clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BYU selling caffeinated soft drinks on campus

PROVO — BYU is still Stone Cold Sober, but its image got a major makeover Thursday.

Caffeinated Coca-Cola was on sale at BYU.

Workers began stocking campus vending machines and store shelves with cans and bottles of caffeinated soda pop Thursday morning for the first time in 60 years. By noon, students in the Cougareat at the Wilkinson Student Center stood in lines at brand-new soft drink dispensers full of caffeinated Coke products.

The decision drew national attention and was a huge draw for humorous social media commentary. Several joked that a little caffeine might be good for BYU's ailing football team.

"How did this happen the year I left Provo? Finaallllyyy," Shannon Kenedy wrote on Facebook.

BYU's verified Facebook account shot back quickly with two words: "Grad school." It added a link to university graduate programs.

The university announced the decision on Twitter and its website. Caffeinated soda will be available for BYU sporting events, including football games at LaVell Edwards Stadium and basketball games at the Marriott Center, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.

The change ended decades of competing messages. BYU is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the faith's Word of Wisdom proscribes the use of "hot drinks," defined by the church as coffee and caffeinated tea. In the 1950s, the director of BYU Dining Services ended the sale of caffeinated drinks, but students, faculty, staff and visitors could bring them to campus.

Some church leaders counseled that caffeinated soft drinks can be harmful, but they continued to be sold on Temple Square at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building's restaurants.

In 2012, the church issued a statement pointing out that "the church revelation spelling out health practices ... does not mention the use of caffeine."

Nearly a year ago, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, seemed to refer to drinking caffeinated soda during a talk in LDS General Conference. He described the long hours he spent learning to use a personal computer for church work after his call as a General Authority Seventy in 1994.

"It took a great deal of time, repetition, patience," he said. "No small amount of hope and faith; lots of reassurance from my wife; and many liters of a diet soda that shall remain nameless."

It's possible President Uchtdorf's caffeinated soda of choice still isn't available at BYU. The school's soft-drink contract is with Coca-Cola, which means no Pepsi or Dr. Pepper Snapple Group products.

"It would be a violation of that contract to allow others to come onto campus and sell competing products," Wright said.

College campuses, restaurants and pro sports teams sign exclusive contracts with drink companies. BYU is a Coca-Cola campus. That added weight to one funny exchange on BYU's verified Twitter account.

"Sneaking Dr. Pepper into a game won't be as fun any more," one woman wrote.

"Sorry, not sorry," BYU's Twitter team replied.

Since Dr. Pepper is not a Coke product, it generally can't be sold on campus. BYU does have a limited exception to sell Dr. Pepper in two stores on campus, in the Twilight Zone of the Wilkinson Student Center and at the Creamery on Ninth.

BYU is not the first LDS Church school to sell caffeinated soft drinks.

In March, one of BYU's sister school's, LDS Business College, began selling them at its BC Café.

"We did so to serve public demand following a pattern observed from other LDS Church-owned entities like the eating establishments in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City," college President Bruce C. Kusch said in a statement Thursday. "Caffeinated drinks are not sold in the LDS Business College Bookstore, and at this time, we do not anticipate that they will be. However, anyone dining at BC Café — which is open to the public — is able to select a caffeinated drink as their beverage of choice."

But BYU-Idaho won't sell caffeinated sodas, according to a spokesman.

"We don't see a reason to change our policy," Brett Crandall said. "We don't have the same role in hosting visitors like BYU. And more than 95 percent of our students live off campus, so it is readily accessible to them."

BYU-Hawaii has no immediate plans to sell caffeinated drinks on its small campus for similar reasons, said spokeswoman Laura Tevaga.

The LDS Church's Missionary Training Center adjacent to the BYU campus is supplied by BYU Dining Services. However, it will not have caffeinated sodas, church spokesman Doug Andersen said.

The decision to sell caffeinated drinks at BYU was made by Dean Wright, the director of Dining Services, who answered questions about the change on BYU's website.

"Until more recently, Dining Services rarely received requests for caffeinated soda," Wright said in the published Q&A. "Consumer preferences have clearly changed and requests have become much more frequent."

Wright was given the 2017 Ben E. Lewis Management Award three weeks ago by BYU President Kevin Worthen.

Some questioned the decision because of the high sugar content in soft drinks.

"We realize that there are many choices to be made, and some are more nutritious than others," Wright said. "We strive to offer a variety of food choices and encourage our customers to make healthy choices."

Dining Services will not sell high-energy caffeine drinks, Wright said.

BYU officials said the decision was not financially motivated. They said they don't know whether it will increase revenue, though early demand seems to indicate it might.

"It will be interesting to see," BYU's Jenkins said. "It certainly wasn't done for financial reasons, but we have seen an increase in requests for caffeinated sodas."

The founder of Swig didn't expect the change to affect sales at her drive-by soda shop across the street from campus. Swig sells all the major brands of soda and has succeeded next to other campuses that sell caffeinated soda pop, including the original store across from Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.

"We're BYU fans," Nicole Tanner said. "I'm excited to sit at a BYU football or basketball game and enjoy a Diet Coke."

BYU recently celebrated its 20th year as the No. 1 Stone Cold Sober school in the Princeton Review student rankings with a context to pick five students to receive a year's supply of chocolate milk. On Wednesday, the university posted a video of the winners.

Thursday's announcement naturally drew fun responses on social media.

Utah Valley University faculty member Farah Sanders, a social media expert, tweeted a photo titled, "UVU: Proudly caffeinated since 1941."

Sarah Grotenhuis noted that BYU must have known Thursday was her birthday.

"You're welcome, Sarah," BYU replied. "May the rest of your special day be equally magical."

On Twitter, Chris Oviatt asked about the Coca-Cola cans and bottles selling on campus. "Are the labels going to be blue instead of red? Asking for a friend up north."

BYU's verified Twitter account responded with a laughing emoji. Then someone posted a photo of a blue can of Coca-Cola.