From McDonald’s Big Mac sauce to KFC’s 11 herbs and spices, companies that rely on trade secrets go to great lengths to keep them confidential.
In fact, it’s long been rumored that only two people know the formula to Coca-Cola—and actually, they each only know half, so even if one of them turned traitor, the complete recipe would still remain a mystery. What’s more, those two executives aren’t allowed to travel on the same plane for fear that if a crash occurred, the entire formula would be lost forever.
Great story, right? But according to Snopes, the legend is much embellished to propel the great mystery, which has been featured in several advertising campaigns. And though it may once have been that only two people knew the formula, they each knew the whole thing—and there have been times that at least four people within the company were privy to the magic recipe.
Additionally, the airplane story was likely concocted to fan the flames of the secret formula. A handwritten recipe has been in the company’s possession since at least 1925, when they deposited it securely at SunTrust Bank in downtown Atlanta. In 2011, it was moved to a massive, multi-million dollar vault at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta as part of the tourist attraction there. But if an actual recipe exists somewhere other than the brains of two of Coca-Cola’s top executives, why would it matter if those bigwigs went down on the same flight?
All of this secrecy and security around the formula may be for naught, anyway. In 2011, the folks at NPR’s This American Life found an old recipe in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution archives they had reason to believe was the real thing behind the Real Thing. The Coca-Cola Company was nonplussed. “I can’t tell you how many people have come forward over the years and claimed to have the formula for Coca-Cola,” said Phil Mooney, official archivist for the Coca-Cola Company. “I probably have three or four dozen examples of that. And they’ll say, well, I knew this old pharmacist—almost the same story that you told me.”
But that’s exactly what Coca-Cola would say, isn’t it?