ROSEMONT, ILL. – Dairy Management Inc. shared that a dairy checkoff pilot in schools showed milk selection and meal participation increased when lactose-free milk became an option.

National Dairy Council (NDC) and American Dairy Association Mideast offered lactose-free chocolate milk through the pilot, which involved public schools in Cincinnati.

NDC said it was the country’s first single-serve lactose-free chocolate milk package and it was offered to six elementary and four high schools in the fourth quarter of 2023. The pilot demonstrated enough success that the parties involved, including Cincinnati Public Schools, expanded it to all 15 of the city’s public high schools through June of 2024.

American Dairy Association Mideast vice president of business development Tracy Enslen said the pilot displayed how unmet demand can be addressed with innovative offerings that drive consumption.

“Students wanted to drink milk, but the milk being offered was not what they could consume, so meeting unmet demand was the spark,” Enslen said. “Many of the students just walked by the milk every day and had to pick up water or juice as their beverage option.”

Per NDC’s findings from the pilot, compared to the rest of the Cincinnati district, pilot schools experienced a 16% increase in milk consumption, as well as 7% more meal participation.

Notably, milk waste appears to have decreased during the pilot, said Lisa Hatch, vice president of business development for NDC’s school channel.

“We’re hearing from school foodservice staff and from kids who weren’t taking milk previously that not only are they choosing milk, but more of them are also finishing the container, so waste appears to have gone down,” Hatch said. “We historically have seen high school kids leave the milk category at higher rates than younger students, but this pilot is bringing many back.”

Findings from the pilot will be highlighted during an upcoming School Nutrition Association (SNA) webinar, NDC said. SNA represents close to 50,000 members that provide meals to students in US schools.

Enslen also pointed to data that shows lactose-free dairy volume is up 11.4% at the national retail level through April 14, compared to the same period of 2023.

“In a perfect world, my hope is that every fluid milk processor understands the opportunity to drive more milk consumption in schools with a lactose-free option, the same product they’re already offering at retail,” Enslen said. “I’d like to see more variety offered in schools, so students won’t have to think twice about consuming milk.”