coke maybe for a limited run. Make it just like the original of course minus the cocaine lol. Price it accordingly but let the consumers sample what coke really was. The hyfrutose corn syrup really has changed its taste even from the 80s.

December 26 2011 at 12:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply