Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov

The Day Coca-Cola Tried To Look Just Like Vodka

Por Javier Velasco Oliaga

We have all heard on occasion that the American company Coca-Cola once produced a completely colorless version. The strategy was a total fiasco, because consumers around the world were used to the dark caramel color of this most typical American soft drink.

What almost nobody knows is that this transparent version of Coca-Cola was created because Marshal Georgy Zhukov, World War II hero and the first Soviet General to enter Berlin, was very fond of this soda, offered to him on a spring afternoon by U.S. General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Western Europe. Both became fast friends when they met in the ruins of the German capital, as they felt great mutual admiration for the triumphs that both had reaped throughout the war.

Georgy Zhukov toasted each triumph with vodka, just as “Ike” did with Coca-Cola, which he consumed regularly. “Ike” invited the Soviet Marshal to sample it, and Zhukov was won over by its sweet taste. Alas for him, in the Soviet Union the drink was tantamount to American imperialism, so Zhukov began to be suspected of fraternizing too much with the not-so-friendly U.S. allies. Zhukov didn’t quite dare be photographed drinking the precious soda, so he asked Eisenhower to have Coca-Cola manufacture and package its signature product to look just like vodka.

The Soviet Marshal suggested that the marketing department of the American company create a transparent Coca-Cola; General W. Clark, Commander of the U.S. Sector of occupied Austria, acted as go-between, and even consulted President Harry S. Truman on the matter. At that time, the American multinational was building about 40 packaging plants in South-East Europe. Zhukov himself commissioned Mladin Zarubica, technical supervisor of Coca-Cola, with finding a substance to remove the color of the soda, which Zarubica managed to do successfully shortly after.

The colorless version of Coca-Cola was bottled using straight, clear glass bottles, topped by a white cap which bore a red star in the center. The bottle was manufactured in Brussels and produced in the Vienna factory. And thus, for a time, Marshal Zhukov was able to indulge in the soda, while appearing to be drinking his usual vodka. For a while, the soft drink met with growing success in Eastern Europe, until the fad passed and it became forgotten. In the United States, this white version was an absolute flop. American consumers, used to its trademark dark color, rejected the new formula, which was later withdrawn from the market.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. A Russian friend, Nik, told me that as late as 1961 or 1962, Cuba ran out of this most famous due to the U.S. blockade. The secret mixture that the company had brought from the States over to the island to produce the soft drink in its Havana factory did no longer arrive. Production did not stop, however: from then on, the Coca-Cola drink became transparent and tasteless – it was just sweet, and nothing more. Nik remembers because he was in Cuba at the time, as his parents were stationed on the Caribbean island: he sampled this “revolutionary Coca-Cola”, and found it completely insipid.

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