the nickel coke -- 12/2/22

Today's selection -- from Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism by Bartow J. Elmore. Sugar and the 5¢ Coke:
"Humans love sugar (sucrose), a disaccharide consisting of one glucose molecule bound to one fructose molecule, and for good reason: it provides in dense, crystalline form the basic primers needed to produce energy in our bodies. Because sugar is such an effective source of energy, humans have evolved a neurochemical regulatory mechanism that stimulates the release of dopamine, a pleasure­ inducing neurotransmitter, when sucrose is consumed. While this psychotropic system helps humans optimize caloric intake, it can also stimulate overindulgence in sugary products when sweet food stuffs are available in abundance. Recently, scientists have even found evi­dence to suggest that sugar may be as addictive as cocaine.

"It is no small wonder, then, that Coke's first customers loved, even craved, a daily dose of Coca-Cola. After all, Pemberton's origi­nal formula called for over 5 pounds of sugar per gallon of syrup. At the turn of the twentieth century, each 6-ounce Coca-Cola serving contained more than four teaspoons of sugar, a concentration that would likely have overloaded consumers' taste buds were it not for the high concentration of acids that helped to balance Coke's flavor profile. (Today, phosphoric acid makes Coca-Cola syrup's pH so low that trucks transporting the concentrated mixture require hazard­ous material placards to be in compliance with federal transporta­tion laws.) Pemberton had come up with the perfect sugar delivery system, one that made people feel good without overwhelming the tongue. As a result, by the mid-1910s, Coke was the single largest industrial consumer of sugar in the world, funneling roughly 100 million pounds annually into customers' bodies. All that sugar cost Coke money, and since its founding, the com­pany had scoured the world, seeking out suppliers that could offer the lowest prices for its most important ingredient.

Drink Coca-Cola, 5 cents

"Without cheap sugar, Coke had no business. The company made its millions selling an inexpensive, nonessential beverage in volume, and it could only turn a profit on bulk sales if it kept raw material costs down, especially for sugar, its most expensive ingredient by far. Customers simply were not willing to pay a premium price for soft drinks. Remarkably, from 1886 to 1950, Coca-Cola maintained a 5-cent price for its beverage. This was due in part to Coke chairman Robert Woodruff's constant vigilance. He insisted that company bottlers and soda jerks maintain this price for Coke, even when operating expenses increased, and he spent millions on advertisements featuring Coke's nickel price in an attempt to ensure local bottler and retailer compliance with his pol­icy. In the 1930s, when Coke began a concerted campaign to sell its beverages in coin-operated vending machines that only accepted 5-cent coins, Woodruff had an added incentive to preserve the nickel policy. Technology dictated that any price increase in Coke would require a jump to 10 cents in order to meet single-coin vending machine requirements, a change, executive Ralph Hayes noted, that would have been 'murderous' to the company."



Bartow J. Elmore


Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism


W.W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2015 by Bartow J. Elmore


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