Why Coca-Cola Is the Most Misunderstood Company in the World

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Few cities can trace their history to a single man, a single moment and a single company the way Atlanta can.

But even the Coca-Cola Co.'s (KO) official history often misses that moment, focusing instead on the creation of Coca-Cola syrup by John Pemberton in 1886. 

The more important moment came in 1923 when new CEO Robert Woodruff, son of a local banker, challenged squabbling bottlers and syrup barons to make every Coca-Cola taste like every other Coca-Cola anywhere in the world.

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The challenge put Coca-Cola on course to become one of the world's great water purification companies, able to get $1/bottle and more for something that should come out of a tap but which increasingly doesn't -- as the people of Toledo will attest. 

While rivals like Pepsi-Cola (PEP) pushed the soda idea as far as they could and then diversified into food, Coca-Cola has mainly stuck to its knitting. It franchises and licenses, then markets and distributes the idea that its water products won't hurt you, creating value for what the bottlers produce. Coke shares, at around $39, are down nearly 5% for the year to date.

Even a pure water product like Dasani has an enormous amount of investment behind it, marketing and positioning on which the parent company gets profitable payments. In fact, Woodruff was representing the interest of the syrup guys when he made his challenge, and the syrup guys have generally remained the right place for investors to play. TheStreet gives the parent company an A as an investment. 

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