Coca-Cola Co. has defied a federal judge’s order that it reveal its secret cola formulas, saying that the company could suffer incalculable and irreparable harm if the secret got out.
U.S. District Judge Murray M. Schwartz is now waiting for directions from 40 Coca-Cola bottling companies, which filed suit two years ago in an effort to gain the secret formulas to settle a pricing dispute, the judge’s office said Tuesday. The judge will consider suggestions by the bottlers’ attorneys for punishing the Atlanta-based company for refusing to turn over the formulas within 20 days, as he had ordered.
Attorneys for Coca-Cola said in Monday’s letter to the judge that giving him the formulas “could well lead ultimately to public disclosure. In that event, the gravity of the harm to the company and its bottling system would be incalculable and irreparable,” the attorneys said.
Schwartz issued the discovery order last month in a 1983 case in which 40 bottling companies are claiming that Coca-Cola should sell them syrup used to bottle Diet Coke under the same price structure as the flagship-brand syrup.
To prove that claim, the bottlers said, they needed to show that the two products are the same except for sweetness. Schwartz ordered the company to turn over its 99-year-old original formula along with the formulas for New Coke, Diet Coke, caffeine-free Coke and experimental low-calorie colas.
The company refused to provide those ingredients but did agree to turn over to the judge the taste-test results between caffeine-free Coke and Coca-Cola that he had requested under a protective order.