U.S.A. — The vending industry is well-positioned to answer the call for more nutritious beverages in schools, as a result of initiatives launched by the Milk Processors Educational Program (MilkPEP) over the past three years.
One of these, the Milk Vending Advisory Council, was formed two years ago, and held its most recent meeting during the National Automatic Merchandising Association Spring Expo in Las Vegas. Made up of operators, equipment manufacturers, product suppliers, market researchers and trade associations, MVAC firmed up plans for an expanded educational campaign at the March meeting. These include informational webcasts for operators, and a workshop at the 2006 NAMA National Expo in Orlando this fall.
At the beginning of the new century, MilkPEP set out to determine why milk had fallen behind other cold beverages as an away-from-home cold drink choice. Among its findings were that consumers who enjoyed milk at home had come to expect a degree of packaging sophistication in single-serving cold drinks, at work or on the road, that was not provided by the “gabletop” milk carton. They also were accustomed to a wider range of flavor options.
Accordingly, work began on a new generation of widemouth plastic bottles, new flavors, and dynamic contemporary graphic designs. At the same time, the industry undertook marketing programs to emphasize the pleasures and benefits that consumers can enjoy by choosing dairy-based beverages.
MilkPEP also reached out to the vending industry, which had been a prime retailer of milk away from home in the 1950s. This effort coincided with the arrival of a new generation of packaged cold drink vending equipment that can display the new packaging and wider variety to best advantage. Extensive tests were conducted, in schools and in a number of adult markets, to determine the appeal of contemporary milk beverages. The success of these led to the formation of MVAC.
Julie Buric, senior director of promotional marketing for MilkPEP, reported that the vending program is gaining momentum as operators and suppliers identify opportunities. Success stories and details on best practices are being collected, and will be shared with the industry at large.
While the tests showed that milk is popular with consumers of all ages, schools are a prime opportunity for vending at present, Buric emphasized. Accordingly, MilkPEP is planning a webcast to address the Child Nutrition Act, which allows schools to contract for milk vending regardless of existing exclusivity pacts. New materials dealing with health issues also are in preparation.
Barry Frankel of Family Vending (Sunrise, FL), an MVAC member and an early proponent of milk vending in schools, observed that the agreement by the American Beverage Association to restrict the sale of conventional soft drinks in schools gives operators an unprecedented opportunity.
“In many places, what’s sold in the school cafeteria is decided by the foodservice director; what’s sold elsewhere is determined by the principal,” Frankel explained. “Principals often have been reluctant to do anything that might affect soft drink sales; now, they’ll be much more receptive to milk throughout the campus. They’ll want alternatives.”
Frankel reported that he has had considerable success supporting after-school programs in elementary schools for youngsters whose parents work. “We offer milk, water and juice drinks in glassfront machines, and we’ve done very well,” he said. Such new designs as the new Crane National Vendors “Refreshment Center 1” are especially well suited to this market, he added.
The advent of shelf-stable branded milks also will have a very positive impact on vending sales, Frankel predicted. “If you put five or six selections of milk in a drink machine, it will sell out,” he has discovered. “Even if you just put in one column, it will sell. It will make people happy, and you can get your price for it.”
The veteran vendor observed that operators long familiar with milk tend to stock it only in food machines, on the bottom shelf. They took to doing that years ago, because the older milk cartons tended to leak. The new, eye-catching plastic bottles do not, and placing them at eye level generates much faster turns.
Operators interested in learning more about the expanding opportunities offered by milk vending in today’s marketplace can find extensive information online at milkdelivers.org.