March 14 2024 11:02 AM

Thanks to a dairy checkoff pilot program, students gain access to hot chocolate milk during breakfast and lunch.

The information below has been supplied by dairy marketers and other industry organizations. It has not been edited, verified or endorsed by Hoard’s Dairyman.

John Ruemenapp, Food Service Director at Harper Creek Community Schools in Battle Creek, Michigan, loves to be at the front end of food service enhancements, so when he learned about the dairy checkoff’s new hot chocolate milk pilot program, he jumped at the chance to participate.

“It was exactly what we were looking for to add another element of excitement to our school breakfast,” he says. “We offer hot chocolate milk two or three days a week, and the kids really like it, especially on cooler days. On days it’s not offered, they ask when it will be available again.”

The school district serves more than 230 breakfasts to middle school students and about 100 breakfasts to high school students daily. Students drink at least 13 gallons of hot chocolate milk between the two schools on the days it’s offered.

Harper Creek Community Schools is one of 12 Michigan school districts participating in the new pilot program. The program will run through the end of the school year and is part of a partnership between the National Dairy Council (NDC) and Chartwells K12, which serves more than 2 million meals daily at 700 U.S. school districts.

“This pilot adds to the 57 schools, to date, that have started hot chocolate programs through United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) supportive equipment grants since 2020,” says Brianna Henton, UDIM Health and Wellness Director. “Nearly 250 hot chocolate marketing kits have been mailed out to Michigan K-12 schools in the last four years.”

“The hot chocolate milk supporting materials are top-notch and very fun. They help add to the experience,” says Ruemenapp. He notes students are more apt to grab milk in addition to water because of the hot chocolate milk program and says he’d be delighted to participate in the program again.

“We’re researching toppings to add to the experience,” he adds. “We have to be able to compete against Starbucks®.”

Lisa Hatch, Vice President of Business Development for NDC’s school channel, says the smoothie program’s success in 2022 led to a “what’s the next big thing?” discussion between the partners. They focused on hot chocolate, which had a global market size valued at $3.8 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow to $5.77 billion by 2030. Additionally, chocolate is the second most popular beverage flavor on TikTok with more than 10.1 million views related to #ChocolateDrink.

Katie Bambacht, NDC Vice President of Nutrition Affairs, says research shows chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice in schools and leads to higher total milk consumption and better overall diet quality. Flavored milk offers the same 13 essential nutrients as white milk and she feels this partnership will provide a much-needed boost to schools, which struggle to get students to eat breakfast.

“School feeding programs are faced with numerous priorities, and dairy innovation isn’t always top of mind,” Bambacht says. “If we’re not doing it, I don’t think anyone would. We play a critical role in bringing these best practices and case studies to help assure that milk appeals to students as part of school menus.”

“Hot chocolate milk is a great way to deliver dairy’s message and nutrition to the next generation of consumers in a fun, effective way,” concludes Henton.

To learn more about UDIM, visit

About the United Dairy Industry of Michigan
The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) is dedicated to serving Michigan’s hard-working dairy farm families and promoting Michigan’s locally produced dairy products. UDIM is the umbrella organization for the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council of Michigan. These non-profit organizations provide dairy product promotion and nutrition education services on behalf of their funding members.