Cracking the tab on secret pop deals

Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd. issued a statement yesterday saying it doesn't intend to appeal the decision. "From the beginning, this was not about keeping information from students; it was about keeping information from our competitors," it said.

The Toronto Star
November 13, 2003

Cracking the tab on secret pop deals
Aurora teen wins battle with boards Vending contracts ordered disclosed
Tess Kalinowski

Like Fox Mulder, Aurora teenager Nicholas Dodds believes the truth is out there — it's just taking a while to uncover.

Last week, after a two-year quest, the 15-year-old Aurora High School student came a little closer to finding out exactly how much money his school board retains from Pepsi vending machines.

Dodds and his father, Jack, finally succeeded in getting the Ontario privacy commission to order the York and Peel public school boards to reveal details of their contracts with Pepsi and Coke, respectively.

They have between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 to release the information, which has been kept confidential at the request of the soft drink makers.

"I go to that school. My parents pay taxes and they're telling us we can't have access to these things," said the teen, who along with his father, had to take yesterday afternoon off to field calls from reporters that started flooding in about 7 a.m.

Yesterday, board officials said they weren't planning to appeal the decision and would release the contract details provided the pop makers don't file for a judicial review of the commission's order.

Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd. issued a statement yesterday saying it doesn't intend to appeal the decision.
"From the beginning, this was not about keeping information from students; it was about keeping information from our competitors," it said.

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. also released a statement. It says it is reviewing the privacy commissioner's decision. Coke added that it's up to local authorities to decide if they want to offer the soft drinks, juice and bottled water its machines provide to students.

Sitting in his living room yesterday, Dodds took the development and attention in stride.

"I'm a kid who just decided to get interested in something. It was more for kicks," the Grade 10 student said of the pursuit he began back in Grade 8. "I don't think I'm an extraordinary person. I may be a little more opinionated."

It seems everybody has an opinion about pop machines in schools these days.

During the provincial election campaign, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he'd look at removing them as a step in fighting childhood obesity and creeping commercialization in schools, although Education Minister Gerard Kennedy wasn't available yesterday to comment on the issue.

But if the machines go, schools will have to find ways to make up the lost revenue.

Peel has 450 Coke vending machines in its 207 schools. Elementary students have access to Coke machines that sell only juice and water.

Board chair Janet McDougald said Peel entered into the contract with Coca-Cola because schools had vending machines anyway and it was more lucrative and efficient for the board to work with one provider. Schools aren't required to have a machine and no school is required to sell pop, she stressed.

"I think students are going to buy pop anyway," she said. "Why not keep them in the school under supervision and provide those things that they want with a balance?"

While York also plans to comply with the order to disclose its contract deal with Pepsi, a spokesperson for the board said the agreement contains "proprietary marketing information.

"Some of the details in them reflects pricing structures and other facts that would give a company a competitive advantage over another. Out of respect for our partner in this case we declined the original request (to disclose the contract)," said Ross Virgo.

York schools get to keep 30 per cent of the money raised with vending machines. The board gets another cut.

The money that goes directly to the schools is spent on extra programs and incentives, including sports, recreation activities and field trips, said Virgo.

But fundraising-weary parents worry that if vending machines are removed, they'll be on the hook for more dollars.

Ontario schools raise an average of $19,000 a year, according to provincial parent group, People for Education. Fifty-nine per cent of schools raise some of that money through vending machines.

Spokesperson Annie Kidder said too much of that cash goes to school operations rather than toward extras like field trips.

"It may be you have to pay for a supply teacher so a school can have a field trip — I would not consider that an extra, but it definitely comes out of individual school budgets," said Kidder.

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