10 December 2009

A Juicy Opportunity

This morning the news reported that Tennessee is debating over whether to allow school vending machines to offer 12 oz. juice beverages instead of only 8 oz.  From the nutrionists' perspective, children should be drinking no more than 6 oz. of juice per day, and larger bottles distort children's understanding of a proper serving size.  From the vendors' perspective, 8 oz. bottles are difficult to find.

My first inclination was to see an opportunity for a bottler/distributer to pump up production of the smaller size and corner the school market in Tennessee.  Why this didn't happen after the law initially took effect, I don't know.  If it was a question of money, there is no reason the 8 oz. bottles couldn't cost as much as the 12 oz. bottles.  Would students really rather go without because their fifty cents don't go as far as they used to?

My second inclination, though, was to wonder why the state legislature is wasting its time. Banning soft drinks from school vending machines made sense, and attempting to curb obesity makes sense, but will 3 oz. make enough of a difference in the grand scheme of things?  Are the cafeteria offerings so abundantly healthy that those 3 oz. of extra juice will throw off a child's entire daily calorie intake?  Better solutions seem to be creating healthier menus in the cafeterias, planting school gardens, and allowing children to carry bottles of water with them to classes so they stay hydrated (which may be allowed now; it's been a few years since I was in school).  This seems like a perfect example of how businesses could respond to the desires of parents and nutritionists by providing widely available 8 oz. bottles to eliminate the claims of "limited supply" of the vendors, or they could push 12 oz. drinks that have more water, less juice.  Those types of drinks are already out there, and since parents seem to think it's the responsibility of the schools and the government to monitor childhood obesity, there's no reason businesses shouldn't be able to profit from their demands. 

Ideally, in situations like this around the country, manufacturers and vendors will have the initiative to jump on these product changes before state governments get involved rather than push the health envelope until they are forced to change.  Of course, that's an ideal situation and one of my biggest hopes: that more businesses will lead change instead of being forced into it.

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