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Sunday Musings: Coca Cola’s Success Secret?

Right from the headline it sounds fishy. But we mustn’t let that stop us! Quirky gazillionaire Warren Buffet says he knows why Coca Cola is so successful. Why it sells so many servings more than any other sweet, fizzy beverage in the world…

Please listen respectfully…

We owe it to Buffett to listen respectfully to his idea. After all, he didn’t get to be one of the 5 wealthiest people in recorded history by chasing unicorns and tilting at windmills. (Buffett made his comments to a hall full of MBA students about a week ago; captured on video by an onlooker, above.)

I’ve never come across the concept of ‘taste memory’ before, but I can understand what Buffett is saying. If nothing else, he’s a gifted communicator – which is one of the main talents a successful person must have. And it all seems logical. But… What I want to know is, were did he get this idea in the first place?

First mention back in 2005

It appears that the first ‘public’ mention of taste memory’ came in 2005 when consumer dynamics writer Michael Moss (in Salt, Sugar, Fat – How The Food Giants Hooked Us / 2014) related how scientists at Coca Cola had looked into it – many years ago – with specific reference to their product. This may be where Buffett got the concept. Though the idea was suppressed (supposedly) by Coke to avoid accusations of ‘brain washing’ or ‘drugging’ of the masses, Buffett would have had access to the info, as a major Coke shareholder.

There is also a brief, not well-documented reference to the phenomenon (again in reference to Coca cola) in a 2014 blog post titled 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Coca Cola, by Portable Press Publishers.

Other than that…

There is very little evidence (anywhere on the Internet) that the term or concept of ‘taste memory’ ever existed before 2014. Even the formidable Wikipedia doesn’t archive anything about it. Nothing at all. The closest the big Wik gets is a clinical definition of ‘gustatory memory’ – why humans remember the taste of foods and what the brain is doing while that process is going on.

Other more scientific sources propose that folks proclaim a preference for Coke (over arch competitor Pepsi) not because they don’t get tired of the taste, but because they are kind of mesmerized, at a very basic psychic level, by names, and visual cues such as the key red colour scheme of the coke logo.

My take

First, I can’t believe that Coca Cola is the only food in the history of the world that has no taste memory. If the concept of taste memory was real and valid, would not other foods have been mentioned, at some point in history, as sharing that elusive quality? Unless the recipe for Coke – albeit a closely guarded secret – was handed down to American pharmacist Dr. John S. Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, in May 1886, by little green men, who also revealed a secret ingredient.

Why is the provenance of ‘taste memory’ so narrow and shallow? Something this amazing should have spread through our social conscience and vast storehouse of scientific wisdom and knowledge by now.

I suspect that Buffett is just a highly placed Coca Cola addict, who heard something about ‘taste memory’ from Coke insiders years ago. And has come to believe his own spiel. I agree, it’s an intriguing and attractive notion. But I just can’t suspend my need to apply critical thinking to issues like this long enough to join him.

Not long enough to buy shares in Coca Cola based on the theory, at any rate.

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.