Nightmares about the backlash they suffered the last time they dared to change the secret recipe for their drink still most likely haunt Coca-Cola executives.
But 27 years after the ill-fated launch of New Coke, the threat of having a cancer warning placed on their famous red bottles is forcing them to revise the closely guarded ingredients again.
With its arch rival Pepsi, Coca-Cola is altering its drink in the US after the state of California declared one of its flavourings a carcinogen – though it will continue to sell the old form of the drink in Britain and the rest of Europe, with no cautionary labelling.
The two drinks have been made to include less of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, a caramel flavouring known as 4-MEI, which the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the US has linked it to cancer in mice and leukaemia in rats. It can be formed during the process of cooking certain ingredients and consequently may be found in minor amounts in many foods. Under Californian law, drinks containing a certain level of carcinogens must have a cancer-warning label on their packaging.
But the two companies – which, combined, make up 90 per cent of the soft-drink market in the US – insist the ingredient is not a health risk.
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