Pepsigate: campus-wide beverage brand switch divides Bowdoin community
January 27, 2023
Coke or Pepsi? Bowdoin has taken its side in the age-old debate, signing a contract with PepsiCo in October 2022. The decision has only recently made waves, as changes in beverage availability became apparent in the dining halls and C-Store starting this semester.
Prior to October, the College did not carry a contract with a beverage supplier. Unlike most other higher educational institutions, it dealt individually with nearly every national beverage distributor (primarily Coca-Cola, Pepsi, the Dr. Pepper /Snapple Group and Polar).
“We just purchased whatever products we wanted to purchase, and they gave whatever equipment they wanted to give. They provided whatever services they could provide, and that was that,” Executive Director of Dining Ryan Miller said.
Miller’s first day at the College was around two weeks after the Pepsi contract was signed, but he is happy with what the company brings to the table. Per the contract, bottled beverage space in the C-store must be 70 percent Pepsi products, with the remaining 30 percent divided among other beverage companies, including Coca-Cola. The pre-contract split was around 55 percent Pepsi and 45 percent other suppliers.
Miller estimates that 95 percent of previously-available products in the C-Store remain. Most of the time, if you can’t find something, it’s because it moved shelves. Miller acknowledged that the C-Store rearrangement, as well as a new point-of-sale system, has made C-Store employees’ jobs more difficult.
On the other hand, changes in the dining halls are slightly more conspicuous. Whereas Thorne and Moulton used to house two Coca-Cola and two Pepsi machines each, all the Coca-Cola machines were replaced with Pepsi dispensers. The lack of Barq’s Root Beer, Fanta and Diet Coke are some of the most bemoaned losses of the transition.
“I really love Diet Coke. It’s one of the three drinks that I drink,” Kyla Gary ’25 said. “I don’t like Diet Pepsi; I think it tastes different. It’s sweeter—but not in a good way, in an artificial way.”
Izzy Miller ’23, whose parents protested Northwestern’s switch to Pepsi their senior year of college and who is not related to Ryan Miller, carries on the family tradition of die-hard Diet Coke support. However, the change means that Miller is finally able to drink a non-diet soda; her fructose allergy prevents her from drinking all sweetened sodas in the US except for Sierra Mist, a Pepsi product.
“I lose Diet Coke, which is very important to me, and a comfort drink, but I gain something I’ve never been able to have at college, which is lemon-lime soda,” Miller said.
Not everyone finds the bright side of the new drinks. Before she came back to school, Melissa Su ’24 chose to abstain from getting Fanta, a Coke drink, thinking that she would enjoy them when she returned to campus.
“I go back to school, hoping to get a cup of Fanta, and it’s Pepsi, with irrelevant drinks like Sierra Mist and Bubly,” Su said.
Other students were drawn to drinks they previously didn’t notice.
“I didn’t know they had ginger ale until this semester,” Gabe Gitter-Dentz ’25, who recently began enjoying the drink on campus, said.
Despite what the Coca-Cola defenders may hope, Pepsi products are moving through the basement “soda-room” system at a high rate.
“As we look at the Gen Z consumer, of what they’re drinking, they’re not drinking soda anymore.… They’re drinking juice, tea, carbonated water, things of that nature,” Ryan Miller said. “That’s why we’re actually expanding on the Bubly line with Pepsi. I think they are the leader in that market space of flavored carbonated waters. We’re already seeing the volume that’s getting through the machines.”
Some students feel that the new Bubly flavors add an air of excitement and refinement to campus’s dining establishments. Many welcome the seltzer as a refreshing alternative to still water.
“While I wouldn’t pick it out from the C-store … fancy water makes me feel like I’m having a complete dinner,” Dyana Sanaycela ’24 said.
The Pepsi repertoire includes not only the sodas, carbonated waters and teas that are available in the dining hall but also the canned Starbucks beverages in the C-Store. Dining Service hopes that the new contract will provide a change of pace for students as well as important information about young people’s preferences.
“We would now have access to things before they’re hitting the shelves at 7-11,” Miller said. “[Pepsi] uses our markets to test drive things and see how younger students respond.”
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