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UBC can't drink enough Coke


TRIBE Member
Coke's deal refuels kerfuffle at UBC


Thursday, September 1, 2005

VANCOUVER -- When 43,000 students at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus head to their first day of classes, they'll still have no choice but to drink Coke products -- but Coca-Cola won't pay a penny for the privilege.

An exclusivity deal signed by the university, its student union and the soft drink giant in 1995 guaranteed $8.5-million in funding over 10 years. It was the first deal of its kind inked in Canada.

But a clause in the contract said that if students didn't drink the equivalent of 33.6 million cans or bottles during that decade -- a projection based on similar deals on U.S. campuses -- the exclusivity would be extended another two years with no more money.

When the contract was made public in 2001, it became clear that students couldn't drink enough Coke in time.


"We knew it was coming," student society vice-president Kevin Keystone said yesterday. "Canadian and American soft drink consumption are very different. It was pretty obvious that something was coming down the pipe and we weren't going to hit our minimum volume commitment."

By the fifth year, the sales were just under 10 million bottles consumed; by the 10th year, students had drunk just over 17 million bottles -- nearly six million litres of Coke, but only 51 per cent of what was promised.

The end of the contract will reduce the student society's budget by about $160,000 this year, while Coke gets a chance to sell the beverages it was promised, Mr. Keystone said.

The deal was unpopular among students, who staged Coke boycotts and protested against a visit from Coke's chief executive officer.

The university's newspaper, The Ubyssey, took Coke and UBC to court to reveal the terms of the contract.

Many said the quota was out of reach: "We could fill up the Empire Pool with Coke and we still wouldn't make it," one student complained at the time.

Student Sean Cook worried that UBC was sealing off water fountains to get students to drink more Coke before the deadline. The university dismissed that as a conspiracy theory.

The money the contract brought to the university is still benefiting students in the form of improvements to disability access, building infrastructure and the library, among other things, said UBC spokesman Scott Macrae.

"It ended up being a good deal for the university and the student society," he said.

"And now [these deals] are standard across universities."

Many Canadian universities signed exclusivity deals with Coke or Pepsi, but UBC is the first whose 10-year contract is coming to term.

The University of Alberta's student union gets scholarships and $50,000 a year from its 1998 contract with Coke, said Jason Tobias, vice-president operations

There's a similar clause about a minimum consumption, but because the contract is secret, the students don't know whether they're meeting it, he said.

The University of Calgary wouldn't release any information on its deal, but Joel Lockwood, a vice-president of the U of C student society, said their contract will expire in 18 months.

The issue has divided the campus for years, with some saying the learning environment should be free from a corporate stamp, he said, but recently the debate has quieted.

When the student society leaves the contract, it might strike a deal with Coke while the rest of the campus remains dominated by Pepsi, Mr. Lockwood said.

"A lot of the vending machines around campus say, 'Thank you for choosing Pepsi,' on the bottom," he said. "I find that really ironic."

A Coke representative said the company would continue to work with the university. Coke has offered to sign another deal with UBC and its student society, said Mr. Keystone, although he would not discuss the details.

"Other campuses have watched us and they will continue to watch where we take these deals," he said.