Coke pops Pepsi: ISU switches to Coca-Cola vending machines


Photo: Adam Ring/Iowa State Dail

New Coca-Cola machines have appeared in buildings throughout Iowa State’s campus. Iowa State made the switch to Coke during the summer as its main pop provider.

Elizabeth Polsdofer

The choice of Iowa State over the University of Iowa may be seen as a no-brainer for most Cyclones, but the decision of Pepsi versus. Coke is another question. Many Cyclones have returned from their summer vacation to find a new face across campus in dining centers and vending machines across campus. Iowa State is now the home of Coca-Cola products.

While some die-hard Pepsi fans may view the switch to Coke products as a vendetta against their personal soft drink preferences, Warren Madden, senior vice president for Business and Finance, said the switch is about the numbers.

“Pepsi has been the provider up until now,” Madden said. “So we got these bids back in, and it turns out the Coca-Cola bid financially appears to be a better proposal. They have a couple options, one of them in terms of the vending locations on campus and the places that are selling products. They had a component of that that is exclusive in a sense the only vending machines you would have on campus are Coca-Cola machines, and they would carry the variety of Coca-Cola products. The convenience stores located in the various dining complexes would still be selling products that are broader than just Coca-Cola.”

Madden said soft drink contracts are something Iowa State deals with periodically. The purchasing department at Iowa State requests bids from soft drink companies to provide vending machines and soft drink dispensing machines in dining centers across campus. Also included in the bid are commissions for having Coca-Cola only vending machines and promotions such as free products for Iowa State during Veishea.

A selling point in the Coke contract is the availability of state-of-the-art vending machines from Coca-Cola. Madden said Pepsi’s unwillingness to upgrade their vending machines was a major factor in the decision to pursue a soft drink contract with Coca-Cola over Pepsi.

“They’re in the process of converting from Pepsi to Coke,” Madden said. “In addition to financially being a better proposal Coke is installing newer vending machines which Pepsi wasn’t willing to do, and some of these [new vending machines] have better electronics.”

Madden pointed out a few of the things the upgraded Coke machines have, compared to the Pepsi machines. 

“You can email and do things with the vending machines that are the latest technology in vending distribution equipment and there was a fair amount of interest in having that available on campus.”

A concern in the decision to switch from a Pepsi contract to a Coca-Cola contract is the lack of student involvement in the decision. As the contract is still being finalized and processed the decision on soft drink contracts was pursued at a time when the full ISU community was unavailable for full consensus.

“Any decision made during the summer lacks the input needed from students, especially in the Division of Student Affairs,” said Jared Knight, president of the Government of the Student Body.

“Cheaper rates and different kinds of machines would be available, but we didn’t talk too long about it,” said Arjay Vander Velden, finance director for GSB, regarding the information presented to the Special Student Fees and Tuition Committee by the director of ISU Dining, Nancy Levandowski. “I wasn’t involved with the whole student process so I don’t know how much input they actually got.”

Knight said he did not believe there was any way to get a full student consensus. 

“I don’t think there will ever be consensus about what kinds of soda should be on campus,” Knight said when pressed on whether or not a consensus would have been reached if the full Iowa State community has given GSB input during the fall and spring semesters and not the summer semester.

Levandowski said she is unable to comment on the Coca-Cola contract until the contract is finalized but will discuss the contract with GSB on Wednesday, Aug. 29. In the event the contract is finalized by Aug. 29, Levandowski said she will comment on specifics of the contract, especially the water bottle issue.

Last year student groups pushed for the ban of selling water bottles on campus. An attractive feature of the Coca-Cola contract, Madden said, was Iowa State’s ability to cease the sale of water bottles if that is the direction the university chose to pursue.

“There are a group of students who would like us to get out of the bottled water business, and that’s still a topic for conversation,” Madden said. “The vending machines, if you’re downstairs [in Beardshear Hall,] right now are selling bottled water. … We have the ability to tell Coke to not sell bottled water; we haven’t made that decision and I think that even the groups that are advocating less bottled water are completely clear on where they want to be on some of the venues.

Madden said the conversion regarding the sale of bottled water was one that would be had this year at Iowa State. Meanwhile, water bottles will still be sold on Iowa State’s campus.

The Coca-Cola contract is expected to be finalized within the first few days of classes.

“I know we’ve been talking with [the department of] purchasing in the past few days,” Madden said. “They’re in the process of finishing up the actual contract. Right now Coke is a little bit at risk; they’re installing all this equipment and trying to get the conversion done, and they don’t literally have a signed contract with the university.”

The competition between Coca-Cola and Pepsi to be beverage providers is an investment not only in a financial agreement with a university but also a competition for lifelong customers.

“Campuses are attractive to the beverage industry because they’re trying to get you to adopt life patterns once you leave Iowa State that you’ll be a customer of whatever you get committed,” Madden said. “They believe — and I gather marketing data indicates — they can influence your future career choices.”

“So part of this is not only about you’re doing while you’re a student at Iowa State, but it’s what you’re going to drink for the next 40 years after you leave this place, and they’re all interested in influencing that.”