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What goes into protecting the Coca-Cola formula?

The Coca-Cola formula vault
Photograph courtesy of Coca Cola

That’s what Scott Leith, Coca-Cola’s senior director of financial communications, calls a good question. The hallowed recipe, a cornerstone of one of the world’s most recognizable brands, was invented in Atlanta more than 130 years ago. Sure, old copies of what are said to be Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton’s recipe have been printed. Atlanta native Mark Pendergrast included an early version—that included cocaine—that he was given by the great-granddaughter of Frank Robinson, who named Coca-Cola, while researching his book For God, Country, and Coca-Cola. But the story of a yellowing scrap of paper that holds the key to the sugary beverage has become legend, thanks in part to the company’s marketing brilliance. And there’s still just one company (The Coca-Cola Company) that makes it. “But it’s also true that bottlers around the world—about 200 of them—make the actual Coke you buy,” says Leith.

How it works: The Coca-Cola Company creates the concentrate for Coke at only a few select locations around the world. The company then sells that to Coca-Cola bottlers, who make the finished product and deliver it to soda machines, store shelves, and restaurants. “There are a lot of protections in place to ensure only a handful of people know the entire formula,” says Leith. “We can’t say more about any of that.”

The handwritten secret formula, meanwhile, has had very few homes over the years. Since 2011, it’s been housed at downtown’s World of Coca-Cola—marking the first time it had been moved from a SunTrust vault since 1925.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.