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District providing healthier vending machine drinks

Students in the Ken-Ton School District have more options this year for quenching their thirst with vending machine beverages.

With the expiration last month of Coca-Cola's "pouring rights" agreement with the district, officials agreed to give the food service staff a shot at handling vending operations.

The result: a larger variety of beverages, all of which were evaluated and sampled beforehand. A group including food service workers, physical education teachers and the head of nursing did a taste test earlier this summer.

"We all wanted to make sure that the items that were sold in the future met the needs of our wellness policy," explained Kim A. Roll, food service director.

That policy, as far as beverages are concerned, mandates that all juice drinks be 100 percent real juice and bottled waters cannot contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners. The deal-breaker: no high-fructose corn syrup.

"That eliminated a lot of products right from the get-go," Roll said.

There still are machines featuring Coca-Cola products, but PepsiCo beverages and apple juice distributed by C.H. Wright have been added.

Vending machines have been eliminated from elementary school cafeterias. Those in middle school cafeterias sell apple juice only.

High school vending machines carry an array of bottled water, sports drinks and diet iced tea.

Bottled beverages range in size from 12 to 20 ounces, and sell for $1.25 or $1.50.

Carbonated beverages are available in faculty rooms, and at two sites in the high schools, where the machines are programmed to operate during after-school activities only.

Though the state's Healthy Schools Act of 2007 prohibited the sale of sweetened sodas during the school day, there had been problems with some machines on timers, Roll said.

Under the previous agreement, "We didn't have that control," she said.

Ken-Ton had received $100,000 a year, among other considerations, under the 10-year deal with Coca-Cola it signed in 1999.

"Ten years ago, that was kind of in the heyday of all the offers," said Gerald J. Stuitje, assistant superintendent for finance. "Those kinds of things just are not available anymore."

There were discussions with Coca-Cola before the district switched gears. "We decided to try taking it over ourselves this year and see how it goes," Stuitje said.

Food service staff will stock the machines, which are leased from the distributors.

Though she hopes vending machine revenues will be strong, Roll said the primary concern is students making healthy choices.

"And that's so important right now," she said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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