What do you think the hottest beverage trend is among Gen Z consumers? Energy drinks? Flavored water? Juices? Soft drinks?
None of the above. It is fruit smoothies, and we know dairy and smoothies are made for one another.
The above findings were produced by Technomic, which provides insights and other services to the food service industry. These proof points only strengthen the checkoff’s mission of nourishing youth through innovative ways to drive more dairy demand in schools and with Gen Z consumers, who are as young as 9.
Following the checkoff’s business strategy of collaborating with leading companies, as we do with food service giants McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Domino’s, we have developed a pilot concept partnership with Chartwells K12.
Chartwells K12 is a food management company that serves more than 2 million meals every day in 4,500 schools representing 665 districts across the country.
Understanding its school footprint, we called upon Chartwells K12 to figure out how we could help each other with common goals. Like us, they constantly are seeking ways to provide nutrient-rich foods to fuel growing and learning students. We landed on smoothies.
National Dairy Council provided grant funding and checkoff partner General Mills joined the effort with culinary support and training materials for the school nutrition staff. Another checkoff partner, Hubert, a food service equipment manufacturer, provided blenders, insulated cooler bags to hold prepared smoothies and transport carts.
We hit the ground running in a powerful way at the start of October with the Chartwells Smoothie Station program launching in 140 schools in Arizona, Indiana and Missouri. The effort complements an already strong commitment from our state and regional checkoff network, which collectively has helped implement 1,600 smoothie programs in schools in the past five years.
Smoothies provide kids with the products they want and are enjoying outside the school cafeteria. Another group, Modor Intelligence, found that among the limited-service restaurants (LSRs) that Gen Z visit, three of the top four are smoothie companies (Smoothie King, Tropical Smoothie Café and Jamba Juice). Modor also projects a compound annual growth rate of 7.2% overall for the smoothie channel by 2026.
The Chartwells program, which includes smoothie bowls, offers customized products with different fruit and grain toppings. Each smoothie contains at least one of the daily recommended servings of dairy and fruit. Chartwells chefs and dietitians partnered with General Mills’ team to produce options such as mango chili lime, strawberry banana, avocado kale mango and others.
It is important to note the smoothies are part of the reimbursable school breakfast and lunch meals and meet the USDA’s nutrition guidelines.
Building business case
While it is a win-win for dairy and Chartwells K12, schools also win as they constantly seek ways to draw more kids into the cafeterias to nourish them with healthy, appealing offerings. It is also a win for General Mills, which provides yogurt to Chartwells K12 schools.
This launch is just the beginning of what we hope will spark a broader smoothie movement to other parts of the country. These 140 schools will provide us with a business case that will include measurable results, which Chartwells K12 can take to its other districts for implementation and can be used by our state and regional checkoff teams.
Keeping dairy’s nutrition, taste and benefits front and center with kids will continue to be a key checkoff mission. This latest effort shows we can succeed with innovation and leading industry partners who share the same goal.