New era brought new challenges for Coke
by Bill Kinney
Columnist
October 14, 2012 01:40 AM | 1217 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bill Kinney
Bill Kinney
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World War II had many results, but from a strictly local perspective, it proved highly important for the growth of Coca-Cola, according to company archivist Phil Mooney, who recently spoke to the Marietta Rotary Club.

In 1943 Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe cabled Coke President Robert Woodruff in Atlanta asking if he could come up with a way to provide Coke to the troops on a regular basis. The result that Woodruff devised was to set up 64 portable bottling plants.

“It was a tremendous undertaking,” Mooney recalled.

The plants were set up as close to the front lines as was reasonably possible. And by the time the war was over in 1945, more than 5 billion bottles of the drink had been served to U.S. Servicemen.

“And it created an incredibly loyal group of consumers,” Mooney added. “We have hundreds of letters in our archives from GIs talking about what it meant to them to be able to get a Coke when they were off serving in isolated parts of the world.”

The servicemen were not the only ones drinking Cokes. The war exposed civilians in many countries to the drink for the first time. In the post-war period the company went back and set up bottling plants so that by 1950 the company could say it was truly a global bottling operation.

In 1950 Time magazine wanted to put Woodruff on its cover, but settled on a Coke bottle — the first time Time had ever had anything other than a portrait on its cover.

In the 1950s under Woodruff Coke for the first time introduced 10, 12, 16 and 26 ounce bottles, then in the 1960s introduced other products for the first time, like Sprite, Tab, Fanta and Fresca. It acquired Minute Maid in the early 1960s and in 1960 started putting Coke in cans for the first time.

Woodruff had stepped down in 1954, but the next “giant” in the company’s history proved to be Roberto Goizueta, who took over in 1980 and led it until his untimely death in 1997.

“He was the first non-marketing guy to lead the company,” Mooney said, “a chemist.”

He was also a Cuban native who came to this country with $80 in his pocket and ended up as chairman of Coca-Cola.

Goizueta’s first bold move was to use the equity of the product to boost another product, Mooney said.

“That had been a no-no. Coke was reserved as the flagship brand. But Goizueta felt there was so much equity in the name that we ought to be able to use it effectively.”

The result was the introduction of Diet Coke, which within a year was the No. 1 diet drink in the country. Today it is the second most popular soft drink in the country, after Coke, he said.

Its success led Goizueta to introduce the caffeine-free version of Coke, which was a hit, and then Cherry Coke.

“But then in 1985, maybe we went one step too far,” said Mooney, referring to the introduction of New Coke to replace the familiar formulation of the drink.

“Despite what you sometimes read, it was not a ploy to get more attention for our flagship product,” Mooney said. “It was the most heavily researched product in the history of our business. We did thousands of marketing tests. By margins of seven or eight-to-one people said they would like it. But then consumers rejected it.”

“We never asked consumers ‘the big question’: How would you feel if we replaced the one flavor with the other?”

The outcry was so great that 79 days later, the old Coke was back, with a new name, “Classic Coke.”

“The lesson was that when you mess up, when people tell you you’ve made a mistake, you need to ‘fess up’ and move forward,” Mooney said.

Today, Coke is truly a global product. There are only two countries on earth in which it is not available: Cuba and North Korea. And if they ever throw off their communist shackles, people there will be drinking it, too.

Bill Kinney is associate editor of The Marietta Daily Journal.

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