When it was all kicking off and Cuba was trading diplomatic slaps with the US Administration, Castro decided to play hard ball. Having been hit by an old-fashioned trade embargo he did what any rational man would do and told his boys in the Cuban National Institute for Agrarian Reform to go out and nationalise anything and everything they could get their hands on. A result of which many US companies with operations on the island found it difficult to get past their own switchboard. One of these companies was Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola is a carbonated soft drink. It is also really bad for you. It is especially bad for young children with ADHD, teeth, and government obesity statistics. It is only good if you have just walked across the Mojave desert. Now Coca-Cola starts off as a syrup. The ingredients are listed on the side of each can, as regulations require, but the exact formula is a secret. There are rumours that only two Coke executives know the formula and they only know half each which, for a multinational company the size of Coca-Cola, sounds like a particularly ill-informed rumour. What is known for sure is that when it launched, the two main ingredients were caffeine and cocaine. Yes, cocaine, the stuff that keeps Colombia and high-spirited PR managers interested in getting out of bed each and every morning. Back in the day when men were calloused pioneers and attitudes to the indigenous Indians were equally disrespectful, a glass of coke had about nine milligrams of cocaine in it. This was, with hindsight, never going to last, and in 1903 the fun police had caught up with the company and the cocaine was removed. It wasn’t entirely removed though. The Coke executives belligerently stuck to the original plan and used old cocoa leaves that were destined for the compost heap instead, but in the end they stopped that and all traces of cocaine were removed. Now there is just caffeine. Hence it not really being suitable for small children with ADHD.
Now the origins of Coca-Cola lie in the Confederate War. John Pemberton, a pharmacist from Georgia who had a beard that would have made Karl Marx go all gooey, found himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army at the Battle of Columbus. It was there that he was skewered by a stray saber. Like many wounded veterans he delighted in the benefits of morphine and quickly became addicted. Leaning on his training as a pharmacist, he decided to try and cure himself of his addiction and create an opium-free alternative. This he did by mixing coca with wine eventually hitting upon a concoction that struck a chord with the public at large. The pop was marketed as being especially beneficial to highly strung women, a campaign that would perhaps struggle in today’s age of highly-strung women. When local rule makers decided to ban alcohol, Pemberton had to come up with a non-alcoholic alternative and got a friend involved who owned an Atlanta drug store. The two then started mixing. They eventually finished up with a syrup and, quite by chance, mixed it with some carbonated water. Pemberton had his Eureka moment and decided he should sell it as a fountain drink, not a medicine. History suggests he was on the money. Sadly for Pemberton, and specifically Pemberton’s lineage, he never found himself actually in the money. With Coca-Cola on the market Pemberton, who was still struggling with his addiction to morphine, fell ill and wound up in the bankruptcy courts. Desperate for cash, he sold his formula to a few business partners in Atlanta. He did, though, have a hunch that he was on to something and he tried to keep a slice of the company for his son. His son though fell victim to the folly of youth and demanded the cash, and so in one of history’s greatest ever financial air-shots, they sold their remaining share of the patent to Asa Candler. Candler, who worked as a drug-store clerk, bought into the patent for Coca-Cola for just $550. He went on to make millions, found a bank, invest in real estate, and ended up as Mayor of Atlanta with a whole park named after him. As a business tycoon his children were afforded the traditional opportunity to ride horses, dabble in philanthropy and marry bankers. Pemberton’s son meanwhile died a few years after his father had keeled over from stomach cancer, himself addicted to opium, all but a forgotten footnote in American history.
Coca-Cola is now available in so many countries it is easier to list where it is not available. Basically Cuba and North Korea. Coca-Cola, though, alongside Dunhill cigarettes, Johnny Walker and other illicit Western contraband is generally always available at the right price, wherever you are in Cuba or North Korea. When it comes to advertising Coca-Cola has made a big impression on American culture and indeed, the world. From its iconic bottle, through to the shameless use of Santa Claus and bare-chested male models, the marketing executives have sold the American dream in size. $50bn of annual sales later, it seems they have done a pretty good job. It is though, their sports sponsorship that nips the nerve of watchdogs, left leaning activists and public health tsars. Coca-Cola, with its nine and half teaspoons of sugar, has paid millions of dollars, millions and millions of dollars, to sponsor: the Olympics, FIFA’s World Cup, and pretty much everything in North America that involves putting on a pair of trainers. Hitching it’s calorie laden cart to the sweat of sporting endeavour jars the principles of even a few free-wheeling liberals. Young children with ADHD like sport. If Michael Jordan likes Coca-Cola, so will they. And no one wants that, surely, not even Michael Jordan. As tobacco and alcohol, long the nasties that the less tax-aware government departments want to eradicate, labour under tighter and tighter regulatory red tape, sugar – and sugary drinks – are next in line.
Coca-Cola will surely not be immune.