Back to School

By the time you read this, most schoolchildren will have been back in class for about a month and, very likely, drinking more milk at lunchtime.
Several factors — some recent, others around a while — are coming together to suggest that the 2004-05 school year will be a banner year for milk and provide further assistance in lifting fluid sales.
School systems across the country, aiming to do their part to improve childhood nutrition and stem the tide of obesity, are turning in greater numbers against sugary soft drinks and other junk food. Obviously, this bodes well for dairy, since those vending machines can’t stand empty for long.
But will fruit juices and teas edge out milk before it can get its hoof in the door? Not likely, as we learn that many of these non-carbonated alternatives have just as much sugar as pop, and still none of the calcium and other vital nutrients.
Meanwhile, Dr. Zemel has provided the industry with as close to a silver bullet as it’s likely to get: Not only is milk good for you, but it can help you maintain a healthy weight, too.
Even better, since we already know that milk vending in schools is profitable. The well-known MilkPEP/DMI study laid that out quite clearly. Individual processors are finding that out for themselves as well, as more of them pursue vending channels to increase sales and brand recognition. Among the latest is Nestlé, which has unveiled a school vending program that offers single-serve lowfat milk to schools nationwide.
If that wasn’t enough, President Bush came to the rescue by signing the new Child Nutrition Act, which expands milk’s availability to children through avenues like the National School Lunch Program. Schools are now free to expand varieties of milk offered to kids based on nutritional considerations and flavor demand. And perhaps more significantly, schools are now free to offer milk at any time and anywhere on school premises, stifling future efforts by soft-drink companies to seduce cash-poor school systems with exclusive contracts at the expense of children’s health.
So processors who haven’t yet gotten into the vending game would be wise to watch the current school year closely. As sodas and salty snacks are edged out of their vending positions by milk and yogurt in innovative flavors and funky packaging designed to please a youthful demographic, just how well will they be received by kids suddenly forced to subsist on something other than pop and chips?
There’s every indication dairy will be riding high, and the industry will be doubly blessed if it can hang on to these kiddie converts to dairy through adulthood.
Much ado was made about the “perfect storm” that struck dairy commodities this year. It looks to me like a more perfect storm has struck the school lunchroom and vending channels.
Nutrition concerns, research and legislation all seem to be coming together, perhaps destined to meet at the pot of gold at the end of this storm’s rainbow.   df
Dairy Field will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2005, and no anniversary year would be complete without an anniversary issue.
So, our February 2005 issue will offer a look back at Dairy Field, its predecessor publications and how its history has paralleled that of the dairy industry.
We’d like your help in putting that together. If you have any historic photos documenting the early days of your company or other milestones in the industry, please send them to us and we’ll try to make them a part of the celebration.
For more information on this, feel free to call or drop me an e-mail.