Jonathan Lee ‘20
This semester, Davidson shifted allegiances in a corporate rivalry steeped in history, conflict, and controversy. In a choice between the two giants of the food and beverage world, Davidson abandoned Coke and joined its arch-nemesis, Pepsi.
Now, Pepsi products and branding are conspicuous across campus, from new drink machines and beverage options in Davis Café and Vail Commons to concessions and advertising at athletic events to new vending machines.
Changing from a beloved brand to its rival could have been contentious, but the transition itself was peaceful. Many had their opinions, but as the high-tech Coke Freestyle machines were unplugged and rolled out of Davis Café, no one protested. Some students remained ambivalent.
“I really don’t care much about the change from Coke to Pepsi because I don’t drink soda,” Angelina Neiberger ‘21 declared.
Others were slightly more opinionated, and some even greeted the change with excitement.“The machines look sleeker,” commented Sam Ravina ‘21. David Thole ‘21 described them as “way more aesthetic” than their predecessors.
The main reason for this excitement, however, seems to go beyond drink machines, beyond soda, and beyond a purely Pepsi vs. Coke flavor debate.
While soda consumption has been declining nationally, other aspects of Pepsi’s presence appeal to students. Since PepsiCo owns lots of other beverage brands, many of these are now found on campus. These include Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Aquafina, Starbucks canned beverages, Seagram’s Ginger Ale, and even a Pepsi Twist machine in Davis Café.
Students have seemed more enthusiastic about the new, non-soda products, which they reviewed positively, than their soda preferences. “I love that there are a whole bunch of Starbucks products now. Before, there were only a couple Dunkin Donuts things,” said Katie Soden ‘21.
Also popular amongst students is Gatorade, which replaces Coca Cola’s Powerade. Aren Watt ‘20 remarked, “The only thing that really matters to me is that we now have Gatorade instead of Powerade.”
Viraj Garewal ‘22 agreed: “Gatorade has been the primary benefit from the switch to Pepsi. The general consensus is that Gatorade is better than Powerade.”
David Thole ‘21 highlighted one of Gatorade’s added benefits: “I also really like the switch from Powerade to Gatorade, because Gatorade has saved me many a morning after F.”
The reason for the switch was mostly financial. In a joint response, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Mark Johnson and Director of Auxiliary Services Richard Terry ‘81 explained that “the Coca-Cola contract came to the end of its term and afforded the college the opportunity to consider alternatives in search of the best solution for Davidson.”
They continued: “Both vendors were invited to put together their best offers to win the contract, and they were reviewed by a group including reps from Athletics, Auxiliary Services and College Communications and Marketing. Pepsi provided a very competitive financial offer and will provide brands in all the same categories as Coca-Cola delivered.”
The aforementioned press release also pointed out that “the college is turning to the taste born in the Carolinas, as Pepsi was introduced in New Bern, N.C., in the 1890s.”
The change is a way to leverage “all potential sources” to “keep tuition and fees as affordable as possible,” according to Terry and Johnson. Additionally, they mentioned that “[Pepsi’s] sponsorship supports scholarships, sustainability efforts, and helps Davidson to run a competitive athletics program.”
In order to help the transition go smoothly, Pepsi intends to engage directly with students. According to the press release, “the company… plans a Pepsi day on campus in the future, with games, giveaways and, of course, lots of Pepsi.”
Pepsi has already engaged with students by offering samples in Commons. Luis Cordero ‘22 met this initiative with skepticism: “I tried it but it tastes the same. Nothing new. It’s banal. Plus, soda leads to increased obesity rates and diabetes.”