Coke employees busted for trying to sell formula to Pepsi

Three Coca-Cola employees have been busted for trying to sell the Coke formula to Pepsi. I don't really get the idea that there's a "secret" Coke formula. The company bottle billions of gallons of battery-acid at plants all around the world. Surely each of those plants is full of people who know exactly what goes into Coke (and surely the mystery could be settled conclusively with a modern lab). In smaller countries, where Coke either imports its ingredients through public ports, or buys them from local suppliers, you could get at a good approximation through mere sigint. I always assumed that the "secret" was just a marketing gimmick, but it appears that there's enough of a secret there to try to sell it to Pepsi. Some chem student should reverse-engineer the formula for an extra-credit assignment.

According to prosecutors, on May 19, PepsiCo — based in Purchase, New York — provided Coke with a copy of a letter mailed to PepsiCo in an official Coca-Cola business envelope.

The letter, postmarked from the Bronx in New York, was from an individual identifying himself as "Dirk," who claimed to be employed at a high level with Coca-Cola and offered "very detailed and confidential information."


(Thanks, Grad!)

Update: Matthew sez, "They were busted for selling trade secrets, including and especially information on product(s) under development." Aha! They weren't selling the Coke formula — they were selling the New Coke formula. No wonder Pepsi wasn't interested.

Update 2: Eric sez,

I used to work for Coca-Cola (ironically enough in the Information Security department), so I can offer a little more info on how Coca-Cola keeps the formula relatively secret:

The Coca-Cola Company is seperate from the bottlers; it owns a stake in them,  but they're technically independent companies. The parent company (from whom the wannabe corporate spies worked) produces only "concentrate" which is essentially Coke syrup without the sugar or water. It's a nasty formula that's mostly phosphoric acid. They sell this to the bottlers, who dilute it with many gallons of water and vast quantites of sugar or HFCS, to make "syrup". Then they add carbonated water to make the final product.

Concentrate is produced in great secrecy, and its production is largely automated. Very few people know the full formula, and as I understand it, steps are taken in the supply process to obfuscate just what it is they're buying and in what amounts.

Still, though, if you stole it, what would you do with it? Coca-Cola's taste isn't why people buy it, it's the marketing.

Fascinating stuff! I wonder though, whether it's not just a marketing gimmick (certainly lots of people claim to have reverse-engineered the formula); after all these years, objfuscation would have to give way to signals analysis — whom the company does business with, what they order, and when.