UVM signs contract for Coca Cola distribution on campus

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(Host) The University of Vermont has received the first payment in a long-term agreement with Coca Cola. The contract grants the soft drink giant nearly exclusive rights to sell its products on campus. The agreement was signed this summer. It signals UVM’s entry into a business that is proving increasingly lucrative for many colleges and universities.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) University officials say the ten year agreement with Coke will earn UVM $4.3 million. In return, Coke receives exclusive rights to sell its carbonated beverages, water, sports drinks and juices in UVM vending machines and dining facilities. Eighty percent of the cooler and shelf space in university convenience stores and the bookstore will also be reserved for Coke products.

Over the last decade, Coke and competitor Pepsi have entered into agreements with numerous colleges and universities. The ready market of young soft drink consumers is attractive to the companies and the millions of dollars they offer represents a new source of revenue for colleges. Larger universities stand to make upwards to $30 million from the agreements. Thomas Gustafson is UVM Vice President of Operations.

(Gustafson) “Overall, we’ve talked about using the money basically in ways that directly benefit students, since most of the money will be generated by students. We’re really looking at three areas, first financial aid for students, secondly, inter-collegiate athletics and thirdly general student programs and activities on the campus.”

(Zind) Gustafson says UVM looked into agreements Coke and Pepsi had made with other institutions. Those agreements vary both in terms of the money involved and the terms. Colleges also take different approaches in their decision making.

Dartmouth College has an agreement with Coke similar to UVM’s. Dartmouth officials say they surveyed students about their preferences. There was also student representation in a group assigned to study the agreement. Gustafson says the UVM decision was made by administrators who kept other on campus groups informed.

UVM philosophy professor Will Miller is critical of that process. Miller says students and faculty should have been more involved, especially given the controversy over Coca Cola’s labor record in developing nations.

(Miller) “There’s now, as of this summer, a global labor boycott of all Coca Cola products and it seems to me that if the university were going to consider giving a ten-year monopoly to a single transnational corporation on campus, they should have at least bothered to investigate the human rights of the organization they were going to support in that way.”

(Zind) Gustafson says university officials see the deal with Coke as an opportunity to benefit students who will buy Coke products whether or not there’s an agreement in place. He says the money does make a difference:

(Gustafson) “I think it’s quite significant. Even though our budget is in the $400 million range annually now, you’d be surprised at how thinly sliced that budget becomes in terms of important issues to us.”

(Zind) Gustafson says UVM will continue to look at potential arrangements with other business that could help increase revenues.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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