- Fanta is one of the most popular soft drinks in the world.
- Although Fanta is now well known for its bright colours and bold flavours, it was originally made from food scraps.
- Coca-Cola's German branch developed Fanta during World War 2 due to heavy embargoes that prevented the import of Coke syrup.
- Modern-day Fanta evolved from the Fanta that was re-introduced to Italy in 1955. This Fanta was produced from local produce rather than food scraps.
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Fanta is one of the most popular soft drinks in the world. It's easily identifiable by its bright colours and bold advertisements, which often feature a group of diverse people dancing to loud, upbeat music.
The brand presents itself as multicultural and fun-loving and lures consumers in with the promise of fresh, bold flavours. But would you believe the first bottle of Fanta was made from food scraps? Or that it was invented in Nazi Germany?
In the book "For God, Country and Coca-Cola," Mark Pendergrast tells the story of how Fanta came to be.
It started in 1923, when Robert Woodruff was elected president of The Coca-Cola Company. He had big dreams of expanding the brand and its global reach. In the years before, Coca-Cola's international production was somewhat reckless. French Coke manufacturers accidentally made consumers sick with unhygienic bottling practices. And international demand for Coca-Cola was relatively low.
But under Woodruff's guidance, the company established the Foreign Department, later come to be known as The Coca-Cola Export Corporation. This set up official bottling plants in over 27 countries and allowed Coca-Cola to oversee all of them. While Coca-Cola provided the flavoring, each country provided its own bottling equipment and sugar for its own production. This started a global boom. Coca-Cola sponsored the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, where people from all over the world became familiar with the Coca-Cola logo, which appeared on everything from hats and bulletins to the walls of the city streets. Coca-Cola quickly became associated with the ideal American life and became known internationally as a patriotic American icon.
Coca-Cola expanded throughout Europe, where it eventually reached Germany. An American expatriate named Ray Rivington Powers was put in charge of the German subsidiary. He was a charismatic figure and an excellent salesman who would often promise potential clients that they'd be rich and own villas in Florida for purchasing Coke. Powers skyrocketed sales from 6,000 cases a year to about 100,000 using this tactic.
But despite Powers' crafty salesmanship, he didn't care for the details of financial bookkeeping and often left bills unpaid and bank statements unopened. As a result, the German subsidiary was a financial mess, and the accounts were left in serious need of managing. Then, in 1933, Adolf Hitler rose to power and the reign of the Third Reich began, marking a new era for Germany and for Coca-Cola.
Enter Max Keith, a German-born man with a domineering air and an unwavering allegiance to Coca-Cola. Often described as imposing and a born leader, Keith was determined to save the subsidiary's accounts. With the German economy booming, he took measures to market the drink to the hardworking people of his country. At the time, this meant reestablishing Coca-Cola's reputation - not as an all-American icon, but as a brand fit for German consumption.
Much like the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin were the perfect marketing opportunity for Coca-Cola. It catered at the games once again. Just like with most brands active in Germany at this time, it appeared beside waving banners emblazoned with swastikas. After this, the Coca-Cola logo was seen at various athletic competitions in Germany and later even on trucks at Hitler Youth rallies. And the ninth annual concessionaire convention ended with a Keith-led pledge to Coca-Cola and a rousing "Sieg heil!" to Hitler.
Despite never actually joining the Nazi Party himself, Keith was willing to work with the Third Reich to keep the company afloat, Pendergrast writes. In a statement, Coca-Cola told Business Insider that there is no indication that Keith collaborated with the Third Reich. Woodruff, for his part, maintained close relations with Keith before the war. For both men, the top priority was ensuring the prosperity of Coca-Cola.
As the war ramped up, so did economic tensions. The German government began punishing foreign businesses. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and declared war on Europe, Keith feared his American-owned business would also be seized by the government.
Then the war entered a new stage. With the attack on Pearl Harbour, the United States formally entered World War II and declared Germany an enemy. It used the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 to enforce a full embargo on the Axis powers. Woodruff and Keith were finally forced to cut ties, and Keith's constant flow of Coca-Cola syrup was halted. Keith was effectively stranded.
While other multinational businesses operating in Germany at this time were unable to make products, Keith was determined to still produce something. So he made a tactical decision. He oversaw the creation of an exclusively German soft drink.
Keith had chemists concoct a soda that was vaguely similar to Coke, caffeinated and with an unidentifiable blend of tastes. But rather than being made with the secret 7X Coke flavouring, this product was made from the leftovers from other food industries, mostly scraps from produce markets. This was usually fruit pulp, like apple fibers from cider pressing and whey, the liquid byproduct of cheese curdling. The resulting liquid was a translucent beige that more closely resembled today's ginger ale. Keith asked his sales team to explore their fantasies while inventing a name, and the drink was christened...Fanta. The name was a hit.
At this time, Fanta was all he had to keep the company afloat. Fortunately for Keith, Fanta was also all Germany had. With few soft-drink alternatives, its popularity exploded. Its prominence allowed it to skirt the sugar rationing, making it the sweetest drink on the market. This made it increasingly popular as an additive in soups and stews. Sales gradually rose as it became a household staple.
Keith then used his connections in the Third Reich to gain a position overseeing all Coca-Cola plants in Germany and the territories it conquered. This allowed him to spread Fanta across Europe and save other subsidiaries from shutting down. The German branch sold about 3 million cases of the drink before the war was over.
And when the Allies eventually marched on German factories, production of Fanta ceased and Keith handed over the profits of his creation to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta.
The version of the drink we know today gradually evolved from its rebrand, Fanta Orange, which was introduced to Italy in 1955. This new beverage was a vibrant orange colour and was produced using local citrus ingredients, as opposed to leftover scraps. In this way, Coca-Cola continued to make a profitable product, while distancing itself from the associations it once had with the Third Reich. At least, for the most part.
Coca-Cola launched this ad celebrating Fanta's 75th anniversary in 2015. The company faced critical backlash for its apparent reference to World War II-era Germany as the "Good Old Times." As a response, Coca-Cola took the video down and issued a formal apology. When asked for comment, a representative said, "The 75-year-old brand had no association with Hitler or the Nazi Party." Fanta's origin is a tale of what happens when necessity meets moral ambiguity. What was once a concoction of scraps in the Third Reich became a fizzy, brightly coloured soda in Italy and is now a drink shared internationally by all types of people.
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