Pepsi lobbies Kansas to allow sale of diet sodas in schools

1/3/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — Pepsi-Cola is asking the Kansas State Board of Education to drop a recommendation that districts stop selling low-calorie sodas in schools, arguing that it would further cut into the company's revenue and reduce the amount of money it pays districts.

TOPEKA (AP) — Pepsi-Cola is asking the Kansas State Board of Education to drop a recommendation that districts stop selling low-calorie sodas in schools, arguing that it would further cut into the company's revenue and reduce the amount of money it pays districts.

New federal regulations scheduled to take effect in July are expected to cut into Pepsi sales by forcing the company to sell smaller bottles of some beverages, such as juices and sports drinks, Patrick O'Donnell, general manager of Pepsi of Topeka, told the board.

"It's just not as appealing when kids know they can go across the street" and purchase a larger bottle, O'Donnell said.

A recommendation by the State Board of Education to prohibit vending machine sales of low-calorie sodas during school is part of the board's model wellness guidelines, which it hopes to have updated by May, before the federal guidelines go into effect, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported .

Local school boards can decide whether to comply with the state's wellness guidelines, but must do so if they want to meet the "advanced" or "exemplary" levels of the guidelines.

O'Donnell said his company has voluntarily changed the products it sells in school vending machines in recent years to offer healthier options, even though that cost Pepsi of Topeka some sales and subsequently reduced the commission to the schools.

In a statement to the board, O'Donnell said his company is expecting up to a 25 percent drop in vending sales once the federal guidelines take effect. Allowing Pepsi to sell low-calorie sodas in schools could offset those losses, he said.

In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published its new regulations for non-lunchroom foods and beverages for sale in schools. The regulations, which still could be tweaked before taking effect next summer, were developed as a "minimum" nutritional standard, the USDA said, allowing for states and school districts to adopt even stricter policies.

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine recommended against allowing diet soft drinks during school hours because students often choose those drinks rather milk and healthier juices at mealtimes, negating the possible value of diet drinks in efforts to combat childhood obesity.

Beverage commissions and exclusivity deals can provide significant funding in large school districts.

In the late 1990s, the Topeka School District used its earnings from an exclusivity deal with Pepsi to purchase the land for the 56-acre Hummer Sports Park.

Annual Pepsi funding has dropped about $160,000 since Pepsi began following the voluntary health guidelines in 2006, district administrators said.

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