Coca-Cola: Preserving the myth of the real thing

The myth, of course, is that Coca-Cola is the same everywhere you go, and that that bottle marked “Original Formula” actually uses the original formula.

As more and more people from Mexico live in the U.S., whether legally or not, one thing they don’t want to live without is Coca-Cola. But as they discover, much to their surprise, when they arrive, is that Coca-Cola in the U.S. isn’t the same as the “real thing” they grew up with.

In the 1980s, Coca-Cola in the U.S. switched from using cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup. At about the same time, it introduced its ill-fated New Coke product. Three months later, when Coca-Cola Classic came back, instead of sugar, it contained the high-fructose corn syrup. Those with sensitive taste buds can tell the difference, and especially in the Hispanic community, the preference for sugar is clear.

The middle shelf in the soft-drink aisle at Las Tarascas, a Latino supermarket in Lawrenceville, Ga., was bare last week. But store manager Erik Carvallo couldn’t call the local Coca-Cola bottler to replenish his stock of Coke. The Coke Mr. Carvallo’s customers had snapped up comes in scuffed glass bottles stamped “Hecho en Mexico” – made in Mexico. It found its way to this Atlanta suburb through an underground supply chain that flouts Coca-Cola Co.’s long-established distribution system.

Mexican-made Coke is such a popular taste of home for many immigrants that Las Tarascas sells about 20 cases a week, or nearly 500 12-ounce bottles at $1.25 apiece. “It’s what they grew up with,” says Mr. Carvallo. Meanwhile, he sells fewer than five cases a week of the cheaper U.S. version, in cans and plastic bottles on a nearby shelf after his Mexican supply is gone. (A plastic 20-ounce bottle of U.S. Coke sells in some parts of the country for about $1.)

Coke from south of the border is a big business, fueled by the Hispanic population, the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., and soda connoisseurs drawn to its taste and the old-time look of the iconic bottle. Fans insist the Mexican cola, made with cane sugar, has a better “mouth feel” than the U.S. formula. — Associated Press

So Coca-Cola has been sending cease-and-desist letters to the bottlers who dare import this beverage which its customers want. Customs and Border Protection won’t stop the shipments because the Mexican Coke is real. And those of us old enough to remember Coke with sugar are secretly cheering on the Mexican bottlers.

To Coke’s credit, it has started a test program where it is importing a very small amount of Mexican Coke to San Antonio, Texas. But the company doesn’t have any plans to expand the program.

Coke made with real sugar can be obtained in some parts of the U.S. around Passover. These special runs always contain the OUP symbol and most of the time a distinctive yellow cap.

It’s been almost 21 years. Can we have the real Coca-Cola Classic back now?

One thought on “Coca-Cola: Preserving the myth of the real thing

  • October 26, 2007 at 5:58 am

    I was born after the “new Coke” (and probably Sprite too as I will explain in my story later) came out so I never really knew there had been a difference. However on my honeymoon in Costa Rica I ordered a Sprite (which came out in a can). I was amazed with the taste and knew they had used a different kind of sweetener. I turned the can so I could read the ingredients. “Azucar” (sugar) immediately jumped out at me. It also had how many calories it had on the label and was also shocked at how much healthier (calorie-wise anyway) it was from American Sprite. Been missing it since but thanks for the heads up, I’ll have to peek into the local Mexican foods store and see if they carry it.

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