LAND O’ LAKES — Pasco County students who feed coins into school vending machines will soon have more beverage options than just Coca-Cola products.
The school district’s exclusive five-year contract with Coke comes to an end June 30 and won’t be renewed. Instead, the district plans to acquire 150 of its own vending machines and supply them with drinks that are among the more popular choices for students, with at least one caveat.
The drinks must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in Schools nutrition standards.
“This will allow us the option to have a greater variety of products and not just be locked into one company’s line of products,” said Julie Hedine, director of food and nutrition services for the district.
The school district’s exclusive beverage contract started with Pepsi in 1999 but switched to Coke five years ago. The companies paid for the exclusive rights to sell their products, and early on the deal was lucrative for the school district.
Within just the first four years of the Pepsi contract, the district reaped about $3.3 million. Over time, though, the deal became less lucrative, at least in part because nutritional guidelines for what can be sold in schools became more restrictive.
“There were very few guidelines when the original contract was issued,” Hedine said.
Changes started happening in 2006, when the American Beverage Association announced it was working on an initiative with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to lower the calorie count in drinks sold in schools.
After that, Pasco and other districts had to eliminate some of the products they were offering.
“That had a serious impact on the revenue that could be generated from the exclusive beverage contracts,” Hedine said.
By 2010, the federal government approved the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that required the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, and last year the agency announced its Smart Snacks in Schools standards.
The beverages allowed vary by grade level, with more restrictions in elementary schools than in high schools.
In elementary schools, students can have water, unflavored low-fat milk, flavored or unflavored non-fat milk, including nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water. Other than water, all servings are limited to 8 fluid ounces.
Middle schools have the same restrictions, except servings can be 12 fluid ounces.
High schools have slightly more leeway. In addition to the drinks previously mentioned, they can serve flavored and carbonated beverages, though there are calorie restrictions depending on the size of the beverage. There also are no restrictions on caffeine in beverages for high school students, though the USDA encourages districts to “exercise caution” when selecting items to sell to students.