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No, more than two people know Coca-Cola’s secret formula

A post shared on the Group Kenya Facebook page claims “there are only two people alive who know the recipe of Coca-Cola … and they aren’t allowed to travel on the same plane, in case it crashes”.

And a video ad from 2014 claims each of the two people who know Coke’s secret formula only know half of it.

Is the recipe for Coca-Cola a two-person secret?

We checked.

An old claim – but true?

The claim is many decades old, and has been repeated by respected sources over the years.

It’s found in a 1985 opinion by Murray Schwartz, then a senior judge in the US District Court of Delaware.

“The formula … has been tightly guarded since Coca-Cola was first invented and is known by only two persons within The Coca-Cola Company,” the opinion reads.

For God, Country and Coca-Cola, Mark Pendergrast’s much-acclaimed 1993 book about the history of Coca-Cola, makes the claim about separate air travel.  

The 2013 edition of the book says that in 1974, “only two or three men in the Company knew the formula at any one time”, so “they never flew on the same airplane”.

In his research for the book, Pendergrast had access to Coca-Cola’s archives and spokespeople.

An undated learning module titled “Trade Secrets”, published on the World Intellectual Property Organisation website, also has the claim. “"It is the Company's policy that only two persons in the Company shall know the formula at any one time,” it reads. “The Company refuses ... to allow those persons to fly on the same airplane at the same time.”

And US intellectual property lawyer Van Lindberg, in his 2008 book  Intellectual Property and Open Source, says: “The official policy of the Coca-Cola company is that the formula is known to only two people at a time.”

Formula ‘shared only with a small group’

But Lindberg adds: “Evidence suggests that the formula is actually known by more than two people, but the exact recipe is still closely guarded.” 

The question of who knows the secret formula is so popular that Coca-Cola includes it as a frequently asked question on its website.

The answer? “Only a few people” – not two people – “in the world.”

Coke was invented by Dr John Pemberton in 1886. Since then, Coca-Cola says, “the formula has been kept under wraps, shared only with a small group”. (Our italics.) The company also claims that the Coca-Cola formula is “the most closely guarded and best-kept secret in the food and drinks industry”.

It’s so secret, Coke said in 2011, that its secret formula “is written on a piece of paper which is kept in a vault in the United States”.

Mystique makes formula ‘fantastically valuable’

Coca-Cola doesn’t address the two-person claim in lengthy clarification of rumours and facts about the company and its famous fizzy drink.  

“The formula for Coca-Cola is fantastically valuable - for goodwill and mystique if nothing else,” Pendergrast writes.

It’s unlikely that a global company with more than 700,000 employees, whose products are sold in some 200 countries, would place its “fantastically valuable” formula in the hands of only two people. 

Coke explicitly acknowledges that the secret is known to “a small group” in the company – not just two people, who each only know half of it.

And if the formula is kept in a vault, why would the “two people” have to fly on separate planes?

The claim that only two people alive know Coca-Cola’s formula has been researched by Today I Found Out, Hoax or Fact and Snopes. None of these fact-checkers found it to be true.  – Grace Gichuhi


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