It’s a question that has plagued the dairy industry for decades: How can we increase children’s milk consumption and create more lifelong milk drinkers? The answer, it seems, is plastics.

Innovation in milk packaging represents a primary way to help increase milk consumption. Study after study has borne this out:

  • The School Milk Pilot Test showed that when school milk was offered in plastic, resealable bottles, sales increased by 18 percent and consumption increased by 37 percent.
  • A survey among 300 school-aged children indicated that 94 percent of students felt school milk in a plastic bottle was a better container compared to paper cartons. Plus, 86 percent of students indicated plastic bottles are “easier to drink from,” and 67 percent said the milk in the plastic bottle “had a better flavor” than the milk in the paper carton.
  • A survey of moms showed that more than 84 percent of them agreed that the packaging of milk may help to get more children to drink more milk at school.

As a result, helping advance milk packaging innovation — especially in schools — through their checkoff investment has become a key goal of America’s dairy producers.


Through the “New Look of School Milk” (NLSM), we are bringing together processors and school foodservice officials and helping them identify business models that show how milk in plastic bottles is a “win-win” for schools, processors, dairy producers, and the nation’s schoolchildren.

More than 3,800 schools now offer milk in plastic bottles. And the results have been dramatic. For example:

  • A NLSM partnership between Spring Independent School  District (Houston, Texas) and Borden Milk resulted in an increase of 81 percent to 188 percent in total ounces sold in each of the schools. In addition, lunch participation increased by 8.5 percent and breakfast participation increased by 17 percent.
  • A NLSM partnership between St. Vrain Valley School District (Longmont, Colo.) and Robinson Dairy resulted in a 40 percent increase in milk purchases and a 26 percent increase in students buying school-reimbursable meals.
  • A NLSM partnership between Chicopee Public Schools (Chicopee, Mass.) and Garelick Farms increased sales of lowfat milk by 109 percent, fat-free milk by 114 percent and chocolate milk by 63 percent. School meal participation increased 5 percent.

School milk currently represents more than 7 percent of total milk volume. More importantly, it’s key to the future of fluid milk consumption, because children’s milk-drinking experiences affect their consumption in adulthood. Dairy producers recognize this and are making a difference through their promotion investment. Nearly 40 individual processors recognize this through their participation in the NLSM program. But, in order to reach all schoolchildren, we need more processors to get on board.

Quick-service restaurants

The other key area to reach children is at popular quick-service restaurants. You’ve heard about the success of single-serve milk in plastic bottles at nearly 20,000 McDonald’s and Wendy’s restaurants. Combined sales now average more than 5.2 million units per week, compared to 690,000 units per week when milk was offered in paper cartons.

Others will soon follow in their footsteps. Burger King will begin offering Hershey’s brand chocolate and white milk in 8-ounce bottles in 7,600-plus restaurants nationwide this summer. And Sonic Drive-Ins, a major regional chain with more than 3,000 restaurants, also will introduce white and chocolate milk in plastic bottles this summer.

As the number of success stories continues to grow, and more and more processors recognize that the investment in plastic packaging will increase sales and create lifelong milk drinkers, we will see the tide turn on fluid milk consumption. Producers now know there’s hope in growing fluid milk consumption — and that packaging innovation can help them achieve that goal.

Tom Gallagher is CEO of Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy-checkoff program. For more about producer-funded promotion and research efforts, visit