Cover image for Citizen Coke : the making of Coca-Cola capitalism
Citizen Coke : the making of Coca-Cola capitalism
Elmore, Bartow J., author.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2015]

Physical Description:
416 pages, 8 pages of unnumbered plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Presents a history of the Coca-Cola Company, outlining the company's strategies for production, cost control, and franchising while citing its role in resource depletion and obesity.
Part 1: Citizen Coke comes of age, 1886 to 1950. Tap water: packaging public water for private profit ; Waste tea leaves: recycling caffeine found in other industries' trash ; Sugar: satiating Citizen Cane's sweet appetite; Coca leaf extract: hiding the cocaine-cola connection ; Cocoa waste: synthesizing caffeine in chemical labs -- Part 2: The costs of empire, 1950 to today. Water from abroad: securing access to overseas oases ; Coffee beans: capitalizing on the decaf boom ; Glass, aluminum, plastic: selling curbside recycling to America ; High-fructose corn syrup: storing sweeteners in stomach silos -- Epilogue. Sustaining Coke's future?
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD9349.S634 C6323 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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How did Coca-Cola build a global empire by selling a low-price concoction of mostly sugar, water, and caffeine? The easy answer is advertising, but the real formula to Coke's success was its strategy, from the start, to offload costs and risks onto suppliers, franchisees, and the government. For most of its history the company owned no bottling plants, water sources, cane- or cornfields. A lean operation, it benefited from public goods like cheap municipal water and curbside recycling programs. Its huge appetite for ingredients gave it outsized influence on suppliers and congressional committees. This was Coca-Cola capitalism.

In this new history Bartow J. Elmore explores Coke through its ingredients, showing how the company secured massive quantities of coca leaf, caffeine, sugar, and other inputs. Its growth was driven by shrewd leaders such as Asa Candler, who scaled an Atlanta soda-fountain operation into a national empire, and "boss" Robert Woodruff, who nurtured partnerships with companies like Hershey and Monsanto. These men, and the company they helped build, were seen as responsible citizens, bringing jobs and development to every corner of the globe. But as Elmore shows, Coke was usually getting the sweet end of the deal.

It continues to do so. Alongside Coke's recent public investments in water purification infrastructure, especially in Africa, it has also built--less publicly--a rash of bottling plants in dangerously arid regions. Looking past its message of corporate citizenship, Elmore finds a strategy of relentless growth.

The costs shed by Coke have fallen on the public at large. Its annual use of many billions of gallons of water has strained an increasingly scarce global resource. Its copious servings of high-fructose corn syrup have threatened public health. Citizen Coke became a giant in a world of abundance. In a world of scarcity it is a strain on resources and all who depend on them.

Author Notes

Bartow J. Elmore grew up in Coke country: Atlanta, Georgia. An environmental and business historian, he teaches at Ohio State University.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Coca-Cola capitalism as a corporate strategy keeping the secret formula but outsourcing all the risks to suppliers and franchisers has been so successful that other soft-drink makers, fast-food companies, and software firms have followed it. Elmore looks at the origins and success of Coca-Cola in its climb from maker of a sweet elixir that claimed to heal all manner of maladies to global enterprise using 79 billion gallons of water each year. Coke started out supplying its syrup to be diluted with water at local soda fountains and moved on to franchising bottling plants, at each step taking the markup and leaving the risk. In separate chapters, Elmore focuses on an ingredient in Coke, from water, sugar, and coca leaves to aluminum and plastic, detailing how the corporation secures its commodities and cuts deals with local governments and companies. From the Gilded Age to the global age, Coke has reduced its own risk while leaving in its wake risks of all sorts, from the ecological threat of discarded cans and plastic bottles to enormous demand for scarce water to health risks associated with drinking such sugary beverages. A riveting look at an iconic American company and the long-range implications of its practices.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Founded in 1866 by a "cash-strapped morphine addict operating out of a small pharmaceutical shop," Coca-Cola didn't have the most auspicious beginnings. However, as historian Elmore shows in this detailed profile, the company's success can be traced to an ingenious strategy: supply only the syrup and let suppliers and franchises bear the costs of bottling and distribution, while utilizing the public water supply. This outsourcing enabled massive growth. Even sugar was outsourced during the 1920s, when a dehydrated, sugarless version of the drink was shipped to overseas bottlers, requiring them to add the sweetener. The potential public relations nightmare of aluminum Coke cans littering the countryside was handily managed by encouraging municipalities to run their own recycling programs, and the role of Coke in the ever-expanding waistlines of Americans was muted by the simple fact that the company is so deeply embedded in local communities. Elmore's theory is thoroughly and consistently articulated throughout the book, but it's a narrow one. The company's marketing and branding efforts get nary a mention, and Elmore struggles with incorporating cultural and dietary trends. Still, this is a well researched and accessible history of one of the world's most iconic brands. 8 pages of illus. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

As a huge multinational corporation that owns or licenses over 500 brands and does business in more than 200 countries, the Coca-Cola Company has been the subject of hundreds of publications covering its advertising prowess and political machinations. Environmental writer Elmore (history, Univ. of Alabama) finds a new angle by examining Coca-Cola's growth via its strategy of exploiting local supply chains and production facilities, effectively outsourcing operations (and environmental impacts) before this tactic became widespread. The author devotes a chapter to each main Coke ingredient of sugar, water, and caffeine, following these throughout history so that in early chapters cane sugar, tap water, and waste tea leaves are main topics while later chapters discuss high-fructose corn syrup, overseas water sources, and coffee beans. A chapter on the beverage container demonstrates that even recycling has been outsourced; bottling plants once received old bottles but now the burden of ethical disposal falls to the consumer. Elmore's thorough research covers internal squabbles, local protests, health concerns, and above all, the tension between Coca-Cola's expansive outlook and the environment's limits. VERDICT An important addition to literature on Coca-Cola and capitalism in general. For all libraries. Heidi Senior, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this book, Elmore (Univ. of Alabama) explores the iconic product not just as a brand but as an international business. Coca-Cola's success is acknowledged by the author, but the company's questionable social impacts are examined one ingredient at a time. The company's huge appetite for ingredients (tap water, caffeine, and sugar) gave it great influence on suppliers and congressional committees, and the book pinpoints the company's political clout and impact on the environment. Compared to a commodities broker, Coca-Cola brings together technologies and infrastructure from other countries; at the same time, the company consumes financial and natural resources to service its own business objectives. Further, the author posits that Coca-Cola redesigns nature for its own personal needs, introducing questions of social morality and underscoring the power corporations may exert over government. A product that was once targeted exclusively to developed markets has apparently transformed into a staple international beverage representing American capitalism. Elmore redefines the company's path to success, offering an extensive review of company strategies and market tactics. Eminently readable, with a strong flavor of the writer's background as a historian, the volume may serve as a good supplement for practitioners or a secondary text for graduate business students. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, professionals, and practitioners. --Sylvia D. Clark, St. John's University (NY)

Table of Contents

Figuresp. ix
Prologue: A Creation Myth of Citizen Cokep. 1
Introductionp. 7
Part I Citizen Coke Comes of Age, 1886 to 1950p. 15
1 Tap Water: Packaging Public Water for Private Profitp. 17
2 Waste Tea Leaves: Recycling Caffeine Found in Other Industries' Trashp. 53
3 Sugar: Satiating Citizen Cane's Sweet Appetitep. 76
4 Coca Leaf Extract: Hiding the Cocaine-Cola Connectionp. 110
5 Cocoa Waste: Synthesizing Caffeine in Chemical Labsp. 135
Part II The Costs of Empire, 1950 to Todayp. 151
6 Water from Abroad: Securing Access to Overseas Oasesp. 155
7 Coffee Beans: Capitalizing on the Decaf Boomp. 193
8 Glass, Aluminum, Plastic: Selling Curbside Recycling to Americap. 224
9 High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Storing Sweeteners in Stomach Silosp. 262
Epilogue: Sustaining Coke's Future?p. 297
Acknowledgmentsp. 305
Notesp. 311
Bibliographyp. 371
Illustration Creditsp. 395
Indexp. 397