Editorial - Milking good publicity
Sue Chetwin, chief executive of Consumer NZ and a campaigner against high dairy-product prices, was among those who lauded Fonterra for bringing free milk back into school in a pilot programme in Northland. This "has shown that corporates can be responsible".
The scheme was announced in January as part of the "Milk for Kiwis" plan conceived by the recently arrived Theo Spierrings, Fonterra's chief executive. He aims to make milk more affordable and available to all New Zealanders.
Further favourable publicity followed the official launch, in March, of the trial programme among 131 primary schools. This was a "turnaround event for New Zealand", Manaia Health Primary Health Organisation chief executive Chris Farrelly enthused. He, too, had called for a government inquiry into the price of milk. Now he was praising Fonterra for its "courageous and generous gesture".
The pilot is enabling the company to test the logistics of the programme (such as installing refrigerators in schools, arranging for milk deliveries and putting recycling in place for the packaging) before Fonterra Milk for Schools is introduced nationwide.
It has also helped cover up some of the blemishes on the company's image resulting from profiteering allegations and - more persistently - from Fonterra's association with "dirty dairying".
An unexpected benefit was reported by a Whangarei principal who said her pupils loved their morning milk; it was giving a good start to the day for those who didn't eat breakfast.
Not all kids are so keen. A weekend report said some schools have recorded a significant decline in the numbers receiving milk each day.
But others regard the programme as a massive success, including Kaitaia Primary School where - said the principal - many families struggle financially and can't afford fresh food.
The lesson perhaps is that fussy kids don't need the milk but the hungry ones do, and are grateful for whatever is offered. Labour policymakers who aim to give free food to all decile one to three schools should pay attention. Give it to those in genuine need. Don't squander it (and public money) on kids who don't want or need it.