The ‘Real’ Cola Wars

So, here’s an interesting ‘back of the chappie paper’ fun fact to connoisseurs of fizzy cool drink, both Fanta and Coca-Cola became powerhouse brands thanks to World War 2, and they were at odds with one another – Fanta was developed in Germany as a response to Coca-Cola’s embargo of Nazi Germany.

Also, the reason why Coca-Cola and Pepsi are toe-to-toe on the international market share platform is very much due to World War 2, their ‘share’ of global segments mapped out directly as a result of the American war effort … who knew? 

Fun fact in addition, the outcome of World War 2 still dictates how Fanta and Coca-Cola market themselves to this very day, yup, the politically correct police recently pulled a Fanta commercial campaign because of its “Nazi link”.

Now, before I discovered the alcohol industry as my preferred vocation to pay my bills (writing historical articles is a passion pastime and rather ‘free’ service), I was a Marketing Department Head for Pepsi’s distribution in the Middle East, and even here real ‘war’ still dictates global share – Pepsi has a 95% market share in the Middle East, yup – read that again – the Arabs almost refuse to drink Coke, and it’s thanks to .. you guessed it … war!

So, here’s some interesting war-time soft drink history. Let’s start at how Fanta and Coca-Cola landed up on opposing sides taking aim at one another – one the iconic soft drink of the German Wehrmacht – Fanta, and the other the iconic soft drink for American GI’s – Coca-Cola.

Fanta – a truly wartime product

Before World War 2, Coca-Cola was made in Germany under license by Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH). When World War 2 broke out, the United States initiated a trade embargo against Nazi Germany. This meant that the export of Coca-Cola syrup (concentrate) to Nazi Germany was banned. So, like many countries experiencing ‘sanctions’ the Germans (like South Africans and more recently Russia) simply ‘made a plan’.

Max Keith, the head of Coca-Cola Deutschland decided to create a new product for the German market, he had all the bottling, distribution and carbonation abilities – just needed some concentrate, he also needed to look into supplement sweetener as in a wartime economy, sugar was available but highly limited.

Images: Wartime Fanta advertising

The ingredients for his supplement cola where what Max Keith would call “the leftovers of leftovers” and consisted of beet, whey protein (by product of making cheese), apple pomace (the leftovers from apple pressing) and some sugar. As with anything, wartime really does spur innovation, not only weaponry, also soft drink. Consider the degree of innovation for this ‘supplement’ cola – it’s a real step away from normal cola key ingredients like coca, citrus oils, vanilla and kola nut found in peacetime.

All he needed now was a new name (Coca-Cola was trademarked), and like many brand names this one came from a Corporate “Brain-Storming” session. Max Keith asked his team to “use their imagination” – imagination in German is “Fantasie” and one of his sales-men, Joe Knipp retorted with “Fanta!”  .. and with that Fanta was born. Fanta would become a household name in wartime Germany and in 1943 alone, 3 million cases of Fanta were sold. Funnily many bottles of Fanta were not only consumed as a beverage but also used as a cooking ingredient to add sweetness and flavour to soups and stews, as sugar was so severely rationed.

As with the German Coca-Cola plant, the Dutch Coca-Cola plant in Amsterdam suffered the same embargo issues as Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands, they could not get Coca-Cola concentrate. So, Max Keith to the rescue as Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH) gave N.V. Nederlandse Coca-Cola Maatschappij their Fanta recipe and brand name usage. The only difference is the inclusion of elderberries in the Dutch version of Fanta.

Fanta production was discontinued when the German and Dutch Coca-Cola branches were reunited with their parent company – Coca Cola after the end of the war in 1945, but realising the brand still had some intrinsic value and had an emotional connection with European consumers – it would have a new lease of life just 10 years later, but with a different formula. The modern flagship Fanta – Fanta Orange, finding its origin with the Coca-Cola distributer in Italy and the use of … yup, Italian Oranges in the formula.

Image: Wartime Fanta advertising with Wehrmacht link

Coca-Cola – a wartime distribution

1943 Pepsi label

So, how did Coca-Cola become such an international powerhouse, the first real “Global Brand” – prior to World War 2, Coca-Cola had some budding distribution in Europe, sure, but its primary focus was the USA and its traditional power states – the Southern American states. In the USA, at the beginning of the war, both Pepsi (whose strength lay in the Northern American states) and Coke decided they would become Patriots and support the war effort. Pepsi in their way decided to change their logo and labels from simply Red script to “Red, White and Blue” the colours of the American National Flag ‘Old Glory’ (a colour sequence they frequently revisit). 

Coca-Cola on the other hand was thinking a little bigger than Pepsi in their efforts to patriotically support the American war effort. In 1941, with America entering the war proper, the President of Coca-Cola USA – Robert Woodruff famously announced, “every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company”.

Problem was that the shipping and cargo space for supplies was reserved for essential goods ‘Food, equipment and ammunition’ and Coca-Cola was a ‘non-essential’ product. So, they came up with a plan to ensure Coca-Cola would get to the combat zones and advancing American GI’s. Portable Factories and bottling plants were devised and set up within reach of the advancing American troops. Initially anticipating only 10 portable bottling lines, Coca-Cola eventually landed up with 64 such lines advancing with the troops.

They even went one step further, 148 representatives from the Coca-Cola Company filled the ranks with an official title of “Technical Observers,” or TO’s. The TO’s were given army fatigues and had one responsibility only – to serve Coca-Cola to every thirsty American GI, no matter where they were located. The GI’s welcomed these TO’s with open arms, treating them as commissioned officers and calling them “Coca-Cola Colonels”. In Coca-Cola today they even have an honour roll – two of these TO’s were killed in action.

American GI’s on the front-line enjoying Coca-Cola

At the end of the war, Coca-Cola had literally conquered every market that the USA troops entered during the war, maintaining distribution, and setting up factories around the world. You can see their global share and market dominance in exactly those markets where America went to war – the European theatre and the Asian theatre – these two global chunks and their markets are absolutely commanded by Coke – significantly the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Greece, Austria, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and even Australia.

Pepsi, also began to ‘globalise’ but only really started to do it after World War 2 – and they could only advance into markets and command share where Coca-Cola had not been focussing during the war – which is why we find Pepsi in the pound seats in South American, Indian, Pakistani and Russian markets. But why such a domination of Pepsi in the Middle East markets – American troops advanced in North Africa, and Coca-Cola have commanding market share in Morocco as a result, but not in the rest of the Middle East – so why not there?  Well, it’s down to war again. 

Images: Coca-Cola advertising during WW2 stressing globalisation and militarisation.

The simple reason is that it’s not that Coca-Cola is American, Pepsi Cola absolutely commands all the Middle East markets – and it’s American. It’s all because Coca-Cola opened a distribution plant in Israel, and after the various Israeli-Arab wars post World War 2, Arab consumers chose to boycott Coke and by default Pepsi took almost complete control. Since Gulf War 1 in 1990, Coca-Cola decided to re-focus efforts in the Middle East and started opening plants in places like Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with appeal to younger Arabs who really don’t care about past wars. 

However, regardless of changing Arabic and Muslim perspectives and attitudes, “Bebsi” as Pepsi it is pronounced (the Arabic language does not have a ‘P’ letter) remains the giant in places like Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Iran, Jordan and the UAE – Coke has a mere sliver of market share.

Fanta Classic in Retro WW2 bottle

Thought Police

So back to Fanta and Coca-Cola, why does World War 2 still affect the way Fanta is marketed and communicated to this very day? Well, it’s down to the Nazi police – and it’s not the Gestapo of 1939-1945, this time it’s the WOKE brigade Cira 2010 onwards– modern self-assured neo-Nazism disguised as liberalism. So, here’s how WW2 still haunt the soft drink industry?

In 2015, Coca-Cola Germany decided to celebrate it wartime Fanta ingenuity with the 75th anniversary of the launch of the brand. They would celebrate it with a retro bottle, an original label (described as “classic”) and original recipe (described as “less sweet”). All good, it’s the revitalising of a nationally loved and adored product and celebrating a home-grown German brand which became an international brand icon.

Problem is the accompanying TV advertisement, which been true to just about every soft drink advertisement, talked about having a good time with a great product. Like any retro product celebration is also talked about bringing back “the feeling of the Good Old Times”. That bit sent the easily offended modern day ‘thought’ police into a ballistic twist as they claimed the product promoted Nazism as a “good time”. The pressure became so great Coco-Cola Germany pulled the campaign.

That’s the problem with self-opinionated righteousness with no sense of time and place – no historical context. Just about every single German brand which has wartime innovation and product at its heart simply cannot talk about it – Volkswagen can’t talk about its first beetle, and it does not stop there – BMW, Heinkel, Mercedes Benz, Bosch, Bayer, Allianz, Deutsche Bank, Audi, Dornier, Hugo Boss, Messerschmidt, Porsche, Merck and even Siemens all have wartime track records and remain very quiet about it, lest someone remember some actual history. So, the period 1939-1945 simply doesn’t exist for them – nor their innovations and science in this period (albeit some it is pretty nasty, so some common sense still needs to prevail). We just need to pretend it all never happened and exist in a state of happy oblivion – the ’thought’ police win.

To see Coca-Cola’s ‘Faux pas’ on its ‘happy’ Fanta 75th retro celebration, have a look at the “offensive” commercial and you’ll see what I mean – there is nearly nothing to it, they ‘allude’ to a difficult time without getting specific and it was ‘stamped’ out for the benefit of political correctiveness – literally. Here’s the link (with English subtitles):

Cocktail Time

Now, as a South African I’ve seen companies in our drinks industry ‘make a plan’ to overcome ‘struggles’, ‘wars’ and ‘sanctions’ – Coke is in command in South Africa because ‘Pepsi’ withdrew due to Apartheid sanctions and has struggled to get a foothold back in South Africa since, the simple truth is that consumers when it comes to brand affinity are more concerned with self gratification and their emotional connect to the brand than with its board members political convictions – so for all the ‘good’ Pepsi thought it was doing by supporting the Apartheid boycott – the ‘masses’ certainly have not rewarded Pepsi with any loyalty for their trouble.

I also personally don’t mind which it is – Pepsi or Coke which is going to augment my now 5 year old barrelled ‘Spirit of Hermanus’ Brandy – it’s gonna taste great, I’m happy either way (I do however have a disposition to Pepsi though – having worked for them for nearly a decade and they treated me well). I also don’t mind Fanta, a “Fanta-see” Fanta Orange, Fresh Orange Juice and my Rum make a great combo, I really admire Fanta for been born out of adverse conditions and enabling ordinary German people to enjoy a soft drink – all these brands are great. But I also love history, and when these great brands have such rich history, and find reason to celebrate it – let’s just do it and not get silly about it.

Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

For related military history and marketing history work see Zeppelins, Marlene Dietrich and South Africa’s favourite biscuit – Romany Creams!

References include Wikipedia, YouTube and Museum of the American GI on-line