Saturday 18 April 2020

Fanta (1940)

Introduced 1940

This year sees the 80th anniversary of the launch of Fanta – the fruit-flavour fizzy beverage that is one of the most popular soft drinks brands in the world. But the history of Fanta is complicated and it involves the Second World War and Nazi Germany.

Coca Cola opened its first bottling plant in Germany in 1929 – a few years before Hitler came to power. It became the most important market for Coca Cola outside the United States and by 1939 it had dozens of factories in Germany alone to keep up with demand. Of course to some extent, doing business in Germany in the late 1930s meant doing business with Nazis and although in retrospect this was probably a bad thing, many European and American businesses still do business with repressive regimes today.
"Fanta Klassik"
- a modern recreation of the original recipe

In 1939 of course the Second World War started in Europe, and by 1940 the German operations of Coca Cola were struggling because of a combination of blockades, embargoes and… well… all-out war. Although the United States (home of Coca Cola) was officially neutral until December 1941, supplies of key ingredients dried up effectively leaving Coca Cola in Germany with nothing to sell.

Coca Cola’s German boss - Max Keith – then set about looking for a product he could actually make and sell along with others in the company. What was settled on was fairly unappealing from the ingredients list – milk whey, beet sugar and apple leftovers from the food and cider industry. This got the name “Fanta” from the German word “Fantasie”… and a brand was born, indeed it was only the second beverage that Coca Cola had ever made.

The product varied a bit over the war years, sometimes switching in artificial sweetener and sometimes using other fruits or fruit by-products. But Fanta sold in millions of cases and was a huge success throughout Nazi Germany. The occupied Netherlands also made its own version using elderberries.

At the end of the war, Coca Cola took back control of their German subsidiary – including all the profits made during the war – and then shut down Fanta production and switched back to Coca Cola. But in the 1950s increased and more varied competition from rivals PepsiCo led Coca Cola to revive the brand. Variations of Fanta spread throughout Europe, and the classic orange Fanta that we most associate with the brand was invented in Italy in 1955, using locally-sourced oranges.

Fanta continued to grow, both in the countries it was sold in and in the bewildering variety of flavours. The flexibility in the brand allows it to be adapted to local tastes, and it also means that short-term special editions can be made to boost sales further.  Today the brand has evolved massively since its origins in Nazi Germany… but it doesn’t stop some very weird conspiracy theories coming up.

Interestingly, this American company prospered under the Nazi regime – even when the United States and Germany were at war. This is a ripe ground for conspiracy theorists, but several American companies ended up having their German subsidiaries orphaned in this way. Ford Germany made trucks such as the V3000 and engine parts, GM’s German branch of Opel also made large numbers of trucks and military vehicles, IBM’s involvement was darker still. Many other companies found themselves in this position with a greater or lesser degree of collaboration with the Nazi authorities, but it seems that both Max Keith and Coca Cola Germany resisted the dark side and just stuck to making fizzy drink.

A collection of Fanta cans from the 1960s

The other interesting thing is just how unappetising the original recipe for Fanta sounds. Apple pomace is the sort of thing that ends up in animal feed, and milk whey sounds very out of place in a fruit drink even though it is quite sweet-tasting and nutritious. It might not be an obvious way to make a soft drink, but considering some of the theories about what it in Coca Cola it does seem rather tame by comparison.

In 2015, Coca Cola recreated something approximating the original Fanta for its 75th anniversary, calling it “Fanta Klassik”, however a misjudged tagline of “we’re bringing back the feeling of the gold old days”  could be misinterpreted as the “good old days” being Nazi Germany, when really it was talking about the 1960s. Nonetheless it was a popular (if temporary) retro concoction, but if you want to recreate the taste of 1950s Italy you could just have some orange Fanta instead..

Image credits:
Illustratedjc via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY-SA 4.0
José Roitberg via Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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