Love them or loathe them, Aramark and Coca-Cola will be filling campus bellies for at least another decade.
The University Board of Regents approved Aramark and Coca-Cola as campus food service and beverage providers last Friday.
The vote affirmed University-backed recommendations of the two companies.
Aramark will receive a 12-year contract with the Twin Cities campus valued around $96 million to the University.
Coca-Cola will get a 10-year contract, worth up to $38 million and covering all five University campuses.
Aramark has been the University’s campus dining provider since 1998. The Philadelphia-based company provides food service in several locations, including hospitals, prisons and K-12 school districts.
The company has received overall satisfaction ratings at University Dining Services locations, with steady improvement, said Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler in a statement.
Leslie Bowman, director of UDS Contract Administration, said the food service contract will include specific percentages of sustainable, local and healthy offerings. Those numbers should increase each year, she said.
The new contract also stipulates that University Dining Services offer at least one fair-trade option at every location – something already practiced on campus, Bowman said.
The on-campus presence of national brands that don’t adhere to 100 percent fair-trade platforms makes implementing all fair-trade options difficult.
“We don’t always have the option to move exclusively to fair trade,” she said.
The Coca-Cola contract includes beverage rights at the new TCF Bank Stadium, something that “made the opportunity even more appealing,” said Kevin Morris, Midwest Coca-Cola Bottling Company spokesman.
In addition to serving and signage rights, Coca-Cola will also be able to use certain parts of the stadium plaza for marketing, he said.
But not all were happy with the University’s decision to do business with the company again.
Amit Srivastava, director of the India Resource Center, a nonprofit group that’s been coordinating an international campaign against Coca-Cola for the last five years, said he’s concerned with the company’s business practices in India.
It has polluted groundwater near bottling plants, he said, and while the University isn’t a regulatory or investigative body, continuing to buy and consume Coke products endorses those misdeeds.
In 2006-07, The Energy and Resource Institute assessed Coca-Cola’s practices at six plants in India.
The report said the company was contributing to dire water supplies in some areas, but acknowledged pre-existing poor water conditions.
In 2006, the Minnesota Student Association called for a University investigation into Coca-Cola’s business practices in places like India, Colombia and Turkey.
The institute’s study hadn’t been completed at that time, Bowman said, but the University was “pleased” with the eventual findings. A University work group probed the other allegations for a year but didn’t find merit in them, she said.
Journalism junior Bethany Khan, a student representative to the food service and beverage evaluation team and advisory committee, said she voiced student concerns to Coca-Cola representatives, who reiterated commitment to ethical business practices.
Bowman said the new contract requests that Coca-Cola remain part of the United Nations Global Compact – a voluntary initiative aimed at human rights, labor and environmental ethics in corporate business.
“Corporate responsibility and sustainability is woven into the fabric of our DNA within the Coca-Cola system,” Morris said.
Srivastava said joining the compact was a good move, but not without flaws.
“It’s a positive first step,” he said. “But the fundamental problem is that it’s not binding.”
University committees started working on the contract process two years ago, Bowman said.
Companies had four months to submit business pitches by July 31, 2007, she said. Fourteen work groups helped evaluate those responses, which were given score-like rankings.
Aramark’s only competitor was Sodexo, while PepsiCo and Red Bull both tried to depose the University’s “Coke campus” status.
The whole process could’ve been better explained to the University community, Khan said. “I really honestly don’t think it was as transparent as it could be,” she said.
But Khan said less transparency was probably needed for business reasons, so the University could negotiate for the best deal and best prices.
“You want to reveal things and you want to say stuff,” she said. “But the ultimate consequence won’t be as good for students.”
As for the next negotiating period? The University should include more student representation in the work groups, Khan said.
“It would’ve been nice to have another student with me,” she said.
Although Aramark and Coca-Cola aren’t unfamiliar to campus, Khan said she’s excited for one new name – Taher, Inc. The Minnetonka-based food service company will be filling non-beverage vending machines.
“It’s pretty healthy stuff,” she said. “We need to diversify our resources here on campus.”