Four questions about the quirky Canadian affection for Passover Coke

A fully certified bottle of Passover Coke—and Diet Coke, for the kitnyot-friendly crowd. (Credit: Coke Canada Bottling)

Jeff Dobro pushed his empty grocery cart toward the very back of a Toronto-area Metro supermarket in March, looking for a two-litre object that only appears once a year.

The businessman had actually been calling around to stores in his area for weeks beforehand, hoping to secure sufficient supply of his favourite soft drink.

“I get anxiety four to six weeks before Passover, just waiting for this product to come out.”

He spotted the display of Passover Coke near the cold cuts, at the intersection of the kosher section and the ham display. The pop was priced at 4-for-$10. Dobro filled his cart with 16 bottles.

For the 61-year-old, it’s a throwback to when he was only allowed to drink it on the holiday at his grandparents’ house in Montreal, in lieu of all the hametz items that disappeared from their kitchen for the eight-day festival.

“This is the real thing. The one sweetened with corn syrup is good, it’s passable, but it’s not as good as this,” Dobro said.

Coca-Cola
Jeff Dobro waits all year to stock up on the Kosher for Passover version of Coca-Cola, made with cane sugar. He found his stash on March 21, 2022 at the Metro grocery store in Toronto at Bathurst and Sheppard. (Ellin Bessner photo).

Why is this cola different from all other colas?

Kosher status for Coca-Cola was secured year-round in 1935, when the Atlanta company revealed its secret formula to a rabbi.

But when sweetening economics prompted the company to switch to high fructose corn syrup in 1984, it made the drink off-limits during Passover for those Ashkenazi Jews who abstain from all grains and seeds, which fall in the food category of kitniyot.

In response, Coca-Cola started producing a limited annual run of its classic cane sugar recipe. In the United States, these KFP bottles have yellow caps. 

Yellow bottle caps of Kosher for Passover Coke
American Passover Coke at a Public supermarket in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2022. (Gita Guttman photo).

Canadian bottling plant under Rabbinical supervision

The bottles look nearly identical to the year-round version in Canada, but they have special stamps of approval from two Canadian organizations: Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) and Montreal Kosher (MK).

According to the Coke Canada Bottling, 54,400 bottles of KFP Coke (including some Diet Coke—although its aspartame sweetener keeps it classified as kitnyot) were produced at the Brampton, Ontario, plant in February of this year. That’s the same-sized run as 2021. 

“Prior to the start of production, the line is fully sanitized,” explained Tara Scott, a company vice-president, adding that the factory uses Kosher CO2 to purge the tanks and also to make the product.

A rabbi is on the premises to supervise the sugar being unloaded, and watch the rest of the bottle-filling process.

And there’s another Jewish angle: Larry Tanenbaum, best known as the co-owner of Toronto sports franchises, co-acquired the Canadian bottling plants in 2018. (His partner in the venture is an NBA player turned soft drink executive, Junior Bridgeman.)

What happened to the competition?

Pepsi was actually the Passover pop of choice at the Real Canadian Superstore on Marine Drive in Vancouver, where kosher food supervisor Marat Dreyshner used to order it directly from Israel.

This year, there were no guarantees the imports would arrive in time for the holiday which begins on April 15. As a result, Dreyshner ditched Pepsi, and scrambled to order from Coca-Cola for the first time.

“In our location, we have a big Jewish community and in years past, we were bringing Pepsi products in for Passover, but as the pandemic happened, we weren’t able to bring these products in anymore, so we did some digging,” Dreyshner told The CJN.  

By all accounts, the Vancouver Superstore was the first place in Canada to get Passover Coke.

They took about 5,500 bottles of Passover Coke. The shipment amounted to nearly all of the stock allocated for Western Canada. But, as some of Dreyshner’s customers buy up to 60 bottles at a time, he wasn’t worried about being stuck with unsold product.

After all, people who don’t know it’s Passover will drink it whether or not they know about the secret sugar.

But there must be enough customers in the loop. As of April 6, only 300 bottles were left of the stuff.

Carlo Fierro, manager of the Loblaw Marine Drive Superstore in Vancouver, (left) with Marat Dreyshner, kosher supervisor, and some of their 5,500 bottles of Passover Coke. (Submitted photo).

How much do people love it?

Members of the Toronto Kosher King group on Facebook offered their views on Passover Coke, with exclamations ranging from “Nothing compares!” to “My husband drinks it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!”

It’s also how Gerry Anklewicz fondly remembers his cousin, Michael Kirstein.

“He would come to family seders with a bottle of KFP Coke, and a not-so-KFP double chocolate cake from Open Window Bakery,” Anklewicz recalled to The CJN. When Michael died, his son brought this combination to the funeral.

But with the recently soaring price of food—and kosher items in particular—some Passover Coke fans are waiting for the costs to go down before stocking up.

“When it goes on sale for 99 cents, I’ll buy about 50 bottles,” said Michael Kipper, who considers that a year’s supply.

(Earlier this week, the Superstore in Vancouver was selling it for $1.22 per bottle. At the IGA on Cote-Saint-Luc Road in Montreal, they were 4-for-$5.)

Can a fan explain the appeal?

Jeff Dobro
Jeff Dobro with his favourite brand of Coke—made with cane sugar. (Submitted photo)

When asked to describe what kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola tastes like, Jeff Dobro struggled to find the words. 

“That is probably one of the toughest questions that I’ve ever had,” he replied. “I think it’s even sweeter than Kedem Grape Juice.”

But he usually waits until the start of the festival’s first night before his first annual taste.

Between the two seders, and during the subsequent week at home and in his office, Dobro figures he goes through 16 to 20 bottles a year—mindful of the fact that this isn’t health food.

“It’s not great. But it’s Passover Coke, right?”