Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) is the world's leading brand in the soft drink industry, and one of the most recognized brands worldwide. The Atlanta-based company manufactures syrup and concentrates used in the production of beverages around the world. Muhtar Kent became president and CEO of Coca-Cola in 2008, succeeding Neville Isdell, who remains chairman.
Since its birth in Atlanta, Ga. in 1886, Coca-Cola has been all about syrup. Not soda -- the water and carbonation are, and always have been, added at the fountains where it was first sold, or later by one of the hundreds of licensed bottling and canning companies that purchase the company's syrup. Even the sweetener -- high fructose corn syrup in many parts of the world, though some still use real sugar -- is added by the bottlers. This seems oddly appropriate; while the history of the Coca-Cola Company has as many twists as its signature bottle, it's often anything but sweet.
Before there was Coca-Cola, there was Pemberton's French Wine Coca, invented in 1885 by Columbus, Ga. pharmacist John Pemberton. This combination of wine and cocaine sold modestly well until the following year, when prohibition laws obliged Pemberton to devise a non-alcoholic alternative. (The cocaine would stick around for several more years; to this day, Coca-Cola contains a non-narcotic extract of the coca leaf, produced by a contractor that is the only U.S. company licensed to import the notorious plant.)
Pemberton concocted Coca-Cola syrup and sold it to a local druggist's, which mixed it with carbonated water and sold it for a nickel a glass. At the time, Coca-Cola was marketed not as a refreshing beverage, but as a patent medicine, which Pemberton claimed could cure a host of ailments including morphine addiction. Since Pemberton was himself a morphine addict, a habit which eventually led him to sell the rights to the beverage to two different parties, this was probably not the most honest of claims.
Shortly before Pemberton's death in 1888, one of those "exclusive" owners established sole claim to the beverage -- via a document that some of the people who supposedly signed it would later claim had been forged. The enterprising Asa Candler ultimately incorporated the current incarnation of the Coca-Cola Company in 1892, and began to build the brand in the public's mind via relentless and inventive merchandising.
The year before, Candler had reluctantly allowed a pair of entrepreneurs in Chattanooga, Tenn., to begin bottling and selling Coca-Cola. By 1895, thanks in parts to their efforts, Candler claimed that Coca-Cola was sold and consumed in every state and territory in the U.S.A. The company's distinctively swoopy bottle, an attempt to help distinguish Coca-Cola from a legion of eager imitators, arrived in 1916.
In 1919, Candler sold the company; the new owners took Coca-Cola public. When Robert Woodruff -- son of one of the buyers -- took over in 1923, he began an expansion even more aggressive than Candler's. Under Woodruff, the company stepped up advertising and merchandising efforts; began distributing coolers to house chilled bottles of Coca-Cola, presaging modern vending machines; started selling six-packs of bottles in easy-to-carry paper cartons; added a distinctively wide-mouthed fountain glass to match its bottle in 1929; debuted the automatic fountain at the 1933 World's Fair; and launched the company's first international sales and marketing efforts, including a partnership with the Olympics that began in 1928. Its advertisements swiftly entered the realm of popular culture. Coca-Cola even created the modern depiction of Santa Claus in a series of ads beginning in 1931.
By the dawn of World War II, Coca-Cola was already bottled in 44 countries, both Allied and Axis. The war provided a golden opportunity for Coca-Cola to further expand globally. To keep morale among the troops high, military commanders requested that the company set up bottling plants abroad. Coca-Cola was only too happy to oblige, finding thirsty customers among G.I.s and locals alike.
Since then, Coca-Cola has grown into an international soft-drink juggernaut, its record besmirched by only one notably massive mistake -- the 1985 introduction of the notorious "New Coke." Though the new flavor won blind taste-tests, the brand was so strong that customers revolted. The original formula was swiftly reintroduced to great success as "Coca-Cola Classic." New Coke shuffled off to a sad existence as "Coke II" at the ragged fringes of the market.
Despite its massive reach, Coca Cola ranked a surprising 275th on the 2008 Fortune Global 500 list of the world's largest companies, with more than $28 billion in revenue and more than $5 billion in profits. As of 2006, it ranked 12th in global ad spending, with roughly $1.89 billion, just ahead of The Walt Disney Company. The company has seven major divisions: one apiece for Eurasia & Africa, North America, Latin America, Europe, and the Pacific; one for the company's bottling investments; and one exclusively to handle its relations with McDonald's.
Contrary to what you may have heard sung by a group of suspiciously well-scrubbed young hippies on a hilltop, Coca-Cola would not actually like to buy the world a Coke. However, it would be very happy indeed if the entire world bought a Coke -- and another, and another...
Brands and Divisions
Coca-Cola sells more than 450 brands worldwide. According to the company's website, the only letters of the alphabet that don't start off a Coca-Cola brand name are X and Z. A few familiar names from its arsenal:
- Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke (Warren Buffett's reported favorite), and numerous other varieties
- Minute Maid sodas, fruit drinks, and fruit juices
- A&W root beer
- Canada Dry
- Dr Pepper
- Full Throttle energy drink
- Glaceau VitaminWater (in case you wondered how an apparently unknown company could afford such big-name celebrity spokespeople)
- Inca Kola
- Mello Yello
- Mr. Pibb
Related Fool Articles
- Concentrated Results at Coca-Cola
- The Ultimate Rule Maker: Coca-Cola
- Coca-Cola: Making Money, Making a Difference
Related Community Blogs
Recent Mentions on Fool.com
- Why Coca Cola Co. Just Gave Dividend Investors an 8% Raise
- Why You Can't Afford to Ignore PepsiCo Stock in 2015
- You Should Buy This Classic Warren Buffett Stock Instead of His Used Cadillac
- The Coca-Cola Co: Timing Could Be Perfect for New Premium Milk
- The Coca-Cola Co. Earnings: Coke Revenue Stabilizes; Now for the Hard Part