ORONO, Maine — As the University of Maine’s 10-year exclusive contract with the Coca-Cola Co. winds down, campus officials are preparing to start the bidding process for a new contract.

When former UMaine President Peter Hoff signed the contract with the soft-drink giant in July 1999, it was among the first such exclusive beverage deals in the country, said campus officials.

Though Pepsi drinkers — and people who did not want to see the university become a billboard for Big Business — groused at first, UMaine spokesman Joe Carr said it has been a good partnership.

“It’s clearly been exceptionally beneficial for students,” he said Thursday.

That’s because Coke has paid the school $3 million for the rights to stock its dining halls and vending machines.

“A decision was made at the beginning of the process that the money would be used to directly benefit students,” Carr said.

Those benefits have included new seats in Hauck Auditorium, more books in Fogler Library, and classroom upgrades.

“Ten years ago, there were regular complaints that Pepsi products weren’t available,” Carr said. “Over time, that issue has faded. To some extent, that’s certainly due to the benefit that the university has received because of this contract.”

Part of the acceptance has come because exclusive beverage contracts are a widespread campus phenomenon these days.

“Ten years ago, UMaine was a little bit ahead of the curve,” Carr said. “Now it’s very common at colleges and universities to have a pouring-rights agreement.”

Carr said that university officials should finish a request for bid proposals around Thanksgiving.