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The results of a checkoff-initiated smoothie program pilot showed increased consumption of milk and yogurt and will be offered to more schools this fall.
Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) pitched the smoothie program concept in 2022 to Chartwells K12, a food management company that serves more than 2 million meals in 4,500 schools representing 665 districts across the U.S. every day.
General Mills joined the effort by providing culinary support and training materials for the school nutrition staff and Hubert, a foodservice equipment manufacturer, offered blenders and other materials at a discounted rate.
The pilot took place in 130 Chartwells K12 schools in 15 states and while the specific results are proprietary, they were encouraging enough for the company to make the smoothie program available to its entire suite of schools this year.
“Chartwells is always looking for innovative ways to make sure students leave the cafeteria happier and healthier than they came in,” said Lindsey Palmer, vice president of nutrition and industry relations for Chartwells K12. “We took insights heard directly from students when we launched the smoothie pilot, offering a popular, delicious, on-the-go meal to help kids power through their day. Smoothies also have the unique benefit of providing multiple meal components and a great opportunity for kids to consume more milk, yogurt and fruits.”
Lisa Hatch, vice president of school channel sales and business development for DMI, said smoothies are a hot trend among kids. Technomic, which provides consumer insights and other services to the foodservice industry, found that fruit smoothies are more popular than energy drinks, flavored water, juices and soft drinks with Gen Z consumers.
Another group, Modor Intelligence, said among the limited-service restaurants that Gen Z visits, three of the top four are smoothie companies: Smoothie King, Tropical Smoothie Café and Jamba Juice.
Chefs from Chartwells and General Mills collaborated to produce 30 recipes (15 each for breakfast and lunch) that contain at least one of the daily recommended servings of dairy and fruit. The smoothies are part of the reimbursable school breakfast and lunch meals and meet USDA’s nutrition guidelines. Students in the pilot were offered options including dragon fruit banana, mango chili lime, avocado kale mango and others.
“The goal was to give students something they’re seeking outside of schools and is trendy,” Hatch said. “This smoothie program strengthens the checkoff’s mission of nourishing youth through innovative ways that drives dairy demand in schools.”
A survey conducted after the pilot showed a very positive response from students, school foodservice staff and administrators. Chartwells K12 joined the dairy checkoff at the recent School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in Colorado and shared the pilot program’s results in an educational session for school nutrition professionals.
Sarah Maver, director of wellness and sustainability for Chartwells K12, is excited to see more schools adopt the program for the new school year and credits the all-around collaboration of the companies that made it a reality.
“Through pairing the checkoff’s research with our insights to the evolving preferences of kids, the smoothie pilot provided a great solution for bringing even more excitement to the school cafeteria,” Maver said. “DMI’s goals aligned with ours of looking for creative ways to promote school meals and making sure kids have a variety of choices available.”
For information about the dairy checkoff, visit www.usdairy.com/for-farmers.