New flavors, carbonation and nutrients give milk a competitive edge in the foodservice setting
Compared with its hip soft-drink counterparts, milk maintains a rather sedate image. Now, leading dairies, manufacturers and operators plan to use new flavors, carbonation and nutrients to provide a contemporary overhaul for the familiar beverage and substantially increase milk consumption.
According to dairy industry trackers, new product choices can add up to buckets of sales. One study by ACNielsen Scantrack shows that chocolate-milk dollar sales rose 13.4% nationwide in 2000. And many nutritionists, eager to boost kids’ milk consumption, cite research showing that 55% of kids surveyed would drink more milk if it were chocolate.
Make mine orange
Greg Kalina, director of foodservice at Goddard School District near Wichita, Kan., knows firsthand students’ taste for something different.
For four years, Kalina tried to persuade his dairy supplier to offer more than white, chocolate and strawberry milk. “Finally, they told me to come up with an order for 50,000 half-pint cartons [of a new flavor] and they’d run it,” says Kalina, whose district comprises seven schools serving 3,900 students. “They thought that would make me go away.”
But Kalina persisted. Soon four neighboring school districts had joined the order, which led to the regional debut of orange-flavored milk. “Now all the area districts buy orange,” Kalina says.
The difficult part was getting kids to try the new offering. “But once they drank it, they liked it,” Kalina says. The presence of local TV news reporters at the product’s introduction helped build extra excitement.
Now, Goddard schools offer chocolate and vanilla milk daily, strawberry once a month, and orange milk twice a semester. “When we offer special flavors, milk sales jump 10% and lunch sales go up 8% to 12%,” Kalina says.
Other school districts are finding flavored drinks just as tasty. In Yakima, Wash., adding strawberry syrup to white milk boosts lunch sales. High school students in Liverpool, N.Y., sip 16-ounce strawberry- and cappuccino-flavored milk. And in Rock Springs, Wyo., milk is the only beverage sold during school hours; choices include white, chocolate, strawberry, orange crme and root beer.
Last December, students at Dr. Lydia T. Wright School in Buffalo, N.Y., previewed an innovative milk beverage pepped up with a hint of carbonation and packed with flavor, eye-popping color and U.S. Department of Agriculture approval.
MAC Farms Inc., the Burlington, Mass.-based food-research firm that created the product, found that adding carbon dioxide to milk created a unique mouth sensation that makes the drink seem more thirst quenching. The gas also extends shelf life by reducing the oxygen content in the milk, needed for bacterial growth. But most of all, the milk-based product proves to be a healthy and refreshing alternative to soft drinks.
“Some kids liked it, some didn’t,” says Pauline Kalenik, the school’s Team Nutrition leader and teacher of family and consumer science. “The carbonation is so mild that we didn’t mention it to the students. You don’t get bubbles in your nose, and it’s light tasting with no aftertaste.”
In the eyes of the USDA, the presence of carbonation means that the drink is classified as a beverage rather than as milk. But its impressive nutrition profile—fat-free; sweetened with fructose rather than refined sugar; and fortified with calcium, protein and vitamins—led the agency to issue a special exemption to its ban on carbonated beverages sold during school lunch.
“In schools, we expect this to sell a la carte rather than compete with milk [as part of the lunch program],” says Mary Ann Clark, vice president of technical services for MAC Farms. “We’re targeting kids who don’t drink milk. This is a drink that’s fun and exciting, but with all the nutrition of milk.”
Mix it up
For many restaurant operators, milk’s relatively high pour cost makes the beverage a menu necessity rather than a profit earner. However, made-to-order milk-based drinks can be varied enough to win new fans, especially at universities with their more health-conscious student populations.
Chocolate, mint, butterscotch, coffee, fruit and other favorites make popular milk add-ins. The dairy association’s test kitchen offers many milk-blend ideas.
The Chocolate-Mint Sipper combines a cup of chocolate milk, two or three finely crushed peppermint candies, two tablespoons of marshmallow crme and two teaspoons of chocolate syrup.
On winter days, blend a cup of hot low-fat chocolate milk with a teaspoon of instant-coffee crystals, two or three crushed peppermint or butterscotch candies, one or two small chocolate-covered peppermint patties, a tablespoon of caramel or butterscotch topping ground cinnamon and several drops of peppermint, coconut, almond or vanilla extract.
Peanut-butter aficionados may prefer a cup of low-fat milk stirred with a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter and two teaspoons of chocolate syrup. And for a fruity dairy drink in soft pastel shades, blend two to three tablespoons of apricot, blackberry, raspberry or strawberry fruit syrup in a tall glass of milk.
Other quick ways to enliven milk include adding a splash of vanilla, almond or maple extract; blending in a spoonful of fudge ice cream and a quarter-cup of sparkling mineral water; whisking in a half-cup of puréed fresh or frozen strawberries; adding a couple of tablespoons of orange juice concentrate and a dash of vanilla extract, or perking up milk with two teaspoons of instant malted-milk powder and one teaspoon of chocolate syrup.