A piece for the Guardian on the continuing dominance of the world’s most valuable brand
A health campaign group today calls for the UK to follow California and ban a specific colouring from soft drinks including Coca-Cola and Pepsi. A byproduct of the process used to make some caramel colourings is a chemical called 4-MI, and although British and European food safety watchdogs have decided its presence in colas is not a health concern, the substance has been found to cause cancer in rats and mice.
Coke is utter junk, of course, but it can be terribly refreshing. I probably drink a Diet Coke every other week. My “brand loyalty” is literally unquestioned – it never occurs to me to buy any other cola, not that there ever seems much of an opportunity to do so. Pepsi has a 9.5% share in the UK soft drinks market, far less than the 17% for Coke and even the 9.9% for Diet Coke. Diet Pepsi lags with a pitiful 5.3%.
On the few occasions I have bought another cola (even that word looks alien and amputated), I’ve never been impressed. Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola tastes flat and monotone, with a lingering undercurrent that reminds me of diesel. One ethically minded food and drinks company is launching a new cola in time for the Olympics. But a lifetime of conditioning and marketing can often make these products taste less like “the real thing” even though they may derive more of their flavour fromgenuine kola nuts.
It’s a brave company that seeks to rival Coca-Cola. The drink has a presence in over 200 countries: “more than the UN itself”, as one of its executives boasts. It’s been the most valuable brand in the world for years. This is all a long way from its origins in the 1880s, when amorphine-addicted veteran of the American civil war concocted a cocaine and caffeine tonic which he claimed cured headaches, impotence and, handily, morphine addiction. After a certain amount of internal wrangling, a man named Asa Candler wound up with the rights to sell the drink, and made a vast fortune from it. He marketed Coca-Cola with a ferocity never seen before, and his commercial heirs have always followed his lead.