Three factors are at play: the amount of sweetener in pop, plastic bottle waste and higher Coca-Cola prices.
Soda pop and parks don't mix, some park officials say, so the suburban Three Rivers Park District and the Minneapolis Park Board are considering dropping soft drinks from their park concessions.
With Three Rivers considering a new five-year contract with Coca-Cola to provide drinks for concession stands and vending machines, one board member questioned whether serving sugary pop and other beverages in plastic containers fits the district's mission to promote health and be a good steward of nature.
"At some point the soft drinks run counter to what we are all about,'' said Dale Woodbeck, of Shorewood, Three Rivers' commissioner representing Hennepin County's southwest suburbs. "Plastic bottles are a huge problem. High fructose corn syrup [in pop and some fruit juices] is probably the biggest health disaster that we have been doing to ourselves and our kids.''
Woodbeck's comments have sparked a policy discussion about what drinks should be sold in Three Rivers parks, said Tom McDowell, associate superintendent for recreation and education.
"We could look at this as an opportunity to establish what we think is the ideal for an environmentally responsible, wellness-oriented park system," he said.
The Minneapolis Park Board engaged in a similar discussion led by commissioner Annie Young last October. To give the board and staff time to consider more healthful options, the board gave Coca-Cola a one-year contract for 2009 instead of a multi-year deal, said Dawn Sommers, public information manager for the Minneapolis parks.
"It has come across my desk a few hundred times about how much sugar and caffeine and other things are in pop,'' Young said. "So the question is, should we be having pop in the parks? We have to look at healthier ways, especially for our children. This obesity thing is out of control.''
Three Rivers' discussion also was fueled by a spike in Coca-Cola prices after Pepsi chose not to compete for the next five-year contract. Pepsi said it didn't want to pay for the necessary equipment.
Pop, juice, water and sports drinks are sold by the bottle, can and at concessions counters in 14 of the 20 Three Rivers parks. Last year, the district bought $78,000 in Coke products and made $247,000 on beverage sales.
Under the price increases Coke proposes in the new contract, the same products would cost $99,000, a $21,000 increase, McDowell said.
Coke's bid also provides for product prices to be subject to a 5 percent increase each year during the five years of the contract. Under the old contract, the company had a single 3 percent price increase in year three of the contract.
"Right now these are hard to stomach,'' said Larry Blackstad, Park Board chair. "We could go to Costco and buy it cheaper.''
Blackstad asked the Park District staff to encourage Pepsi to compete for the contract. He also suggested that staff look for ways to save on beverage costs by piggybacking on other government contracts.
Coke said it stands behind its bid. "Despite unprecedented economic downturn and record-high commodity costs, we believe our bid, which included components such as our strong brands, great service and promotional items like recycling bins and menu boards, resulted in a very competitive package,'' Kevin Morris, vice president of public affairs for the Midwest Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Eagan, said in a written statement Tuesday.
The park districts are not alone in the concerns over sugary soft drinks and plastic bottling. Some schools have discontinued soft drink sales, and last year the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for a phase-out to government use of bottled water because "plastic water bottles are one of the fastest-growing sources of municipal waste'' and because "bottled water often travels many miles from the source, resulting in the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels, releasing CO2 and other pollution into the atmosphere.''
Because of that resolution, Three Rivers had made sure its next beverage contract would allow the park district to eliminate products in plastic bottles, McDowell said. Staff members report that fewer plastic bottles are being recycled in the parks, he said.
"Really, the stage is being set for a policy discussion,'' McDowell said. Price is one issue, plastic bottles are another, and there is another level of discussion about "how do we promote wellness without dictating what food and beverage choices the public should have?" McDowell said.
The Three Rivers board is expected to return to the beverage topic in March. The existing contract will run out at the end of March. The park district could buy month-to-month from Coke while the board considers options, McDowell said.
Laurie Blake 612-673-1711