Disney fans around the world find themselves caught up in an ever-evolving climate of change as The Walt Disney Company has had a year of momentous milestone celebrations, even as talk of dividing up the company’s assets fills the board rooms and offices in Burbank.
As the look of The Walt Disney Company–including its parks and resorts–continues to experience seasons of rapid change, many fans are slowly becoming accustomed to the proverbial rug being pulled out from under them. And while most fans eventually find some semblance of peace in the midst of Disney’s changing climate, one potential change would not be so well received, and fans are hoping Disney will avoid it at all costs.
Disney’s Love Affair With Coca-Cola
It’s no secret that The Walt Disney Company and Coca-Cola have enjoyed a long, prosperous relationship, but you might be surprised to learn that the Disney-Coke partnership had its beginnings in 1942, when Coca-Cola asked Walt Disney for a favor.
Walt appeared on the Coca-Cola radio program The Pause That Refreshes on the Air. At that time, Walt had six full-length feature animated films under his belt, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), The Reluctant Dragon (1941), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942), but plans for the first Disney Parks resort weren’t even in blueprint form at the time.
Eight years later, as Walt’s empire continued to expand, he approached Coca-Cola and asked for a return favor, and on Christmas Day 1950, Walt gave a gift to all his fans in TV land, with his first-ever television show, One Hour in Wonderland, which was sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company. Nearly five years later, Coca-Cola celebrated the opening of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, as the title sponsor of the Refreshment Corner, located on Main Street, U.S.A., on July 17, 1955.
Sixteen years later, in October 1971, Coca-Cola celebrated Disney World’s opening as the sponsor of the Florida park’s Refreshment Corner, known today as Casey’s Corner.
Coke and Disney Parks
Walt Disney’s appearance on Coca-Cola’s radio program in the early 1940s was the start of a beautiful friendship between the entertainment company and the beverage creator, bottler, and distributor, and that relationship has continued to the present day.
Disney’s partnership with Coca-Cola is behind the sale of various Coca-Cola flavors in the parks, including Coca-Cola®, Diet Coke®, Sprite®, Minute Maid Zero Sugar Lemonade®, and Fanta Orange®. It has also fostered the creation of various iterations of bottles and cans of Coke products sold in the parks, as well as the development of the Coca-Cola-themed Club Cool venue at EPCOT, home of the not-so-fan-favorite Italian Beverly beverage.
Texans and Other Dr. Pepper Lovers Are Out of Luck
Thanks to an agreement first signed in 1990 between Disney and Coca-Cola, visitors at Disneyland and Disney World who would rather have a Dr. Pepper than a Coke will have to call an Uber and make a run to the nearest grocery store, Walgreens, or CVS to pick one up after the parks close.
That’s because Disney’s agreement with Coca-Cola states very clearly that “Coke products [are] the exclusive soft drinks at all Disney parks” and that Coca-Cola can “use Disney characters in joint advertisements and promotions,” making it impossible for another beverage company to move in on the Disney Parks.
At least, that’s the hope.
Disney Brings in PepsiCo?
On Monday, The Walt Disney Company said a candidate had been chosen and hired for the position of Chief Financial Officer.
Hugh F. Johnston, formerly Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer at PepsiCo, where he fulfilled multiple leadership roles over an impressive 34-year career with the food and beverage behemoth, will take over the role of CFO on December 4, replacing interim CFO Kevin Lansberry, who stepped into the position upon news of McCarthy’s departure.
Johnston joined PepsiCo in 1987 and has held a variety of roles, including Executive Vice President of Global Operations, PepsiCo, President of Pepsi-Cola North America, Senior Vice President of Transformation, PepsiCo, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, PepsiCo Beverages and Foods, and Senior Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions, PepsiCo.
But news of Johnston’s hiring raises questions for some Disney Parks fans who immediately had the same thought: “Pepsi’s coming to the parks.”
Disney has made no such announcement, but given the company’s continually changing climate–coupled with its efforts to cut costs and right the financial ship–some fans wonder if Johnston might be able to use his tenure at PepsiCo to Disney’s advantage by scoring a contract with the multinational food and beverage behemoth.
Such a contract could have the potential to simultaneously make Pepsi the official beverage at Disney Parks and assist in the company’s efforts to cut spending by allowing Disney to bring Pepsi to the parks at a savings for Disney, thanks to Johnston’s long-standing relationship with the company.
Add to that the fact that Johnston worked as Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions at Pepsi, and it’s clear that there are all the makings for a Pepsi takeover in the parks.
And to that end, many fans–this writer included–just have one thing to say: Please, Disney, don’t switch us to Pepsi in the parks.