Vendors compete for U business

The University will vote Friday whether to maintain Aramark and Coca-Cola as its food and drink vendors.

Ahnalese Rushmann

Residence hall meals and pop machines around campus will have a familiar feel to them for at least another decade, if the University gets its way.

The Board of Regents will vote Friday on whether to keep Aramark and Coca-Cola as the University’s food service and beverage vendors.

The University’s recommendations maintain Aramark as the Twin Cities campus food service company and Coca-Cola as the exclusive beverage vendor to all University campuses.

The proposed 12-year contract with Aramark is valued around $96 million to the University, while Coca-Cola’s 10-year contract could be worth up to $38 million. Coca-Cola’s exclusive territory would include TCF Bank Stadium.

Both agreements would take effect July 1, after current contracts expire June 30.

A two-year process

Companies had about four months, starting last March, to submit business proposals, said Leslie Bowman, director of University Dining Service Contract Administration.

Although the amount of money designated for athletics sponsorship, such as stadium signage and scholarships, isn’t public yet, she said the new stadium had an impact on Coca-Cola’s interest.

“It increased the athletics sponsorship opportunities for Coca-Cola in terms of signage and some things they value in an athletics venue,” Bowman said. “Other than that, it was just one more venue on campus.”

Sodexo competed for the Twin Cities campus’ food service spot, Bowman said, while PepsiCo and Red Bull each tried to unseat Coca-Cola.

The two-year process involved more than 120 staff members and 14 work groups, Bowman said.

University committees and financial consultants evaluated the proposals to “score” each company, she said, and Aramark and Coca-Cola did the best overall.

Addressing student concerns

Adam Engelman, a political science senior, served as a student representative with voting privileges to the operations and beverage work group.

He said he suggested student requests, like energy-efficient vending machines and having alternative brand options on campus.

Engelman said he also heard concerns about alleged past Coca-Cola human rights violations.

In 2006, the Minnesota Student Association called for an investigation into the beverage giant’s international practices in places like India, Colombia and Turkey.

Around that time, several colleges banned Coke products from their campuses.

Bowman said she was part of the work group charged with looking into the matter. University administrators probed the allegations for a year, but didn’t find merit in them, she said.

But the new contracts will pay attention to old concerns.

Ethics and the environment

The new Coca-Cola contract would include specific language about corporate responsibility and ethics, Bowman said, even requesting the company stay part of and adhere to the United Nations Global Compact – a voluntary initiative aimed at issues like human rights, labor and the environment.

“I believe we’re the first contract that Coke has agreed to put that language into,” she said. “So I think we listened to the students.”

The Philadelphia-based Aramark has done better in customer satisfaction surveys since it arrived on campus, Bowman said, adding that higher prices on campus are a result of the University’s living wage policy for full-time workers.

“It does make the food more expensive,” she said. “But we believe it’s the right thing to do so these people can support their families and support themselves.”

The contract will stipulate specific percentages of items to be considered healthy, locally produced or sustainable, Bowman said.

“In most cases, we would say that it needs to increase year over year and be able to show us that’s increased,” she said.