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Rutgers Ditches Pepsi, Switches to Coca-Cola Without a Contract

University Won't Say How Much Money It's Getting From Deal With Coke
Coke machines
Coca-Cola machines Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ--On July 1, Rutgers University began the process of switching out Pepsi products with Coca-Cola products after 11 years of Pepsi under an exclusivity contract with the company.

But more than two and a half months later, officials at both Rutgers and Coca-Cola have refused to say just how much money will change hands under the new arrangement.

"It is Company policy that we don’t release any financials on our agreements with our partners," said Coca-Cola spokesperson Maria Pignataro.

Rutgers had even less to say about the deal, after denying New Brunswick Today's Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request seeking a copy of the contract on August 23.

"Please be advised that your request... is denied, as the process of finalizing the contract is not yet complete,"  Thus, the document requested remains pre-decisional and is therefore exempt from disclosure," argued the school's custodian of records Daniel Faltas.

On September 16, university spokesperson E.J. Miranda remained silent when asked by New Brunswick Today about the contract.

"Excuse me," was all Miranda had to say before quietly walking into the TD Bank on Bayard Street, after asking New Brunswick Today not to record him without asking first.

The Rutgers Media Relations office had previously failed to respond to an inquiry from this newspaper about the deal on August 30.

It's not the first time that the state university has done business without a written contract.  NBToday previously exposed the school was doing business with a software company with no contract in place for the majority of its initial one-year agreement.

The budget for the school reached $3.78 billion this past school year, whose expenses include instruction, student services, and libraries.  It's unclear what impact the switch from Pepsi to Coca-Cola will have if any.

This new arrangement is not the university’s first deal with Coca-Cola.

In 1994, Rutgers and Coca-Cola agreed upon a $10 million ten-year contract to make them the exclusive provider of soft drinks allowed on campus.

At the time, contracts with soda companies were somewhat new terroritory for universities, part of the overarching “Cola wars” which pit the two major companies against one another.

According to a 1994 New York Times article, the Rutgers-Coke deal, “raised suspicions about corporate presence on campus.”

The university’s President Francis Lawrence saw the contract as “a creative solution to long-term problems,” after Rutgers had suffered a “$92 million shortfall in state funding over the past seven years.”

But students and some Rutgers staff saw it differently.

One student complained, “next you’ll see sponsorship of research facilities and libraries.”

One university convenience store owner, complained he could no longer sell the products he wanted to. “I know what my customers want, and I'm no longer allowed to give it to them.”

In 2004, when Coca-Cola’s contract ended, Rutgers began accepting offers from other soda companies, including Pepsi, to see who would pay the most for a monopoly on campus beverage choice.

During the decision-making process, Rutgers extended their contract with Coca-Cola for an extra year.

Rutgers’ process coincided with the prominence of the "Killer Coke" Campaign, an effort to shed light on the global impact of Coca-Cola’s inhumane practices, particularly in Columbia where Coca-Cola officials had allegedly tortured and killed union leaders at its bottling plant.

Students across the nation began protesting the beverage corporation.

When Rutgers signed the contract with Pepsi for $17 million in 2005, they denied the protests had anything to do with their decision, stating Pepsi had simply offered a better deal.

When City University of New York (CUNY) signed a deal with Pepsi in 2013, they too denied it was because of Coca-Cola’s  reputation, even though some of their school affiliates had banned Coca-Cola in light of student outrage.

New York University (NYU) banned Coca-Cola at their campus for four years beginning in 2005 because of “alleged labor violations at its columbian bottle camp.”

Coca-Cola and even Pepsi’s global impact goes beyond alleged, isolated incidents, such as those in Columbia, according to Oxfam, an international confederation of 18 charitable organizations that works to end poverty around the globe.

According to an Oxfam study released in 2013, the sugar supply chain fuels land grabs in poor communities across the globe. In order to accommodate sugar plantations, these communities are often kicked off their land, usually with no compensation.

After the release of the study, Coca-Cola claimed it had a “zero tolerance for land grabs in supply chain” and Oxfam welcomed the effort, adding, “we look forward to tracking the actions the company takes to follow through on their promises.”

With the release of their "Nothing Sweet About It" report, Oxfam launched a "Behind the Brands" campaign that implemented the Company Scorecard in 2013.

The scorecard rates the top ten biggest food and beverage corporations on seven different criteria: land, women farmers, workers, climate, transparency, and water.

All of the ratings are based on publicly available information on the policies and commitments of the so-called "Big 10," not to be confused with the 14-member athletic conference that Rutgers recently joined.

According to the most recent scorecard available, Coca-Cola sits in 3rd place with a score of 57%, while "Pepsico" is tied for 5th place with a scor of 49%.

While all of the top ten food and beverage corporations have made new policy commitments, specifically when it comes to equality for women, land rights and tackling greenhouse gas emissions, "Behind the Brands" campaign manager Monique van Zijl said in April, “now it’s crucial for the ‘Big 10’ to substantially change their business models to make good on these promises, and challenge their suppliers to ensure that small-scale producers get fair and livable wages.”

Most students at Rutgers aren’t buzzing about the politics behind the University’s decision to switch back to Coca-Cola.  According to discussion on Twitter, most students are concerned has to do with personal preferences.

Rutgers alumnae @littleplurmaid tweeted, “Currently devastated that Rutgers is cutting ties with Pepsi and bringing in Coke where was this when I was in school.”

Incoming freshman, @Ms_PinkRanger, tweeted, “I knew rutgers was meant for me because there was Pepsi everywhere but now that they're sponsored by coke idk how to feel.”