Coke can returned to maker after 50 years at Antarctica base

Courtesy of the National Institute of Polar Research
A can of Coca-Cola, left, and packets of Lotte Co.’s Cool Mint chewing gum that were discovered near Showa Station in Antarctica.

A retro Coca-Cola can and sticks of Cool Mint chewing gum, uncovered in Antarctica after more than half a century on the continent, were presented to their manufacturers in a ceremony held at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tachikawa, Tokyo on Thursday.

The artifacts were discovered in September last year by members of the 61st Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition wintering party, frozen in time in a cardboard box half-buried in snow about 5 kilometers east of Showa Station.

Judging from the assortment of canned foods also found inside the box, the unopened items are presumed to have been emergency rations, carried by a former expedition when conducting experiments in the unforgiving terrain.

Although covered in decades of rust, the Coca-Cola can was recognizable by its iconic white lettering on a red background. The design dates to 1965, when the first Coke cans were sold in Japan. Instead of a modern pull-tab, the drink came with a small device resembling a can opener, making it a rare specimen from yesteryear that had been a gap in the collection kept at the Coca-Cola (Japan) Co.

The Cool Mint packets similarly featured the original product design as when the gum was first introduced by Lotte Co. in 1960, the institute said.

The gifting ceremony was attended by expedition leader Yuichi Aoyama, Akino Sasaki from Coca-Cola’s marketing department, and Shota Mori from Lotte’s brand strategy department.

“It makes me proud to think that Coca-Cola even provided refreshment to the Antarctic team, more than half a century ago,” Sasaki said. She added that the company would consider sending the can to its U.S. headquarters for display in the beverage-maker’s museum.

Mori shared that when developing Cool Mint, Lotte had looked to the Antarctic for inspiration, and said that he hopes to analyze the gum for possible clues that could lead to future product development.

“It’s a wonderful story and we’re thrilled by this homecoming over 50 years in the making,” he said.

After the ceremony, Aoyama looked back on the items’ long journey home with satisfaction: “I was very surprised and my team members were also very excited [to discover the items]. I was relieved to be able to safely return them to both companies.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Akino Sasaki, left, Yuichi Aoyama, center, and Shota Mori attend a ceremony held at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tachikawa, Tokyo, on Thursday.