A Recipe to Refresh Sales Gives Pause to Coke Drinkers Who Fear It May Be the Un-Real Thing

updated 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Coke Is it—isn't it? The answer, hard as it may be to swallow, is, well, not exactly. In a nation where some important truths are held to be self-evident, the notion that Coke is the "real thing" is no longer one of them. The fact is, Coke isn't. Or won't be. As of May 8 the Coca-Cola you buy in your favorite neighborhood store won't be the same Coca-Cola that Florence Chadwick drank while swimming the Strait of Gibraltar in 1953. Nor will it be the same Coke that Ike ordered for all GIs in World War II or that Sir Edmund Hillary chugged while making his way to the South Pole.

For 99 years, ever since Atlanta pharmacist Dr. John Styth Pemberton concocted his still-secret formula for Coca-Cola, or what he termed a "Brain Tonic and Intellectual Beverage," Americans have been slurping up Coke (an estimated 300 million 8-ounce servings are drunk worldwide each day) and liking it just fine. Now along comes the Coca-Cola company's corporate marketeers with a simple, albeit possibly unpatriotic, maybe even un-Cola, announcement: They're changing the formula. The new drink, claimed Coke chairman Roberto C. Goizueta at an April 23 news conference, tastes "smoother, rounder, yet bolder." It's also slightly more fattening (10 more calories in a 12-ounce can) and is sweetened with fructose, not aspartame. Goizueta cited a blind taste test in which 55 percent of more than 190,000 consumers had chosen the new drink over the old.

For chief competitor Pepsico, Goizueta's announcement was indeed music to the corporate ears. Hearing that the new Coke tastes more like its own product, Pepsi gave its employees a day off to savor the "victory." In Atlanta, where Coke really is it ($7.3 billion a year in sales), the decision to alter the highly successful formula (dubbed Merchandise 7X and kept in a bank vault) was not greeted with glee. Folks were convinced that having a winner for 99 years was reason enough not to tamper with proven goods. Next thing you know, there'll be a remake of Gone With the Wind featuring the burning of Memphis.

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