New chocolate milk in aluminum can competes in soft drink vending machines

National Milk is the newest brand of chocolate milk to be developed for the highly competitive grab-and-go beverage marketplace. Unlike other recent entrees, this chocolate milk comes in aluminum cans rather than in traditional glass, paper or plastic containers.

Available since July 2002 for vending machines located at hotels, hospitals and other impulse, on-the-go vending venues, National Milk is the first (and only) domestically produced real chocolate milk in aluminum cans. The canning process renders the milk commercially sterile, and thus shelf-stable, which enables it to be distributed and merchandised alongside soft drinks.

Unlike fluid milk vending machines, which must maintain a constant refrigerated temperature to ensure product safety and prevent spoilage, soft drink vending machines are only partially refrigerated. Product is stored in the machines at ambient temperature. By canning chocolate milk, it more effectively competes with soft drinks because it is sold through the same vending machines.

Dairy Farmers of America Inc. (DFA), Kansas City, Mo., the nation’s largest dairy farmer-owned marketing cooperative with 25,499 members operating in 45 states, develops and manufactures National Milk. The cans are filled and retorted at DFA’s manufacturing plant in Springfield, Mo., where other retorted products such as Sport Shake and various adult and infant nutritional beverages are either canned or bottled.

Here’s how the two-piece aluminum cans of National Milk chocolate milk are produced. First, the body of the can is filled with chocolate-flavored milk. Twelve-oz cans are filled with only 11-oz of flavored milk because the retorting processing requires extra headspace.

Containers are pressurized with liquid nitrogen gas and an aluminum end is seamed onto the open end of the can, sealing the can. The milk is then sterilized by the retorting process, which is essentially heating the contents of the can to a specified temperature for a predetermined time. For National Milk, the retorting temperature is 260°F. The goal of retort processing is to obtain commercial sterilization through the application of heat. This renders the product shelf-stable for an extended shelflife. In this case, the chocolate milk has an ambient shelflife of 12 months, which is about 11 1/2 months longer than traditionally pasteurized chocolate milk.

Unlike traditional soft drink cans, which use color printing directly on the cans, the National Milk cans are unprinted. After retorting, roll-feed labels are cut and wrapped around the cans. Cans convey through a heat tunnel, where labels shrink to fit the can’s contours.

Labels use graphics designed by On Your Mark Packaging & Design ( The image is of a milkman holding an old-fashioned bottle of fresh milk, and is intended to communicate the product’s nutritional value.

After labels are applied, cans are packed onto corrugated trays, palletized and distributed through ambient-temperature warehouses and trucks. Vending machine operators keep product stocked.

DFA hopes that National Milk becomes a real hit among vending customers. Selling for $1.00-1.50 a can, the milk will be a bit more costly than nutritionally deficient soft drinks, however, milk’s healthful image creates an unprecedented value never before available in U.S. soft drink vending machines.

National Milk chocolate milk is made with milk, sugar, alkalized cocoa and stabilizers. It is also fortified with vitamins A and D. A single can holds 1.375 servings. Eight ounces contains 230 calories and 8g fat.

Assuming success, DFA plans to make National Milk available nationally, in corrugated four-packs.