The Finer Things: Mexican Coke

Mexican Coke

There are some things that you don’t realize you’ve missed until you get them back again.

A few months ago, a friend of mine introduced me to “Mexican Coke,” which he picked up at a local ethnic grocery. In the classic wave form bottle with a real pop cap, it was cold and crisp, and the taste immediately, noticeably different.

“What’s the deal?” I asked.

“It’s made with REAL SUGAR,” he replied.

We compared labels with a can I had in the garage.

Mexican Coke: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Carmel Color …

American Coke: Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Carmel Color …

There was the difference. That cool, crisp taste that I remembered from my youth was in the bottle of Mexican Coke, fueled by pure can sugar. In comparison the American Coke in a can somehow seemed tainted by a syrupy aftertaste.

Coca Cola apparently began the switch from sugar to high fructose corn syrup in the early 1980s. The change was financially motivated. US government tariffs on imported sugar to support high prices for domestic producers, combined with high corn subsidies made high fructose corn syrup relatively cheaper.

Conspiracy theorists say that the entire New Coke promotion of 1985 was simply a very clever attempt to cover up the switch. In that year, Coca Cola introduced a newly formulated Coke which the marketing department had apparently determined beat both “Old” Coke and Pepsi. The public, however, went berserk. People (myself among them), actually hoarded “Old” Coke.

Three months after the introduction of “New” Coke, “Old” Coke was back in the form of “Coca Cola Classic.” Conspiratorialists, have noted however, that Coke Classic was sweetened entirely with HFCS. This has led to the suspicion that the entire New Coke fiasco was a brilliant, but evil marketing ploy to switch out sugar for HFCS without anyone complaining. People were so happy to get “Old” Coke back that they didn’t notice.

Debunkers say it was just an unhappy coincidence. New Coke just arrived at a moment when production of Coke with sugar was no longer financially sound. Coca Cola still claims that in blind taste tests, people preferred New Coke over both Coke Classic and Pepsi. And in the 88 days of New Coke, sales apparently did not suffer greatly.

Still, New Coke disappeared, and the HFCS Coke Classic morphed into just regular Coca Cola once again.

I’m also willing to entertain the notion that some of the taste difference can be accounted for in the glass bottle. I have for years been certain that Coke from a plastic bottle just doesn’t taste as good as the same product from a can. Now I wonder if the can imparts a flavor that the bottles don’t carry.

Whatever the reason, I became an instant fan of Mexican Coke. So have many others. In my area, you now can get cases of Mexican Coke from either Sam’s or Costco. Several local non-ethnic groceries carry them as well.

I wonder, however, what the Coca Cola Company in Atlanta thinks of all of this. If “Mexican Coke” gains a foothold among the tastebuds of Middle America, the parent company is going to be in a bit of a bind. What happens if people start demanding it as a substitute for “American” Coke? I don’t think they have the power to tell their Mexican bottlers not to sell to Wal-Mart, and Costco. And they certainly can’t tell those retailers not to shelve the product. On the other hand, the same economics that forced the switch from sugar to HFCS likely still apply. They can’t upgrade their product without raising the prices.

One solution is to sell a Pure Cane Sugar Coke as a premium brand, the way that beer companies have their pedestrian and gold plated labels. But that’s a problem for Coca Cola to solve. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the drink that refreshes: Mexican Coke.

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5 thoughts on “The Finer Things: Mexican Coke”

  1. 1. I’m assuming it costs more than the stuff in the plastic bottles, because it’s got more expensive ingredients (sugar) and transportation costs are higher (glass v. plastic, and a long trip on the road). But what is the price premium, exactly?

    2. I too miss the glass bottles, and even the old “pull the bottle out” vending machines, though I have to admit there’s a bit of gee-whiz in watching the new bottle-vending machines.

    3. You can also, I think, get Mexican Coca-Cola during some high holidays in the Jewish calendar, though I’m not sure why sugar is kosher and HFCS is not.

    4. Why would Coca-Cola, the company, care if Mexican coke takes off? They still sell the syrup to Mexican bottlers. Then again, they probably sell it to Mexico at a cheaper price relative to the U.S., taking into account that country’s lower purchasing power.

    5. Coco-Cola might in fact have some clause in their contract with Mexican bottlers concerning how much Mexico can sell to the U.S.

    Reply
  2. Chef Hymie Grande (www.chefhymiegrande.com ) is the first and only bottled BBQ sauce to carry the seal of the American Diabetes Association on the label.  It has no high fructose corn syrup, no processed sugar, it is all natural and vegan friendly.  It is produced by Jamie Failtelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grande of Carlstadt, NJ.  5% of proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association.

    Reply
  3. Mexican Coke is one of the items available at the Costco in Memphis right now. 

    What I wonder about the taste tests with New Coke is if they did the testing correctly and taste test in areas where Pepsi had a stronger hold and so that New Coke tested better than Coke. 

    Of course the main problem with whatever method they did was that you had 2 types of Coke drinkers

    1) Coke loyalists
    2) People who preferred the taste of Coke over Pepsi.

    People who had chosen Coke over Pepsi probably were not to crazy about having the new Coke all of a sudden start tasting more like Pepsi (I was one of these.)  I hated new Coke, and instead started drinking RC for a time.

    Coke loyalists also didn’t want the formula messed with.  They also liked the design of the product, some of them (like my wife’s aunt) have rooms and houses full of Coca-cola red and white memorabilia.  They didn’t like the new logo, and they didn’t like the new taste.

    So where were these people that liked new Coke?  1) Some don’t drink cola and participated in the tests.
    2) Some were Pepsi drinkers
    3) Some were coke drinkers

    Fortunately for the people that like the Original formula, when this switch was made, you had the people who preferred original formula and the Coke loyalists all over everywhere proclaiming how awful new coke was.  How was Coke going to get a positive word of mouth out about the new formula?  Even if you have a significant percentage of original forumula drinkers who would make the switch, if you tick off 30% of your market, of a product you shouldn’t consume anyway- that is a big problem.  Now you have to grow back to that level.

    What a bunch of idiots the people in Atlanta were.  All they had to do was package a Coke-2.  They have no problem having 10 different brands now. 

    BTW- I now drink new Coke.  It is called Coke Zero.  After years of trying to get to like Diet Coke, Zero was close enough for me to switch.  Now Coke takes a little funny to me.  But where you can drink a Coke warm, if Coke Zero isn’t cold, it doesn’t taste good.

    Reply
  4. I once went on a mission trip to Mexico.  Traveled though customs at the boarder.  Stayed in “city” with one motel, and my wife and I had to share a paper thin towel. From there we traveled two hours by van, and had to walk the last quarter mile because the van would not make the turn.  In the middle of the third day of making this trip to and from, I was taking a brake and one of the women pointed out a store. The lady there sold Coke for the equalivant of 54 cents, 54 CENTS.  I am paying a buck fifty and I live right outside Atlanta.  NUTS!!!  The Coke though was good, even warm.

    Reply
  5. Something is amiss when 2-litre products regularly sell at the same price or sometimes less on regular promotions than the 20 oz sells for at a gas station. 

    I am cutting down on my consumption (trying) – but I still want a coke zero or two while I am playing golf.  I have found that about 50% of the time the 16oz six packs can be found for $2 at one of the two major groceries in town.  Usually at one this week, and the other next week, and then two weeks at the ridiculous regular prices.

    Reply

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