After nearly eight years of University of Rhode Island students being served Pepsi products campus-wide, Coca Cola Co. has made its way into all the school’s dispensers and store shelves.
This school year marks the second year of the five-year exclusive contract. This agreement means that Coca Cola has 80 percent of URI’s shelf space for its own products. According to Steve Mello, director of dining services, the university fought for the remaining 20 percent for other privately owned beverages like Redbull. However, the university cannot market any of these individual products.
Even with the 20 percent, this contract disallows the university to sell or advertise Pepsi products, Coca Cola’s number one competitor. This change has meant that the Memorial Union, including Ronzio’s and Snack Shack, dining halls, the Thomas M. Ryan Center and all vending machines to contain products like Dasani, Mello Yello, Powerade, Sprite and more.
“There was some Pepsi fatigue,” said Mello. “And students were asking for Coke.” There is a committee that makes up contract decisions that is made up of representatives from the Union, Housing, Accounting, Athletics, Dining Services and someone who manages contract affairs. With a better overall package presented by Coca Cola, the committee overwhelmingly voted “yes” for the change.
“All in all, it was a good partnership with good programming,” said Mello. He said the company has been responsive and has been honoring giving back to the school. Coca Cola has given the university free beverages at big events like at the past King Kong viewing event where Monster drinks were free, and have given money to athletics, although he was unsure of how much.
Mello said he has heard from only a few students who have commented on the change. For the most part, he thinks that students have not noticed or prefer the change.
Jennifer Almanzar, manager at Ram’s Den, said that Coca Cola’s machinery is much easier to use when connecting hoses for the dispensers. “It’s a lot more organized now,” she said. “But I personally don’t like Coke’s ginger ale because it doesn’t taste as good.” Almanzar along with other dining services employees said they have not heard students comment on the change.
Freshman Jon Latour was sponsored by Pepsi for skateboarding but still never noticed the change. “I never drank Coke until now actually,” he said.
Most of the feedback seems to have been when the change first happened.
“When it first changed over there were some inquiries, but now it’s not frequent,” said Chuck Killian, an employee of the URI Bookstore who also works at the Union’s Snack Shop. He said people sporadically question him for Naked products or Mountain Dew.
“It’s hard to say if the university has saved money [from making the change],” said Mello. “But sales in vending are up.” Mello said that with the surge in enrollment it is difficult to know if the increase in sales is because of the shift to Coca Cola or just because there are more students drinking beverages.
Mello said big companies like Coca Cola are targeting college students to instill brand loyalty. The contracts last four to five years just for this reason. If a student spends four years drinking Coca Cola products because that is what is sold, it is likely the student will continue to drink that product after graduating.
“There’s been a big shift in soft drinks, but there is lots of investments and money to be made in water,” said Mello. Unit wise, Dining Services has been selling equal amounts of bottled water and soft drinks. “We see students drinking more water now than ever.”
Beginning next spring, Mello said the dining halls would begin offering Vitamin Water, a product of Coca Cola, in the fountain dispensers.