Shanghai Disneyland Serves Pepsi.
Today is Shanghai Disneyland’s 1st Anniversary, and in honor of the occasion, I figured I’d write about the one topic that interests you all when it comes to the newest Disney park in mainland China.
No, not Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, which is the most revolutionary attraction in decades–better than Avatar Flight of Passage–and arguably the best modern attraction on the globe. Certainly not Enchanted Storybook Castle, which is the largest of any Disney castle. No, not even TRON Lightcycle Power Run, which fans want to see come to Tomorrowland or Epcot really, really badly.
I’m talking about the fact that Shanghai Disneyland serves Pepsi instead of Coca-Cola. If my posts about Shanghai Disneyland on social media are any indication, this is the thing about which Disney fans care the most. Soda. (Really?)
For reasons unbeknownst to me, this is a serious rivalry. It’s right up there with Beatles v. Stones, Dole Whip v. Citrus Swirl, Captain America v. Iron Man, and In-N-Out v. Five Guys. If feedback to this is any indication, the only thing about which Disney fans are more passionate is the “rivalry” between Disney and Universal.
Personally, I think all of these rivalries are pointless, for the simple reason that they are all non-zero sum games. All of the things listed above are great, and liking one does not come at the expense of the other. I pretty much stated as much in our Walt Disney World v. Universal Studios post. However, many of you seem pretty keen on concocted rivalries, so here we are.
I could make this a post poking fun at why anyone would really take a side in a soda rivalry, but as a lifelong Detroit Lions diehard, I’m probably not the best judge of pointless fandoms. Those in glass houses and all that.
Instead, I’ll provide a bit of background and context as to why Pepsi is served at Shanghai Disneyland instead of Coca-Cola, which is the official drink of every other Disney park on earth…
Coke was the first western soda to re-enter China in 1979, after a 30 year absence. Pepsi followed suit 2 years later in 1981. It did so with the help of local partner Tingyi. Such joint venture arrangements are incredibly common in China, which is still apprehensive of Western influences. (Disney’s partner in China is state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group.)
Like so many brands, both Pepsi and Coke are still struggling for a toe-hold over the world’s largest consumer market and are eager to grow their penetration in China no matter the cost. The trials and tribulations that invariably occur when Western companies enter the Chinese market is quite fascinating, but ultimately, beyond the scope of this post.
It was a big story when PepsiCo inked this deal for Shanghai Disneyland, and a value on it wasn’t announced at the time. Given Pepsi’s aggressive expansion efforts in China as it attempts to chip away at Coke’s market share, our assumption is that Pepsi offered a considerable sum and outbid Coke. The Chinese middle class presents a huge growth opportunity for many Western brands, like Pepsi and Coke. Pepsi has stated as much, indicating in its 2025 growth plan that China plays a vital role.
Pepsi is not alone in paying significant sponsorship fees for prominent placement in Shanghai Disneyland for such an opportunity. Ad Age reports that companies view the deals as opportunities to be viewed alongside Disney, an international status symbol, among China’s growing middle class.
Shanghai Disneyland’s opening also marked the launch of five new flavors of PepsiCo beverages that had been created at the company’s Asian R&D labs, including new flavors of Icebolt. Other products from PepsiCo and Tingyi available at Shanghai Disneyland include Pepsi, Pepsi Max, 7UP, Mirinda, Master Kong, Gatorade, and Tropicana.
In addition to the park-wide beverage sponsorship at Shanghai Disneyland, Pepsi also sponsors Baymax Super Exercise Expo, which is an interactive workout show hosted by Baymax. It’s a bit ironic for a soda company to sponsor a show ostensibly about healthy living; I mean, can you imagine if an oil company sponsored an educational attraction about the future of energy?! (Oh wait.)
Shanghai Disneyland’s opening also marked the first time in roughly 30 years that Pepsi had been served in a Disney park. For those who consider it heresy for Pepsi to be served in a Disney park because it’s “tradition” that Coke is the sponsor, this is only recent tradition.
Pepsi was an opening day sponsor of Disneyland, and continued to be the beverage of choice in Disney Parks for three-plus decades after that. Pepsi sponsored the UNICEF pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, which most notably included the ‘it’s a small world’ attraction. Most notably, Pepsi was an early sponsor of Country Bear Jamboree, an arrangement that continued for roughly a decade. There was even co-branded merchandise! (Okay, they sponsored national treasure Country Bear Jamboree? They have my allegiances forever.)
So there you have it–probably way more than you ever wanted to know about Pepsi v. Coca-Cola in the context of Shanghai Disneyland and the Chinese market, generally. In my defense, I figure if you’re going to care about something inconsequential, you might as well have more than ‘rah rah Coke/Pepsi’ knowledge of why this sponsorship came to be and its potential for Pepsi in China.
Oh, and Happy 1st Anniversary, Shanghai Disneyland. Here’s to many more years to come.
If you’re planning a visit to China, check out our Shanghai Disneyland Planning Guide. It’s a comprehensive guide to the park and beyond, covering everything from transit visas to airfare to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Shanghai Disneyland Grand Opening Trip Report.
Which ‘side’ do you take in the totally epic and not at all petty and ridiculous soda rivalry? Are you a Coke person or a Pepsi person? (ENJOYING BOTH IS NOT AN OPTION SO CHOOSE YOUR ALLIANCE WISELY.) Any thoughts on Pepsi and other Western brand efforts to penetrate the growing Chinese middle class market? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Okay, yes, soda, but the important question here: Baymax has a fitness show? How do I watch this and implement it into my life?
No wild cherry Pepsi? Why?!?
Seriously though, I prefer tap water and I don’t even mind the stuff in Florida (although the smell is a little off-putting). On the rare occasions I drink soda, it’s when I find Barqs on tap. I quit drinking soda cold turkey about 15yrs ago & probably only drink 2-3 per year.
I am a Dr. Pepper fan if I drink soda. Unfortunately, since it is not a Coke or Pepsi product, it is not served at Disney. Thus, I am left with water, which is what prefer anyway (unless it is Florida tap water…GAG!) I did think it was funny when we recently ate at San Angel Inn and our waiter said he would bring us some world famous Mexican water!
Coke makes “Mr. Pibb”, a Dr. Pepper knockoff.
Yes, but for some reason they do not serve it in the parks or on the cruise ships except in a few of the restaurants that have bars.
Do you find Dr. Pepper in many of these places?
I used to deliver Coke. I had a cooler with Diet Pepsi in the cab of my truck. Those were the days of that Gawd awful Tab!
Here, in Thailand, Pepsi has had its day
. There was a Thai company that handled their distribution. But, when contract negotiations brought out Pepsi’s aggressive negotiation tactics, the Thai distributor started making its own brown soda and Pepsi was left hanging! Very rarely will one find Pepsi available.
Pepsi, Coke, RC Cola, Dr. Pepper, Mt. Dew, most any Ginger Ale, Root Beer, Tamrindo – they’re all fine with me. Anything but Beverly!
I’m a Mt Dew girl so I’m always happy to see Pepsi. But if I have to drink brown soda it’s Coke. So I was disappointed not to see Mt Dew on the list of choices you listed in Shanghai. When we took our Disney cruise I was dying for Mt Dew by the time we hit Nassau. Took us forever to find some in a small grocery and I bought the only 4 they had to make it the rest of the way. Sad but true!
I found the history interesting; I always thought Coke had been there since the beginning.
Are you a Coke person or a Pepsi person? (ENJOYING BOTH IS NOT AN OPTION SO CHOOSE YOUR ALLIANCE WISELY.)
I reject your rules, Tom! I enjoy both, gosh darn it! In all seriousness, its always interesting to me that people are so passionate about their soda preferences, because I really couldn’t care less about which one I get served. I alternate between buying Coke and Pepsi for our fridge based on what is on sale that week. I can taste the difference for sure, but I don’t like one any better than the other.
I find you endlessly amusing, Tom. Interesting article.
If I’m looking for a brown carbonated beverage my first choice by a lot is Coke followed by Dr Pepper, which I also really like. Pepsi is a distant, distant 3rd, but I will drink it if it’s the only thing available.
Funnily, my husband will NOT drink Pepsi at all. If it’s the only option, he’ll choose water.
Rush me to the burn unit there in the opening paragraphs, but this kind of article is why I love you and Sarah so much.
I figured I’d comment on the one topic that interests ME most about your post.
No, not the age-old battle between two huge American soda brands.
Certainly not your unconventional-but-very-well-executed decision to commemorate Shanghai Disney’s first anniversary by writing a really interesting piece on the importance of an element of “parks culture” that seems pretty unimportant on the surface (but is evidently really, really important to some).
No, not even your glaring omission of the semi-apocryphal “Coca Cola sounds like ‘bite the wax tadpole’ in Mandarin” story.
I’m talking about the fact that YOU’RE A LIONS FAN.
How and why is this possible? Surely nobody living outside my fair Mitten State would readily admit to Lions fandom!?
Coke. One million percent coke. I would go so far as to say that Disney Shanghai offering only Pepsi products would factor into a decision not to visit there! (Same reason I never eat at the Costco food court …)
Gotta be Pepsi Max all the way!
The condescending tone in the intro to this post was so off-putting that I only went back to read it after seeing in the comments that it was actually a history/cultural article, and that type of content is some of my favorite. I’m a longtime reader who appreciates your snark and humor, but this felt particularly smug and almost turned me off to what turned out to be an otherwise very interesting article. I hesitated to say anything, as obviously, your blog, your rules, but since you did a whole post not terribly long ago around the matter of feedback, I wanted to speak up. I’d like to praise an interesting article on a not-as-often explored subject, and state that an intro that set it up as “condescending to readers who clearly wouldn’t want to read about anything of more substance” didn’t do it any favors.
That’s a fair point.
I don’t know if this makes it better or worse, but I knew exactly what I was doing with the condescending tone in the beginning of the post. My hope was that I lightened the tone with the Lions joke and pivoted quickly enough, but I’m sure many others will disagree.
Perhaps the condescension/snark was too much, but my view is that these concocted rivalries are likewise ‘too much.’ I’ve written serious, well-reasoned articles about why Universal and Disney can *both* be enjoyed, yet people still make ‘rah rah Disney’ comments. I thus felt this approach might “work” better. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s just too mean-spirited.
I appreciate the reply, and the insight into your writing. I do agree that corporate rivalries are often overblown, be it by the companies, consumers, or both, and have read several of the articles you referred to here. The tone just came on really strong in the intro. To be fair, your pivot was funny once I got there on the return to the article, for what that’s worth.
I had no idea how you’d turn the headline into a full article, but you piqued my curiosity and write good content, so you got my click. Even if I bristled at part of this one, I appreciate that you bring different perspectives to the table.
Thanks again for taking the time to respond.
Wow, I did not pick up on the condescension at all. Maybe I am watching and reading too much political commentary, so now I am desensitized to condescension. I read it more as Tom being confounded and poking fun and at what seems to be such a trivial concern. I assume most readers of this blog are from some western country, with that in mind if traveling across the world to China to experience Shanghai Disneyland is something one would like to do but the fact that they don’t serve a certain beverage is a deal breaker for them, maybe they deserve little condescension.
I agree with Comfort, I didn’t take his first few paragraphs as offensive at all. I even went back to reread the first few paragraphs to see if I missed something, but it wasn’t offensive at all. Good job Tom, I thought it was funny, and a bit trivial that people get worked up over soda, just like any rivalry. But great rivalries are so fun.
I almost didn’t click on this since I drink “other” and am shut out of most theme park soda fountains. I’m glad I did because I appreciate the history and context of this, very interesting!
Technically, I favor Pepsi. If I’m somewhere where I can’t have a glass of water and have to pick a carbonated brown beverage, I’ll take whichever brand they offer. But if a place has unsweetened iced tea not from a fountain I’ll take that over soda any day (if I can’t have water).
I know, I know. In an argument of soda I’m over here cheering for water. Heretic.
Why have water when you can have enhanced water? That’s about as silly as choosing all-natural food instead of stuff with bonus preservatives!
Hey, now. Drinking water is about as “all-natural food” as I go. I pretend to try to eat healthy just like I pretend to be an adult. But darn if the manufactured food isn’t tasty. Soda is just too sweet for me anymore. And don’t get me started on southern style sweet tea. Even as a Floridian I find that stuff atrocious. I’ll be quite fine with my (tap, because I don’t care how fancy bottled water thinks it is) water or my brown water that is unsweet tea. 😀
My husband and I are in the iced tea category too! I have traveled to other countries where clean drinking water is a rarity and often on those trips I have to order soda at every meal. By the time I get home I am craving just plain water, not mineral water, and some ICED TEA!
I’m a Coke girl for sure, but when I’m in the parks I’m typically like you with the water. It’s just so darn hot you’ve got to have the pure stuff. However, being a good Southerner I must say that sweet is the only way to drink iced tea. Hopefully if we ever meet we can be civil to one another. 🙂
Of course, Coke is better.
I remember those days where which soft drink was available depended on which restaurant you went to, particularly Pecos Bill’s, which was sponsored by Pepsi.
I used to be a Pepsi drinker (and still prefer the taste), but they recently changed the sweetener in Diet Pepsi from aspartame. The new sweetener caused me bloating and discomfort, so I can no longer drink it and can only drink Diet Coke. Now, they have brought back Diet Pepsi with aspartame (called Diet Pepsi classic) in 2 liter bottle form, but since I am unsure what is in the fountain machines, I can’t take the risk and can only drink Diet Coke. Therefore to be safe I am on team Diet Coke 🙂
I don’t keep up with all of the sweeteners, etc., used in soda, but I will say I love Pepsi Throwback. Interesting how flavors have changed over the years–usually, it seems, in the way of making the product cheaper to produce.