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Coke (Unofficially) Crosses Into North Korea

The Exchange

Coca-Cola (KO) doesn't quite have the whole world covered (yet), but one of the most recognizable corporate brands in existence appears to have gotten a bit closer now that it's been spotted in arguably the most secretive nation on earth.

Britain's Telegraph ran a piece Friday that included a video featuring Coke being served in what is said to be a pizza restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea. According to the article, the restaurant is owned by an Italian and North Korean joint venture company.

Coke told The Telegraph that any of its goods that have shown up above the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) "have been purchased by unauthorized third parties and imported into the country from other markets where they were sold," and that if sales of its products are happening there, it isn't being done with the company's clearance. In this case, the report says that restaurant-goers learn that what they are drinking is "Italian" Coke, not the American stuff. The video, which according to the time stamp was posted to YouTube last October, is below.

Even though Coke doesn't sell into North Korea officially, it does show the extraordinary power and reach that the cola has. Finding Coke in the DPRK essentially means that you've got as American of a product as there is in a place where the U.S. has no formal diplomatic ties and that is regularly and openly hostile toward Washington. Coke is Coke, whether it's from Italy or the States or anywhere else. Formulations and product tastes might vary slightly by geography, but Coke is undeniably part of the fabric of the red, white and blue.

This shouldn't be mistaken for what might be called soda-pop diplomacy, but if in fact the Atlanta-based soft drink maker has infiltrated the Communist state, even through unofficial and unapproved channels, it would leave Cuba as one of the few places on the planet you'll struggle to find Coke, The Telegraph reports.

Coke simply has a way of making it across reluctant borders, whether officials "want" it there or not. It's astonishingly popular for an obvious reason -- people really like to drink it. In some other nations where the U.S. has severe trade restrictions or even no governmental relationship -- say, for example, Iran -- you've still been able to find Coke in the past. How? Distributors in foreign locations are shipping the product in, whether, as noted above, they're supposed to or not (though Tehran did say in 2010 it was going to ban Coke because of Western sanctions).

Earlier this year, Coke set plans to get back to Myanmar, formerly Burma, a place where it hadn't done business for more than half a century, when the U.S. eased restrictions on corporate dealings with the country. So now it's up to Havana. And you have to wonder how much longer they can hold out. The rest of the world already knows "Coke is it."

The Mike Bloombergs out there might not like to hear this, but Coca-Cola officially sells in more than 200 countries, and its product count tops 3,500, including its flagship drink. Revenue in 2011 was $46.5 billion. According to the company's Web site, 1.8 billion servings of Coke products are consumed globally each day.

Do the math, and that means on average, about one-quarter of the world's population has a Coke beverage of some kind today, tomorrow and every day.