One of the greatest trade secrets in corporate American history, guarded jealousy for more than a century, was allegedly put up for sale on eBay (EBAY) by an antiques hunter in Georgia: the recipe for the Coca-Cola (KO) Co.'s signature soda.
And the man who found what he believes to be the formula thought for an instant he'd sold it for $15 million.
It turns out, in an unfortunate bit of publicity for eBay, the "buyer" was a 15 year-old with nowhere near that kind of cash.
Cliff Kluge of Ringgold told Atlanta's WXIA he came upon the recipe in "a box of letters and papers at an estate sale." The document was dated 1943. "You don't stumble on things like this very often," Kluge said. "It's a letter, and a formula, and the processes to make it."
Hoping to monetize his find, Kluge put the recipe up for auction online, with a "Buy It Now" price of $15 million.
That option was apparently irresistible to some teenage eBay user, who pledged money he or she (probably he, though) doesn't have.
"It would have been a wonderful thing," Kluge told AFP, "but some 15-year-old kid bid on it -- and it's not a legitimate bid."
EBay rules give the winning bidder a three-day period to make payment. So in the likely event that Kluge's 15-year-old tormenter can't put up the money, the treasure hunter plans to put the recipe back up for sale.
He acknowledges, however, that he can't prove that he has the original formula. "No one can because only two people (both executives of Coca-Cola) in the world know it."
"We sleep well at night knowing the secret formula is safe and secure with us," a Coke spokesman told RT.
The company's archivist sounded a similar note. "This happens every few years, and the desire to possess the secret formula speaks to the power of the brand," Ted Ryan said to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But there is only one copy of the formula, and we've got it locked in our vault (at the World of Coke museum in downtown Atlanta)."
While that account seems unlikely -- how can there be no other extant copies in the world? -- the paper notes that only Coke can authentic purported recipes, and the company is not likely to admit that its secret is out, if that ever transpires.
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