DATE: July 4, 2003
TO: Individual Members of the Seattle School Board
FROM: Prof. John F. Banzhaf III, George Washington University Law School
RE: Coca-Cola Itself Has Renounced Exclusive Contracts With Schools

I write because Members of the Seattle School Board may not have been told that Coca-Cola itself has renounced exactly the type of exclusive contract which the Board is being asked to approve - one which encourages students to drink sugary soft drinks in return for a kickback to the school, and one which I have warned School Board Members might lead to law suits and individual legal liability if renewed.

Below are a few brief excerpts from numerous  newspaper articles announcing this new policy by Coca-Cola.  I hope that School Board Members will take just a few minutes to read what they have to say, and then decline to renew just such a contract.

For example, here is part of what the Wall Street Journal reported on 3/14/01: “The company also said it will work to lessen its commercial presence in schools and support nonexclusive contracts with schools. . . .  The moves by the beverage maker come as Congress is considering imposing limits on the sale of soft drinks in schools in response to critics of commercialism in schools and organizations questioning the nutritional value of soft drinks for young people.”

>From the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC) on 3/27/01: “An image as an exploiter of school children wouldn't sell much sweet fizzy water, so Coca-Cola recently pulled the plug on aggressive marketing of its products through exclusive contracts with schools. For kids' sake, the public can only hope that Coke's announcement represents the beginning of a full retreat. Selling fewer soft drinks in schools seems the only reasonable response to the medical Journal Lancet's study of childhood obesity, published last month. Each additional soft drink that kids consume every day increases the risk of obesity by 60 percent, no matter how much food they eat or exercise they get, researchers found. And fat leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis later in life.”

Here’s another from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee) from 3/25/01: “As part of new national policy, Coca-Cola will ask its independent bottlers to quit fighting for exclusive contracts to put the company's vending machines in schools. The company sounded the retreat after mounting public pressure to do so. Perhaps a government report linking consumption of soft drinks to increasing rates of obesity and diabetes in children forced the company's hand, but the decision is welcome nevertheless. . . .  On the one hand, you have teachers diligently instructing their students in the basics of sound nutrition, which does not include the consumption of soft drinks or other convenience and fast foods. On the other hand, a machine dispensing a product the government says is sometimes detrimental to student health sits just outside the classroom door. Such tacit approval of soft drinks is bound to disconcert students, and it also demeans and needlessly commercializes the education system.

>From the Modesto Bee (California) 3/23/01: “It isn't hard to understand why Coca-Cola Co. opted for the white flag. Under pressure from the American Dental Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Association of School Food Service directors, many of the country's newspaper editorial boards and some members of Congress and state legislatures, the maker of the nation's top-selling soft drink has asked its bottlers to stop seeking "exclusive pouring contracts" with school districts. What once had seemed a sound strategy for building brand loyalty among young consumers had become a public relations headache, with Coke and its rival, Pepsi, cast as the enablers of cavities, teen-age obesity and the overcommercialization of American schools.”

>From the Orlando Sentinel Tribune,3/21/01: “Coca-Cola Co., feeling the pressure from critics, wants to phase out its exclusive agreements with local school systems throughout the country. . . .  But at what price? Students are a captive audience. Businesses shouldn't be allowed to take advantage of their status by bombarding them with commercials at school. In addition, most of Coca-Cola's popular products have little, if any, nutritional value. How does the exclusive contract jibe with the school system's goal of promoting healthy minds and bodies? How can schools offer health classes yet promote the use of products that have no health benefit? Kids are smarter than people think. They can spot such inconsistencies and wonder why messages and actions don't agree.”

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle 3/19/01:”COCA-COLA has sensibly called retreat in the cola wars sweeping many school districts. The fight pitted nutrition, moderation and health against heavy marketing and big bucks from soda makers. The soft-drink maker will urge its independent bottlers not to seek exclusive contracts for the bright red vending machines in schools. The cave-in came after broad criticism -- including a January report from the Agriculture Department -- that sodas contribute to child obesity and diabetes. What's the sense in teaching a sound diet when a Coke machine or snack machine is sitting in the hallway? The Bay Area has generally seen the light in this fight. Oakland killed a deal with Pepsi to sell its soda in schools, and San Francisco has no plans for an exclusive soft-drink contract. Consider this sugar-laden statistic: 74 percent of boys and 65 percent of girls have at least a soda a day, according to a federal study.”