Free milk has left a sour taste in the mouths of some of Northland's schools and a large numbers of their students have dropped out of the pilot programme which was launched on March 19.
After an enthusiastic take-up, some schools have seen nearly a 90 per cent decline in the number of kids receiving milk each day, with many blaming the taste of the ultra heat treated (UHT) 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," said Dave Bradley, Wellsford School principal.
The school said half the 240 children initially drinking the milk have opted out.
At Kaiwaka nearly 70 of the school's 86 children were drinking the milk. It is now down to 10.
"I am beginning to wonder if kids are so used to sugar that they don't want to drink milk anymore," said principal Barbara Bronlund.
At Waipu School 170 milk drinkers had become 20. Flavour was again a problem.
Holly Walker, spokeswoman for children from the Green Party, said trying to use a 1930s era scheme for modern children was flawed, though she also acknowledged the scheme was not very popular when Labour started giving free milk to schoolchildren from 1937. The policy ended in 1967.
"There was a lot of nostalgia about the programme, but there were flaws - the milk would get warm in the sun and be awful by the time they drank it. Now we've come full circle."
Walker said though the intentions behind the programme are good, the model is not quite right.
She said KidsCan provided food such as muesli bars, bread and yoghurt, that children got when they needed them.
"It seems like an appropriate way to do it, with a mixture of needs, rather than just dumping product on them."
Fonterra said the decline was expected and the numbers are now stable.
"It started with a big hiss and a roar and now the numbers are naturally settling down," said Craig Irwin, Fonterra's business manager for beverages.
The schools participating have increased from 103 to 119.
Results from the Northland area will be monitored and assessed to see how best to launch the programme nationwide.
Fonterra's website says the pilot will be used to test logistics, such as installing fridges in schools, arranging for the milk to be delivered and putting recycling programmes in place for the packaging, which has also unexpectedly proved a problem.
Several schools said the 250ml cartons were difficult for young children to finish and the folding and disposal of the containers was time consuming.
"My staff are busy teachers and it's not easy managing the milk if you have half-empty boxes," said Adrian Smith, principal of One Tree Point school. "It is smelly."
Those practical difficulties led Riverview Primary School to withdraw from the programme.
Several schools, although having seen numbers level off, consider the programme a massive success.
At Manaia View School at least 90 per cent of the children have milk every day.
"I've got lots of kids who ask for more as a reward," said Ian Bird, the teacher in charge of milk.
At Kaitaia Primary School milk was reaching those most in need.
"We are decile 1C for a good reason.
"We have a number of families who struggle financially, and with the cost of fresh food and milk they just can't afford it," principal Brendon Morrissey said.
- Sunday Star Times