Over the past few years former President Donald Trump has called for boycotts against a number of companies, so it’s hardly unusual to see him add Coca-Cola, Delta and other corporate giants that recently spoke out against Georgia’s laws restricting voting access.
But now that he’s back at his company that does, among other things, hotels and hospitality, it is a little different for him to be asking people to boycott Coke, the maker of a wide number of beverages popular among his guests — and that he’s known to love too.
So we wondered: It’s easy enough for Trump to call on the people who support him to do something. But is he willing to put his money where his boycott calls are?
We already know that Trump might personally be having trouble practicing what he preached to the people who believe in him. A well-known lover of the caffeinated glory that is Diet Coke who reportedly drank 12 cans a day of the stuff while in office, the former president was pictured smiling in a photo posted by an adviser with what appeared to be a Coke bottle on his desk at his Mar-a-Lago resort days after the boycott statement earlier this month.
But beyond his personal consumption of the fizzy beverage, Trump should — in theory — have the power to organize a boycott of Coke at his family business’ properties. Over the last two weeks, CNN reporters embarked on a mission to test that thesis.
A CNN reporter on April 8 enjoyed a Diet Coke at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., the property that became a flagship and magnet for Trumpworld over the past four years. The soda cost $9.00, but a friendly and professional waiter did offer two free refills of the drink; the big boss’ feelings about the soda never came up. A second CNN reporter sipped on a Diet Coke at the club bar at the Trump National Doral golf club in Miami before a speech by Rep. Matt Gaetz on April 9.
And despite what the former president said, he doesn’t appear to have taken any action to stop vendors at properties that are actually named for him from serving Coca-Cola products. At Doral, the CNN reporter spotted a case of Diet Coke bottles opened and ready for use behind the eponymous Donald J. Trump ballroom. At the otherwise empty bar of DJT restaurant inside Trump’s Las Vegas hotel, a CNN reporter was served a Coke on April 14 without any hesitation. (In the souvenir shop nearby another CNN employee couldn’t help but notice a fridge stuffed with Coca-Cola products including not just the namesake brand, plus Sprite and Fanta, but also juices from its Minute-Maid line, right near a bunch of bottles of Trump wine.)
Staff at Trump golf clubs in New York, Charlotte and Washington D.C. reached by phone also said they were still serving Coke.
And on April 8, a reporter ordered a Diet Coke and a kale salad for lunch at the Jean-Georges Nougatine restaurant at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City and was served both, no questions asked, by hospitable waitstaff. The restaurant is not owned by the Trump Organization — and the Trump Organization likely has no say in what sodas it does or does not serve — but the hotel has no bar or room service of its own and, according to its website, provides food and beverages from Nougatine to any guests who do want room service.
It is possible that Trump properties can’t dump Coke because they are contractually obligated to offer it.
Robb Seltzer, director of food and beverage operations at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, said in an email that soft drink suppliers commonly provide equipment, marketing and support to large hotel and food service providers in exchange for companies to serve their products. Once this is done, it is difficult for a company to switch suppliers because it causes a major disruption in service, he said.
Asked by CNN whether it was dumping any of the offending company’s drinks, the Trump Organization did not respond to comment. A representative for Jean-Georges also did not respond to a request to comment.
We’ll be the first to admit this isn’t the most serious investigative reporting we’ve ever done. But the hypocrisy of Trump calling on people who trust him to shun Coke while continuing to sell its drinks at Trump properties should not be taken lightly. Trump remains the most important figure in the Republican Party and has the ability to influence who his base votes for, how they shop — and, in some cases, how they direct their anger.
Rohit Deshpande, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School who studies brands and leadership, said, “We should take Trump’s boycott seriously because of the growing power of social media.” Such boycotts can gain steam on Facebook and other platforms and impact brands’ reputations, he noted.
Trump has a long history of advocating boycotts against brands, including CNN’s parent company AT&T, CNN itself, Harley-Davidson, Apple, Macy’s and Goodyear Tire. When he called for the boycott of Coke, he also named “Major League Baseball… Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck” as companies that his supporters should avoid. Conversely, he has also praised companies whose executives have expressed support for him, like Goya and MyPillow.
Coca-Cola declined to comment on the boycott and its relationships with Trump Organization properties.
Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who studies consumer behavior, said that Coke likely anticipated that there would be backlash to its decision to speak out against the Georgia legislation.
It’s a tricky dance for a brand, but there could ultimately be some business upside in it for the soda maker: Reed expects that the customers Coke will gain from its position to outweigh any impact from a Trump-led boycott.
Some people will now drink Coke, he said, because the company is seen as “against voter suppression. And that’s a very powerful thing.”
CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan and Lucy Kafanov contributed to this article.