Donna Berry

During the course of the next few weeks, most of the nation's schools reopen following the traditional summer break. From preschool to college, more than one in four Americans is enrolled in school. That equates to approximately 74.6 million students in all.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 53.8 million students will be enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade this fall. That number exceeds the 1969 total of 51.6 million, which is when the last of the "baby boom" children swelled school enrollments.

What does this mean for consumer goods marketers? The answer: Opportunity.

Today's dairies recognize this opportunity and understand there are numerous benefits to be reaped when marketing foods to consumers under the age of 18. Besides driving sales, dairies are building brands with tomorrow's adult consumer.

When it comes to packing lunches, or providing after school snacks, parents have typically been faced with the challenge of identifying nutritious foods that they feel good about and that will be a hit with their kids. Fortunately for the dairy industry, parents view dairy foods as a positive food choice.

Preparing for back to school, Horizon Organic, Boulder, Colo., introduces several new organic lunchbox options that add to its line of kid-friendly choices. New items include single-serve smoothies, single-serve juices and banana-flavored, shelf-stable single-serve milk.

The smoothies line, which comes in three kid-appealing flavors-Strawberry Banana Splash, Tropical Fruit Punch and Wild Berry Blast-is made by blending nonfat organic yogurt with real organic fruit juices. The fat-free smoothies provide a good source of calcium, 100% of daily vitamin C requirements and are enriched with NutraFlora®, a prebiotic shown to increase calcium absorption and improve overall digestive health. Six-ounce, recloseable plastic bottles are sold in packs of four for $3.99.

The 100% juice line is packaged in convenient, shelf-stable boxes. The line comes in three of the most popular flavors kids crave-apple, fruit punch and grape. The suggested retail price is $5.49 per eight-pack.

And, reduced-fat banana milk joins four other reduced-fat milk flavors-chocolate, orange cream, strawberry and vanilla-and 2% milk. The suggested retail price is $1.09 per 8-oz shelf-stable package.

"Moms will love these new products because they're organic, nutritious and convenient for a lunchbox or backpack," says nutrition consultant and registered dietician Julie Burns. "Kids will love them because they're delicious and easy to drink on-the-go."

On the opposite side of the country in Londonderry, N.H., Stonyfield Farm is also rolling out an organic juice smoothie line for kids. A good source of calcium and protein, Stonyfield Farm Juice Smoothies are made with organic juice and nonfat organic yogurt. Each 6-oz serving contains 120 calories with 4g protein and zero calories from fat, providing a lower-calorie snack for families who are trying to buck the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.

"I hear from so many parents concerned about the amount of fat and sugar found in most kids' foods and I knew that we could create a tasty solution," explains Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield. "Our new Juice Smoothie contains significantly less calories, and is available in flavors that kids just love. Two of my kids, Ethan age 14, and Danielle age 11, liked them so much they even agreed to appear on the package, and can be seen surfing right on the box."

Available in two flavors-Orange Wave and Surfin' Strawberry-Stonyfield Farm Juice Smoothies are offered in convenient four packs of 6-oz bottles for a suggested retail price of $3.99. First available this fall in natural food stores nationwide, Juice Smoothies are expected to be widely available in supermarkets in early 2005.

Stonyfield's smoothie contains six live and active cultures and inulin, an all-natural dietary fiber clinically proven to boost calcium absorption. Stonyfield is the only brand of yogurt in the U.S. marketplace to contain six beneficial bacteria. Specifically, it is the only U.S. yogurt to contain Lactobacillus Reuteri, a probiotic that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and has been shown to treat and prevent both viral and bacterial diarrhea, the leading cause of hospitalization for children under the age of three in the United States.

On the cheesy side of the playground

Cheese has always been a snack kids love.

Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis., recently partnered with Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co., to license Kellogg's Keebler brand for an on-pack retail merchandising effort that promises to create tremendous consumer awareness of Sargento's non-refrigerated snack pack

As part of the program, Ernest J. Keebler, Keebler head baker and spokes elf (and one of the most recognizable advertising icons in the world), is featured on packages of Sargento's Cheese Dip and Sticks, Cheese Dip and Pretzels, Cheese Dip and Cheddar Sticks, Cheese Dip and Crackers, Strawberry Dip and Cookie Sticks, Chocolate Dip and Cookies Sticks, and S'mores.

"This licensing program is a great opportunity to partner with the Keebler brand-a great match between the best in cheese and one of the largest cookie and cracker companies in the United States," says Lou Gentine, Sargento CEO and second generation of family ownership. "Both Keebler and Sargento share a passion for providing consumers with the best in snacking foods."

And for those not in school yet

Stonyfield Farm recently introduced YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal, its newest organic offering for babies and toddlers. YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal is the first yogurt to contain both fruit puree, and a mixture of cereal grains while also being fortified with iron, an essential mineral for babies and toddlers.

Originally introduced in 2000, YoBaby yogurt was the first whole milk yogurt designed specifically to help meet the nutritional needs of babies and toddlers. Naturally high in calcium and protein, YoBaby yogurt provides important nutrients for growing bodies.

The new YoBaby Plus goes one step further, featuring the only yogurt fortified with iron, an essential nutrient that over half of all toddlers do not get enough of in their diet. With a unique blend of organic apple puree and organic cereal grains like oats, flax, rice and bran on the bottom, YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal is an easily digestible protein source, and an ideal first food for infants.

YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal is the right food at the right time to help prevent iron deficient anemia-a condition estimated to affect one out of every 10 babies in the United States. Identifying iron deficiency as a significant concern for parents and pediatricians, the Centers for Disease Control recently set a goal to cut iron deficient anemia in half by 2010.

"Toddlers have a greater risk of becoming anemic as important food sources of iron, such as breast milk, formula and iron-fortified cereals, become less available around one year of age," explains Alan Greene, pediatrician, clinical assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of From First Kicks to First Steps. "Iron is critical in the transmission of oxygen to the body's cells, and an iron deficiency can increase the number of illnesses a child has, and the length of time it takes for them to heal."

One serving of YoBaby Plus provides 45% of the USDA Recommended Daily Allowance of iron. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting babies on yogurt anywhere between nine months and one year of age, and feeding them YoBaby Plus is an easy and convenient way to help combat iron deficient anemia.

"Like so many great ideas for new products, this one came from our customers," says Hirshberg. "As their babies grew older, moms started mixing YoBaby with cereals at home. They then started to ask when I would make a 'first food' for their babies. YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal combines two great first foods in one convenient container-it's a natural solution for parents. Simply stir and serve."

Yogurt is an excellent part of an infant's diet during the transition from formula or breast milk to whole foods, and has the ingredients to enhance and improve health in young infants and toddlers. Yogurt is a nutritionally dense food that contains more calcium than milk.

"For kids who enjoy dairy products, I recommend those made from whole milk for the first two or three years of life," Greene continues. "Fat is such an important component for the growing brain and nervous system. A healthy brain is about 60% fat."

Regular YoBaby yogurt is now available in six flavors: Apple, banana, blueberry, peach, pear and vanilla. Last year, YoBaby Drinkable Yogurt was introduced as the first and only "sippy cup friendly" organic yogurt for babies. New apple-flavored YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal is available nationwide in six-packs of 4-oz cups for a suggested retail price of $2.99.

So, what did we learn today? School-aged children are a very large and very important consumer segment. Milk is the perfect base for healthful, nutritious foods and beverages for this group. And, if you are not developing and marketing dairy foods to them, others certainly are!