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If only two executives know the secret recipe of Coca Cola at any one time, and it is so well guarded, then how do they manufacture Coca Cola in plants without giving away this secret to the workers?

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@Paul dead link? –  Jolenealaska Aug 11 at 23:08
    
I'll try once more. Sorry about that. boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=516502 –  Paul Aug 12 at 13:11
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about security, not cooking. –  KatieK Aug 15 at 21:02

2 Answers 2

up vote 33 down vote accepted

It's no secret, here it is! Complete with the cocaine that was removed from Coke's production in 1903:

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Picture and text from This American Life

The radio broatcast recording on the above link makes a very compelling case that the picture at the top of the page is really the original formula for Coke. Of course it has changed over the years; it's not exactly the same thing now as it was way back when. In addition to removing the cocaine, they've also cut the caffeine, switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup and use phosphoric acid now instead of citric acid. The proportions of the 7X ingredients had to have changed as well over time, as the ingredients themselves have changed. Extracting oils is a very different process now than it was over 100 years ago.

The idea that the formula is ever-so-secret is a marketing gimmick. Sure, the actual formula is a trade secret, but the massive effort to keep the world's biggest secret thing is just a bunch of theater.

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Photo and caption from NY Daily News

The "down to the gram" specifics of the production recipe today is a trade secret, but no more so than just about every trademarked, brand name food item sold today. No one person mixes and measures the whole batch (that's just practical, it's not a security measure), so keeping the "super-secret-recipe" as it stands today from being published is no more difficult for Coke than it is for KFC. Nor are there highly-paid super-slueths trying to steal the formula against whom Coke needs to take extraordinary measures.

They're just goofin.

Addendum

When I wrote this answer, I had no idea that it was going to get so "big" or that Skeptics.SE was simultaneously tackling the same issue. Had I known, I would have spent a little bit more time researching. I have since done quite a bit more research and I am now even more strongly of the opinion that the secret-formula of Coke is just a normal trade secret, and the hype is just hype for the sake of marketing.

Furthermore, the recipe for the 7X (that's even what Coke calls its "ever so super-secret" formula) in the old book pictured at the top of this answer is genuinely either the original formula or a precursor to it. At any rate, it's darn close.

If you're interested in learning more about the handwritten recipe in the book, I strongly encourage you follow this link: This American Life and listen to the recording of the radio broadcast about the book, the formula and the hype.

Early in the broadcast they make a point that I've been saying since I first got wind of this completely over-the-top marketing gimmick. One of the legends of "the secret" is that it is only known by two people, and they never fly on the same plane (you know, like the President of the United States and the Vice President).

“The company has always said, and as far as I know it’s true, that at any given time only two people know how to mix the 7X flavoring ingredient,” Mark Pendergrast, historian and author of For God, Country and Coke told This American Life. “Those two people never travel on the same plane in case it crashes; it’s this carefully passed-on secret ritual and the formula is kept in a bank vault.” Time Magazine

Think about that a second. If the vault contains "the secret" known to only the two men, and the two men died in the same plane crash, wouldn't someone at the company be able to open the vault? If the two men know something beyond that (or somethings, one version of the legend held that each man only knew half the secret) why wouldn't they put that information in the vault as well?

Furthermore, if you have a really big secret that you'll go to any lengths to keep, would you shout from every mountaintop, "I know something YOU don't! Nee ner nee ner nee ner!"?

So I say again, yes it's a trade secret, it's just a normal trade secret. It's not the Manhattan Project. The hype is just hype, the fact that we're talking about it now just emphasizes how effective the marketing is. Buying into the hype is just drinking the Kool-Aid.

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A cynical person might say that this is a less of a goof, and more of a means to reinforce their brand by inflating its prestige. Presumably something must be special if it has a super-secret formula! An even more cynical person might point out that there is no single recipe, and that the formulation differs by country and market (e.g. "Mexican Coke"). The most cynical person ever is just waiting for them to bring back New Coke. –  logophobe Aug 11 at 14:16
    
@logophobe I remember "New Coke" so clearly. That had to have been the most boneheaded marketing maneuver ever. Except maybe the first dozen publishers that turned down J. K. Rowling. –  Jolenealaska Aug 11 at 14:20
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Hm, could you have a look at skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/8559/… and see what the deal is? The skeptics seem to think that it is a secret, not just for show. –  Jefromi Aug 11 at 19:40
    
Which part of the ingredient list is the cocaine in? –  Kyle Strand Aug 11 at 19:52
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@Jefromi Hmmm, I'll accept "trade secret" (as I do in my answer), but I think the answerer at Skeptics is "drinking the kool-aid" provided by the marketers at Coke. I'll write a dissenting answer at Skeptics later. –  Jolenealaska Aug 11 at 23:05

Even IF it were so big a secret (as shown it isn't) that doesn't mean that people other than those who know it can't make the end product.
The "secret" only concerns one of the ingredients, the flavouring. This could be kept a secret, the people who know it mixing batches of it that get shipped in sealed containers to the manufacturing facilities of the end product.
In fact that's how it's often done in-house by companies with such secret formulae. The people mixing the secret part mix up batches, those get divided into buckets, bottles, whatever is appropriate, and from the secure facility where all this happens get shipped to the production lines. Whether it's common to do it like that or mostly just for show, I've no clue as I'm no employee of any such company :)
But it's no different from the way yeast cultures are preserved and distributed in breweries, or bacterial cultures in cheese factories. And I DO know about those.

And then of course if only a few people know the entire recipe, it's quite possible for a larger number to know part of it. You could have team 1 at facility 1 mix something, team 2 at facility 2 mix something else, ship both products to facility 3 where team 3 adds their ingredients to the mix of 1 and 2, yielding the final "secret mixture". Nobody on any of the three teams would know the entire recipe, and all would be under a strict NDA to not tell anyone the bit they do know.

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Yep, normal trade secret stuff and realities of modern production. –  Jolenealaska Aug 13 at 13:15

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