From the Archives: Redeemer’s Coca-Cola Contract Remains Secretive

Do the Benefits of the Contract Really Exceed the Drawbacks?

Article published November 10, 2004; Written by Steve Dykstra

Although I haven’t done a specific count, I’m sure the average student sees “Coca-Cola” products and signs in and around the campus buildings more often than important words like “Jesus,” “grace,” “Neo-Calvinistic cultural redemption,” and the like. But in all seriousness, the corporations, symbols, labels, and products displayed around our school should be a matter of concern for students.

I first became aware of Redeemer’s Coke contract when some guys in our dorm purchased a non-brand pop machine from a salvage yard. We placed this machine on our porch, and it made for a nice little light. However, a few weeks later we were asked to move the pop machine inside our dorm and out of sight. Then, after handing out flyers that advertised the availability of pop in our dorm for a “donation” of fifty cents, we were forced to unplug the machine under the penalty of a fine.

When we at dorm 35 inquired about these measures, we were told that a Coke supplier had noticed the pop machine on our porch and had informed the office that the machine was a breach of the exclusive contract Redeemer had signed.

I was interested in this contract, so I inquired about it at the main office. I was granted an appointment and was led deep into the depths of Redeemer administration. I was looking forward to finding out for myself what the contract was all about; however, I was told by a school administrator that the contract is locked in a vault in the office.

Everyone involved in the signing of the contract (a few school administrators) agreed to keep it confidential; the information cannot be shared beyond those involved in the signing of the contract in September 2001. This measure of secrecy is to prevent cola-contract comparisons between schools. For example, we at Redeemer can’t hang out at McMaster or Mohawk and talk about who’s getting the better deal from Coke.

There are both benefits and drawbacks to the contract we signed. Although no specific figures could be given, there is a lump sum of money that is given to the school every year. The school also received a scoreboard for the gym from Coke, and Student Senate is provided with free Coke products for their events.

However, there are also some drawbacks. All the money that goes into the pop machines is directed straight back to Coca-Cola, rather than to the school. Although the cash our school receives is dependent on how much soda is sold, the amount students drink is trivial when compared to the amount consumed by visitors, especially during the conventions and camps held in the summer season. Furthermore, our on-campus Williams outlet is restricted in terms of what they can sell; some juices, sodas, and brands of water can’t be sold on campus because of the Coke contract. Last year, H2O (Help 2 Others, a volunteer group at Redeemer) was forced to stop handing out free bottles of water to students because the product was not of the Coca-Cola brand. 

These contracts are not at all uncommon. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been involved in school sponsorship since the early ’90s. Coca-Cola held contracts with my former high school, and even elementary school. For students not allowed to drink soda, Coke sells juice (Fruitopia) and is even beginning to provide milk at schools.

As I sit here drinking a seemingly subversive can of Pepsi, I find it hard to condone or condemn the monopoly this soda supplier has on our school. There are obvious benefits and drawbacks to the contract, to which we are, for the most part, frustratingly bereft of access. All we have left to do is trust the wisdom of our school administrators and believe that they did what they thought was best. When the contract is up for renewal in 2006, I hope they’ll continue to consider what it really means for our school.