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A new dairy product with roots in Citrus County could be on some local school lunch menus.
A fat-free white chocolate milk developed by M&B Products is already being served at schools in Hernando, Pinellas and Osceola counties. The company operates M&B Dairy Farm in Lecanto.
Several months ago, owner Dale McClellan announced the product was in development and it hit the market in early May.
According to Andrea McClellan of M&B Products, he started thinking of ideas for a new milk product about two years ago when there were talks by the Department of Education about removing flavored milk from the school lunch and breakfast programs.
She said, “... there have been numerous studies showing children would not consume white milk like they do flavored milks and their growing bodies would not get the nutrition they need. That is when he was the first in Florida to reduce the sugar grams from 26 to 22 and also use skim milk only for a fat-free, sugar-reduced, chocolate and strawberry milk.
“At the National School Food Show in Denver last year, he ran into the makers of Sweet Leaf,” she said, referring to Dale McClellan. “They have a product that is made of stevia leaf extract combined with cocoa extract. When added to skim milk, it keeps its white color but tastes like sweet chocolate milk.
“He worked with them to develop a formula, which started our new line of ultra-naturals, white chocolate milk,” she said. “Although there were some curve balls in the development process, we were able to show the finished product at this year’s Florida School Nutrition Association show in April. We received very good feedback and were able to have it in schools in May.”
But before it could join the other types of M&B milk served at Citrus County schools, it would have to pass a taste test by a panel of 25 to 30 students at each school level.
“I needs at least 75 percent (approval),” explained Kelly Niblett, one of the school district’s two dieticians. “And at 75 percent it’s questionable.”
Niblett acknowledged the controversy over flavored milk with a lot of parents who do not believe that chocolate or any kind of flavored milk should be offered through the schools. The issue made national news in 2012.
“The problem is from a nutrition standpoint, our goal is to get these kids to consume milk for the calcium and protein they need,” she said. “If you take away all flavored milk, participation and the consumption of milk would decrease.
“So we do the fat-free and try to do the lowest sugar.”
She said they offer one flavor, chocolate, which is fat-free.
“It allows choice,” she said. If parents don’t want their child to have flavored milk they can let food service know and it will be flagged on the computer at checkout.
“We really try to accommodate all parental wishes,” said Niblett, a parent herself. “We’re working hard for that.
“When you’re trying to (create a) menu for 15,600 kids, there’s a lot to take into consideration.”
Potential menu additions are scrutinized for nutritional value, taste-tested and rated by students at the levels they will be served.
The white chocolate milk got its first test by two dozen Lecanto High School students, who sampled and rated five new products that day.
The milk came first and reaction was mixed. Students scored it in a variety of categories — scent, taste, appearance — and could add additional comments. They used a five-star rating system; from “no way,” to “awesome.”
They also tested a soy-free vegetarian buffalo chicken dish, southwest bean salad, a pancake sausage combo and their absolute favorite, a frozen juice product.
Later McClellan tested the milk with middle school students, but the elementary test will have to wait until next school year.
Results showed an average of 67 percent of high school students tested found the milk acceptable and had positive comments. But middle school was a different story.
“At the middle school, 91 percent found the product acceptable and had positive comments,” she reported. “I tested 31 students and 21 students gave the product perfect five stars across the board. Comments were, ‘It tastes like ice cream,’ ‘Amazing,’ ‘Love it,’ and my personal favorite, ‘The best thing my mouth has ever tasted.’”
Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.