Fanta Was Born in Nazi Germany During World War II
Fanta, one of Coca-Cola’s most popular products, comes in over 70 flavors today and is sold in 188 countries. It was first concocted and manufactured in Nazi Germany during World War II. Its story begins in the years leading up to World War II, when Coca-Cola’s greatest international success story was its German branch, Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH). Germans loved Coke and consumed it at such a rate that record sales were set year after year in the Third Reich. The German branch flourished under American-born director Ray Powers, and continued to flourish under his successor, Max Keith, after Powers died in a car accident in 1938. By the time WWII broke out in 1939, the soft drink giant had 43 bottling plants and over 600 local distributors.
The war disrupted that love affair between Germans and Coke. Keith communicated with the parent company that he would try to keep operations running in Germany, but some key ingredients for producing Coca-Cola syrup could only be obtained from overseas. That was a problem, because Germany was, by and large, cut off from overseas trade by the British Royal Navy. No Coca-Cola syrup meant no Coca-Cola, so production started grinding to a halt at the company’s bottling plants.
The halt did not last long, however, as Coca-Cola Deutschland cast about for an alternative soft drink to Coke, using readily available domestic ingredients. After some trial and error, they came up with a new soda made from the odds and ends left over from other food industries, such as apple fiber from cider presses, and whey, a cheese byproduct. For sweetener, the company initially used saccharin, before securing the right to use 3.5 percent beet sugar in 1941. While the standard Fanta today is an orange drink, there was no standard flavor during WWII, as the company used whichever fruits happened to be available at the time.
The new soft drink got its name when Max Keith held a brainstorming session with his subordinates to come up with something catchy. Keith urged his employees to use their imaginations (fantasie in German), and one of them, a salesman named Joe Knipp, piped up with “Fanta!“ Fanta proved popular enough with Germans during the war – selling over three million cases in 1943, for example – to keep the company’s plants operational and its employees busy.
Contra the myth that Coca-Cola directed operations during the war, the parent company’s executives in Atlanta had lost contact with Coca-Cola Deutschland, and did not know whether Keith was working for them or for the Nazis. Nonetheless, although the parent company’s HQ neither controlled nor directed Keith during the war, his actions safeguarded the company’s interests in Germany during that period.
After the war, an investigation into Keith’s unsupervised actions during the conflict concluded that he had not been a Nazi, despite being pressured into joining the party. An honorable man, he refrained from taking over the company’s operations for his own profits, when he easily could have. Instead, he kept meticulous accounts and turned the profits, as well as the new drink, Fanta, over to Coca-Cola after the war.