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The nation's largest religious university is reversing a longstanding policy in response to student demand.

Charlie Heller
September 21, 2017

In a paradigm shifting move, Brigham Young University will soon be offering caffeinated soft drinks. Owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest religious university in the U.S. has shunned caffeinated sodas since at least the mid 1950's, the school's director of dining services Dean Wright explained in a rather blunt BYU Q&A.

The addition of caffeinated sodas to BYU dining halls is the latest development in a bubbling controversy over soda in the Church. The faith's health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, specifically forbids coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol and "any other drinks or food containing harmful substances," according to the Church's official site, but whether the more ambiguous category includes anything caffeinated has long been a source of debate.

That is, until 2012, when Mitt Romney's presidential run spurred the Church to release an official statement that it "does not prohibit the use of caffeine." Since then, as BYU student newspaper The Daily Universe reported in 2015, over a dozen soda shops, including drive-thrus, have opened in Utah County, where the school's main campus in Provo is located.

The paper describes a trend where "dependence on caffeine consumption has become a humble bragging topic among college students in the LDS culture," and that "most students know of a friend or have heard a story of the person who hides a Diet Coke in her purse in the back of a sacrament meeting." This could be why earlier this year,  BYU's LDS Business College in Salt Lake City bucked school policy this spring by selling caffeinated Coke products in its café.

At the time, a BYU spokeswoman stated that the rest of the school "has simply chosen not to sell caffeinated beverages on campus." So why the change, which will begin with the sale of canned and bottled soft drinks while campus soda fountains are adjusted?

According to Wright, the decision "was not based on financial considerations," but on student demand. "Until more recently," he says, "Dining Services rarely received requests for caffeinated soda," but now "consumer preferences have clearly changed and requests have become much more frequent." And while this shake up seems poised to blow the Church's caffeine conflict wide open, it will probably stay flat, as Wright says he has the university's full support.