Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Return Of School Milk

Every NZer of a "certain age" has vivid memories of free school milk.
The school milk scheme ran from 1937-1967 to provide half a pint of milk to each child daily. This was a world first, started by the first Labour improve kids' bone strength and overall health.
The problem was: the milk arrived at the school gate at dawn, and was not uplifted for consumption until morning break or lunchtime! So it got warm in the sun and sometimes curdled. I went to a Catholic primary school and, as others will also recall, the nuns would never dream of wasting anything so, if you got a bottle of sour milk, they made you finish it! Zieg Heil!!!
The price of milk has long been a punching bag: a survey this year found 91% think we're paying too much. The average 2L standard milk price in Nov.2011 was $3.67 - 1.4% and 16.1% higher than the same time last year and in 2009 respectively. Consumer NZ says there's been a combined retail price increase of 50% in the previous five years for 2L milk, 500g butter and 1kg cheese.
In lower socio-economic areas like Sth.Auckland, dairy products have become luxury items. It's a sad indictment when soft drinks are cheaper than a product with so much more nutritional value... when you've got young kids, milk must be a daily staple, not Coca-Cola!
Now dairy giant Fonterra has announced big changes to make milk more accessible. Fonterra teamed up with Sanitarium in 2009 to provide free school breakfasts, and nearly half of decile one to four schools were able to serve meals to students twice a week. Now it's reintroducing free school milk, trialling in Northland next year with a nationwide roll-out in 2013.
In September, CEO Theo Spierings said Fonterra would look again at retail milk prices because... "the perception is that the price is high. And always, when you connect to consumers, perception is reality." Let's hope "perception of reality" becomes FACT soon: price drops would be great for all AND good PR for the industry. In fact, call me cynical, but I'd suggest that one reason for introducing free school milk may be to improve Fonterra's public perception (as nothing more than a monster profiteerer): what say you, Theo?
Oh, and by the way, when school milk IS re-introduced, PLEASE make sure the schools have chillers!!!

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