Dairy checkoff partnership introduces Hot Chocolate Milk program in schools

Pilot program will run through the end of the school year.

February 9, 2024

3 Min Read

A dairy checkoff partnership is putting hot chocolate milk into the hands of students during a pilot with a leading school foodservice company.

National Dairy Council (NDC) and Chartwells K12, which serves more than 2 million meals daily at 700 U.S. school districts, have launched the Hot Chocolate Milk program in 58 schools. The pilot, which will run through the end of the school year, features chocolate milk – with toppings such as cinnamon and peppermint – served hot during breakfast and lunch.

NDC began working with Chartwells K12 last year on a dairy-based smoothie program, which is available to all Chartwells schools following a successful pilot.

Lisa Hatch, vice president of business development for NDC’s school channel, said the smoothie program’s success led to a “what’s the next big thing?” discussion between the partners. They focused on hot chocolate, which had a global market size valued at $3.8 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow to $5.77 billion by 2030. Additionally, chocolate is the second most popular beverage flavor on TikTok with more than 10.1 million views related to #ChocolateDrink.

Hatch said some state and regional checkoff teams already have successful hot chocolate strategies in place. She said those programs on average experienced 14% increases of milk sales and an 11% jump in breakfast participation.

“We’re always investigating opportunities to enhance the school milk experience, which is where the smoothie pilot came from,” Hatch said. “That led us to looking at trends and hot chocolate surfaced the same way smoothies did. And looking at the state and regional hot chocolate programs, the results were very impressive.”

Chartwells K12 is optimistic hot chocolate milk will be popular among students and can help increase overall meal participation in schools.

“The popularity of specialty beverages is on the rise, and we’re bringing a healthy option to meet that demand in school cafeterias,” said Lindsey Palmer, a registered dietitian who serves as vice president of nutrition and industry relations for Chartwells K12. “With our new Hot Chocolate Milk concept, students can enjoy a fun, warm beverage that is packed with essential nutrients, making it a delicious and healthy treat to help kids power through their day.”

Katie Bambacht, vice president of nutrition affairs for NDC, said research shows chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice in schools and leads to higher total milk consumption and better overall diet quality. Flavored milk offers the same 13 essential nutrients as white milk and she feels this partnership will provide a much-needed boost to schools, which struggle to get students to eat breakfast.

“School feeding programs are faced with numerous priorities, and dairy innovation isn’t always top of mind,” Bambacht said. “If we’re not doing it, I don’t think anyone would. We play a critical role in bringing these best practices and case studies to help assure that milk appeals to students as part of school menus.”

Schools are only reaching half of the kids at breakfast that they’re reaching at lunch, so there is a big gap in participation and these programs have been shown to drive participation, Bambacht added. “Anything we can do to provide simple options such as heating up chocolate milk may help increase participation and milk consumption.”

Schools participating in the pilot program received a Hot Chocolate Milk kit provided by NDC through Hubert, a foodservice equipment manufacturer. The kit includes a transport cart with branded panels, an insulated beverage dispenser, a digital thermometer and more.

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