By JANIE SOUTHARD
Soft drinks are a staple in many kids’ diets and the American
Academy of Prediatrics recently has called for schools to take
another look at what is being sold in vending machines.
But it’s a double-edged sword for school officials as
soft drink companies offer substantial up-front or long-term
money and incentives for exclusive rights to distribute their
products within the school.
Soda vending machines in schools are now regulated so pop is
not available during certain times of the day, and state law
prohibits locating the machines inside the cafeteria.
Local school officials say while pop machines are certainly
a presence, kids are opting more and more for bottled water,
fruit drinks and sports drinks.
The St. Marys school district has a 10-year contract with Pepsi
until 2011, which will bring in about $600,000 over the decade.
As long as St. Marys keeps the Pepsi machines in the school,
Pepsi will give the school merchandise such as coolers, towels,
discount coupons, advertising incentives, two scholarships and
$30,000 cash each year plus a one-time $20,000 for a scoreboard
and $5,000 for electrical wiring, according to St. Marys district
business manager Kurt Kuffner.
Undeniably good for the bottom line as Ohio schools struggle
for every dime following state budget cuts.
“As a parent, sure, I’m concerned that kids get
nutritious meals and drinks. And, we do offer other drink choices,”
St. Henry district is another Pepsi-contract school offering
St. Henry’s contract is similar to St. Marys’ but
on a lesser scale. It includes one scholarship and a $15,000
annual payment during the 10-year contract, which is based on
St. Henry Athletic Director Tim Boeckman said, like at other
schools, access to soft drinks is limited.
“Based on what the (Pepsi) route driver brings us, kids
are drinking a lot more (bottled) water and Gatorade,”
And, there’s yet one more option on the rise.
Mercer County schools say “yes we do” thanks to
$2,000 worth of grants last year from the American Dairy Association
and Land O’ Lakes/Mercer Landmark.
“The dairy association offers $1,000 to schools to install
milk vending machines, and we do a 100 percent match, making
it $2,000,” said John Wenning, dairy nutritionist for
Land O’ Lakes/Mercer Landmark in Coldwater.
Additional funding for the $4,300 machines has come from individual
Young Farmers associations and other local agricultural organizations.
“There are dozens of milk flavors and schools choose whatever,
although some flavors cost more. Chocolate, strawberry and Oreo
cookie chocolate are the most popular right now,” Wenning
St. Henry’s student advisory panel nixed the cookies and
cream flavor as too costly at $1.50 a bottle, Superintendent
Rod Moorman said.
“We rely on our students panel for cafeteria input, and
they have made a lot of good decisions. They came up with a
lot of our a la carte foods, like the potato bar, pasta bar
and salad bar,” he said.
Celina City Schools opted not to go with a Pepsi contract, although
there are four Pepsi machines, a juice machine, a machine with
fruit and sandwiches and a milk machine at the high school.
“We sell Pepsi (16-ounce bottles) for a buck, and we buy
it at a good price. Yes, we make a little money, as we can,”
Celina’s business manager Mike McKirnan said.
From McKirnan’s experience with food and drinks for students,
it all comes down to what they like and will eat.
“Several years ago when the state said ‘cut fat,’
we did. I remember they sent us four pallets of peas,”
McKirnan said. “No kid likes peas. But we served them
peas anyway, even put them in salads, but kids won’t eat
peas. ... Kids who don’t like milk won’t drink it.
Kids who like soft drinks will find a way to get them.”