WASHINGTON -- Coca-Cola Co. says it will change the way it markets soft drinks at schools. The company's action comes in the face of threats of broader government regulation and scientific evidence that its products can lead to health problems.
The Atlanta-based soft drink maker said Wednesday that it will begin loading healthier drinks into vending machines alongside sodas, covering up giant logos and advocating nonexclusive deals between bottlers and school districts.
The announcement comes a month after the Agriculture Department criticized schools that raise money by selling sodas and snacks on campus, saying they were sending mixed messages about nutrition. The department asked Congress for authority to regulate what foods and beverages can be sold in schools.
Coke said it will provide a larger variety of healthful drinks in machines, urge local bottlers to let schools limit the sale of soft drinks at lunch, ask bottlers to stop requiring exclusive "pouring contracts" with schools and put "noncommercial signage" on school vending machines.
An estimated 200 school districts nationwide have contracts with soft drink companies that give them exclusive rights to sell their products in schools. Such contracts have become a popular sources of income for many cash-strapped schools.
Larry Jabbonsky, a spokesman for Pepsi Cola, based in Purchase, N.Y., said the company already is pursuing many of the same ideas, including testing more healthful beverages, such as fruit or milk smoothies, for school sales.
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