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'Old Coke' to return

By
BILL LOHMANN

ATLANTA -- The Coca-Cola Co., staggered by grass-roots protests against the new taste of Coke, announced Wednesday it will reintroduce 'old Coke' within the next few weeks as 'Coca-Cola Classic.'

The old flavor Coke will be marketed alongside new Coke, which was introduced in April, company spokesman Thomas Gray said.

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'Everyone wins,' Gray said. 'Thousands of dedicated Coca-Cola consumers have told us they still want the original taste as an option. We have listened and we are taking action to satisfy their request.'

Pepsi officials, who declared a company holiday when Coke changed its formula, greeted the news as another chink in Coca-Cola's armor.

'We're not surprised to hear Coke is reintroducing its old formula because quite clearly the new formula was universally hated,' said Ken Ross, a Pepsi spokesman in Purchase, N.Y. 'I think we've got a great opportunity and we'll go right at it.'

Coca-Cola officials have said the firm was inundated with both complaints and compliments about the taste change.

Guy Mullins of Seattle, the founder of Old Cola Drinkers of America, said he was 'ecstatic' about the return of old Coke.

'We're elated that the American consumer can have a choice and get the Old Coca-Cola back,' said Mullins, who filed a suit against the soft drink giant to require it to provide 'old Coke.' The suit was thrown out of court.

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Although taste tests by the company indicated a majority of people prefer the new taste of Coke, a survey by Leo J. Shapiro, a Chicago research firm, shows 59 percent of soft drink buyers who have tasted the new Coke say the original formula tastes better.

A vocal legion of long-time Coke drinkers created a national stir about the formula change, the first in the 99-year history of the soft drink. Some people stockpiled the 'old Coke' and enterprising merchants were selling cases of 'vintage Coke' at double and triple price.

Jesse Meyers, an industry expert and publisher of the Beverage Digest newsletter, said the decision to reintroduce 'old Coke' was 'absolutely' the result of the groundswell of negative reaction.

'I think it's two things,' Meyers said. 'One, the market is getting incredibly diversified. Coke sees this an an opportunity to add another segment.

'Secondly, the diehard, very vocal Coca-Cola drinker wants his old friend back. This became a cultural offense to some people and Coke is now saying, 'Hey, we're listening to you.''

Coke is the top soft drink in the United States, but its market share in the $23-billion-a-year industry has been diminished by its chief rival, Pepsi. According to latest figures in Beverage Digest, Coke holds a 21.7 percent market share to 18.8 for Pepsi.

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Coca-Cola officials said company researchers stumbled on the new taste of Coke while working on a formula for Diet Coke in 1980. They called the new Coke formula lighter and said it had a better taste.

New Coke critics said the change was intended to make Coke taste more like Pepsi.

Company officials said Coca-Cola Classic will be available in some markets within several weeks and will not affect the production of the new Coke.

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