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Posted on 02.06.2013

University of Indianapolis students are drinking more coffee and less soda, according to data that tracks coffee and soda consumption on campus.

The data, supplied by Owner and Director of Polk Food Services Ted Polk, compared 2011 and 2012 data for coffee and soda consumption. The numbers represent soda consumption in the fountain drink dispensers in Street’s Corner and the cafeteria, as well as coffee consumption in the cafeteria.

In the cafeteria, regular coffee consumption increased 24.4 percent, equal to 11,000 cups. During the same time period, soda consumption dropped 7.9 percent. Polk also supplied the Perk’s coffee purchase amounts for both years, which showed a 13.7 percent increase in coffee consumption.

A recent informal survey by The Reflector found that 46 percent of students preferred coffee, 23 percent soda and 6 percent energy supplements. The remaining 25 percent was divided between those who said none and those who responded “other,” which included tea and beverages, such as sports drinks and water. Graphic by Victoria Jenkins and James Figy

Food Court and Perk Manager Lisa Jordan commented on coffee’s growing popularity among students during the years she has been at the Perk.

“When we first started out, there was call for coffee—everybody liked it—but it was nothing like there is now,” Jordan said.

Although students consumed more soda than coffee during both years, the increase in coffee consumption and simultaneous decrease in soda consumption reflects a nationwide trend.

According to a study by the NPD Group, the last 10 years have shown increased coffee consumption in the 18-to-24-year-old age group, which includes most college students. Data from 2002  showed that 25 percent of individuals in this group drank coffee in a two-week period. In 2012, that number rose to 39 percent.

In a recent informal survey by The Reflector, 100 UIndy students reported data consistent with both the PFS purchasing data and the national NPD study. Forty-three percent of students named coffee as their preferred “pick-me-up” beverage or product, while only 23 percent chose soda for the same question. Other options included energy drinks, energy “shot” products, caffeine pills, other or none.

In the same survey, students reported the frequency of their consumption of both coffee and soda. Fifty-four percent of students reported drinking soda one to three days a week or more, while 52 percent reported consuming coffee at the same rate.

These numbers, combined with the PFS consumption records, suggest that students are increasingly choosing coffee over soda.

Jordan believes that students are relying on coffee as an energy source. She said that the Perk used to offer a decaf coffee of the day, but has since eliminated it.

“There’s not a demand for it [decaf]. Most people who like coffee like it because they like the taste and the caffeine that comes with it,” Jordan said.

Jordan noted that the Perk can make decaffeinated espresso, coffee and specialty drinks for the occasional customer who may request it.

The PFS purchasing data also reflect the lower demand for decaf coffee. From 2011 to 2012, decaf coffee consumption in the cafeteria fell 7.2 percent.

Both Jordan and Polk believe that students may be choosing coffee over soda because of the documented health risks associated with soda.

“Soda, of course, has been linked to so many calories, so much sugar, so much high fructose corn syrup,” Jordan said. “You can make coffee low-fat, you can make it with sugar-free flavor, you can make it with skim [milk].”

Polk also thinks that the personalized nature of coffee and coffee-based specialty drinks adds to their appeal.

“It’s the different things they do with the coffee, instead of just black coffee,” Polk said.

According to Jordan, the Perk’s most popular coffee-based beverages include the white chocolate mocha, caramel frappe and mocha frappe, all of which are specialty drinks.

With the growing appeal of coffee in mind, both Jordan and Polk explained students should be aware of their personal threshold for caffeine consumption and caffeine’s effects on sleeping habits.

According to a Jan. 14 article by National Public Radio, studies have shown that excessive caffeine consumption can decrease the amount of healthy REM sleep. Poor sleep can lead to memory problems and affect a student’s grades.

The article states that, on average, caffeine stays in one’s system for approximately 10 hours. But this can vary, because of metabolic differences among individuals.

“Some people can tolerate high doses of caffeine. Some people can’t,” Jordan said. “If they [students] notice that they’re not sleeping well, they need to alter what they’re drinking.”

For UIndy students who crave extra caffeine, the Perk extended its hours beginning Feb. 3. It will now be open until midnight, Sunday through Thursday.  Polk said that a trial run of these hours last semester received a good response, and students showed a desire for permanent extended hours.


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