Schools vending machines got milk — and students are getting it, too

Sound Consumer | October 2001

The Associated Press

Madison, WI

See also companion article: Too much of the Real Thing: The branding of young consumers

It didn't take long for bottled milk to become a big seller when offered in vending machines for Madison high school students. There was plenty of skepticism when the School Board last fall dumped its exclusive vending contract with Coca-Cola and decided to offer milk as a healthier alternative.

"I didn't think it would work," admits Mona Arneson, kitchen coordinator at West High School. Now she struggles to keep the school's new milk vending machine stocked. In the four weeks since the machine was installed, students have bought about 200 16-ounce bottles of Golden Guernsey milk every day, at $1 a pop.

"In study hall, everyone's got them," said West junior Jenny Busby, a soccer player who said she prefers milk because soda dehydrates her. "When the milk machine isn't working, everyone freaks out."

"They've really gone right for the milk instead of the pop," Arneson said. Madison's three other high schools report strong initial milk sales, too. If the trend sticks, the district could be a trailblazer.

The board voted to continue selling soda in schools but with multiple vendors, not just Coke. It also pledged to add healthier beverages. Late last month, a milk vending machine was installed at each of the four main high schools. Four flavors of milk are available: chocolate, chocolate malt, reduced fat white and reduced fat strawberry. Orange juice also is offered.

The milk machines stay on all day, while most of the soda machines are disabled during school hours, just as they were when Coke had a monopoly. Students can buy milk and orange juice between classes and during some study halls, not just before and after school.

"Before, everyone would buy Cokes because there was nothing else to drink,'' said Meghan Mullee, a Memorial High School senior who says she buys milk daily.

The Memorial machine is selling 80 to 100 bottles of milk and orange juice daily, said Doris Voeck, who stocks it. "They go for the white milk, too, not just the chocolate," she said.

The milk marketing board's Bavlnka said the dairy industry has become much savvier in selling its products. Instead of the older paper cartons, milk is sold in plastic, resealable bottles with graphics of "Grip It. Sip It."

The industry also is running a national test of milk vending machines in schools in five cities: Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, Omaha, Neb., and Austin, Texas. The test is part of the popular "Got Milk?" campaign.

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