Free milk to go ahead, despite refusals

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012

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Fonterra is pushing forward with a programme to offer all 2000 primary schools nationwide free milk from next year despite hundreds of pupils refusing the free milk in a Northland pilot.

The dairy giant announced at Hillpark Primary in Manurewa yesterday that its milk in schools programme would be extended to 350,000 primary school children across the country after trialling the scheme at 100 Northland schools.

"After two terms we have seen consumption increasing in a relatively poor region. On those results we have decided to roll it out nationally,'' a Fonterra spokesman said.

But while there was a nearly 85 per cent uptake by Northland schools, a number of children quickly turned up their nose at the milk and at some schools hundreds of students stopped taking the free milk.

''The kids wrote letters to Fonterra thanking them for the milk, but fewer were drinking it because of the taste it left in their mouth,'' Dave Bradley, Wellsford School principal, said.

The school said half the 240 children initially drinking the milk had opted out.

"A few schools have dropped out for reasons around logistics, some for reasons of pack size and the recycling process. At the end of the day it is a voluntary programme," Carly Robinson, of Fonterra, said.

Despite such setbacks, Fonterra judged the pilot a success with 116 schools now receiving milk in Northland, up from 103.

Fonterra said the pilot had allowed it to adjust the programme to help schools better implement the scheme.

"The Northland pilot allowed us to test our systems. We learnt valuable lessons and got great feedback from schools in the area. We can now move forward with confidence the programme is a winner," Fontera chief executive Theo Spierings said.

The milk cartons have been reduced from 250ml to 180ml, are easier to recycle and smaller storage fridges are being provided.

Fonterra hopes the programme can help continue to stop a decline in milk consumption across the country.

In the first quarter of 2012 milk consumption was down three per cent nationally.This was reversed over the year and there has been an about-two-per-cent increase.

This can mainly be attributed to a drop in price, Spierings said, but a University of Auckland study also showed that milk consumption in Northland children has significantly increased at home since the pilot began.

The programme was also about growing the reputation of Fonterra in New Zealand, Spierings said.

"We are very big and important for the economy but we don't have a strong emotional connection, and people are not proud of Fonterra. We have to build that pride. It is reputation as well. It is not charity."

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- Auckland Now

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