Outcry among longtime Coke drinkers forces Coca-Cola to dust off its old formula

Coca-Cola's announcement that it will soon reintroduce its ``old'' formula cola has prompted a variety of explanations for the move. But it also has renewed questions about the use of the mildly stimulant drug caffeine in beverages that are widely consumed by young people.

Samuel Craig, a marketing professor at New York University Graduate School of Business Administration, wonders whether the move by Coca-Cola is ``an unintended stroke of genius or a marketing disaster.''

Sales may be boosted by having both the old and new brands on the market, or sales may be hurt by confusion between brands, he says.

Mr. Craig and several investment analysts see the reintroduction of the old brand of Coke as something forced on the company by unexpected strong loyalty to the old brand.

Sales of the new brand were apparently slipping in the South and Texas, says Joseph C. Frazzano, stock analyst for Ed Oppenheimer & Company in New York.

Coca-Cola planned to reintroduce the old brand as a ``novelty'' item over a two-year period, but it was pushed ahead of schedule by the falling sales, he says.

The company's research found a ``much more passionate'' attachment to the old brand than anticipated, says David A. Lee, research coordinator for the Robinson-Humphrey Company in Atlanta.

Company officials on Thursday cited an unanticipated ``deep emotional tie'' to the old formula as the reason for their decision.

In addition, the press has played a role that helps Coca-Cola with the blitz of stories about the switches that ``amused a readership or TV viewers,'' says George Thompson, of Prudential-Bache Securities.

While business analysts try to probe Coke's motives for bringing the old formula back, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has renewed his criticism of using caffeine in many cola drinks, including the ``old'' brand of Coca-Cola, which will now be called Coca-Cola Classic.

The caffeine in the old coke is about half to a third as much as a cup of coffee, according to Jacobson, who has a doctorate in microbiology.

``I think it's inappropriate that a mildly addictive stimulant drug is added to a soft drink,'' he said this week after the announcement by Coca- Cola, which is based in Atlanta.

Many brands of cola have caffeine, he says, noting that many companies, including Coca-Cola, have come out with caffeine-free brands as well.

``The effect of caffeine for a child drinking a bottle of [the old] coke is the same as an adult drinking a cup of coffee,'' says Mr. Jacobson. A Coca-Cola company spokesman here promised to answer questions about the caffeine content in their old formula, but no reply was received by this writing.

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