With considerable assistance from the dairy checkoff program, McDonald's appears to be done clowning around about milk.

With considerable assistance from the dairy checkoff program, McDonald's appears to be done clowning around about milk.

America's dairy producers, through their checkoff program, have helped introduce lowfat white and chocolate milk in fun Milk Jug packaging as part of McDonald's new Happy Meal® menu choices. The nation's top fast-food chain is rolling out these new milk products in more than 13,500 McDonald's stores nationwide.

The Milk Jugs are kid-friendly, colorful, re-sealable, 8-ounce plastic containers of 1% lowfat white or chocolate milk. Full sleeve labels feature Ronald McDonald riding a wave of milk. Starting this month, McDonald's will be the first fast-food restaurant to offer milk in this packaging nationwide.

"Dairy producers played a key role in this launch through their checkoff program investment," said Paul Rovey, an Arizona dairy producer and chairman of Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff. "If it weren't for our self-help program to build demand, this probably wouldn't have happened."

"Our investment in research to make milk more available to kids directly led to the Milk Jug offering at McDonald's," Rovey said. DMI conducted a year-long School Milk Pilot Test of more than 100,000 elementary and secondary school students that found that children consumed more milk when it was offered cold and in different flavors, and was served in fun, grab-and-go containers. McDonald's then conducted its own pilot test, which saw a 400% jump in McDonald's milk sales. "Results were so positive that the chain decided to introduce the Milk Jugs nationally," Rovey said.

"The launch of Milk Jugs nationally is an important step in our long-term initiative to make milk the beverage of choice for children," said Tom Gallagher, DMI's chief executive officer. Checkoff-funded research shows that if the major fast food chains offered new milk products nationally, milk sales could increase by more than 200 million pounds annually.

While McDonald's was conducting its test last year, one of its chief rivals, Wendy's ran its own test of a more healthful kids meal that provided an option of milk in an 8-oz PET bottle with a stretch sleeve. Wendy's also experimented with a fresh fruit substitution for the kids meal's French fries.

Meanwhile McDonald's has implemented a number of initiatives to provide better-for-you menu options while at the same time falling under the spotlight for its historically poor performance in the nutrition arena. A critically-acclaimed feature film released last month documents the negative health effects on the film's director of an all-McDonald's diet, sans the healthier options.

National, state and regional dairy checkoff organizations are supporting the launch of Milk Jugs by conducting:

Media relations targeting the nation's health, nutrition and food reporters

  • Local consumer-focused events
  • Promotions to moms through www.3aday.org and 3-A-Day of Dairy e-mail newsletter
  • Support for point-of-purchase materials (such as in-store and drive-thru signs and menu boards)
  • Outreach to health professionals about the new milk offerings
McDonald's, in turn, is making a significant investment by procuring white and chocolate milk in plastic packaging, as well as by conducting:

Print and television advertising

  • In-store merchandising
  • Staff training to "prompt" customers to choose milk with their order
  • Public relations support that communicates milk as a healthy beverage
"McDonald's realizes that offering single-serve milk is a great way to give kids a beverage they enjoy drinking, and that moms can feel good about providing," Rovey said. "It's a great partnership for McDonald's and dairy producers alike."

The Jug package bears a striking resemblance to the fabled Chug package developed a decade ago by Dean Foods' Mayfield Dairy Farms. The milk will be processed and packaged by a number of companies, DMI says.

Sidebar: Big Push for Milk

  • The McDonald's Milk Jugs will be offered with the restaurant's popular Happy Meal menu and a la carte with adult entrees.

  • In addition to milk, McDonald's will offer Apple Dippers, a sliced apple with a caramel dip.

  • A pilot test offering Milk Jugs was conducted in the Columbus, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; and Altoona, Pa. markets in late 2003/early 2004.

  • Wendy's restaurants nationwide will begin offering white and chocolate milk in plastic, single-serve containers in 2004.