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.