Vendors Pitch Punch, Chips, To School Cafeterias

December 01, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A parade of food and drink vendors, selling everything from HawaiianPunch to Little Debbie snacks, have been knocking on the cafeteria doors of Carroll schools.

"We're seeing a lot more vendors," said Eulalia M. Muschik, supervisor of food services. "I've seen about a dozen (sales people) since the end of September. Typically, I might seeone or two during the whole year.

"I think it must be the economy," she added. "Everyone is lookingfor new markets. They seem to be hammering away at schools."

The oft-heard sales pitch is that the district's cafeteria system, which serves about 10,000 students daily, can make money on these products.Besides peddling Hawaiian Punch and Little Debbie snacks, vendors have hawked frozen yogurt, chips, ice cream and other wares.

"There seems to be an awfully large push to sell items a la carte in the schools," said Muschik, who has resisted the sales pitch thus far.

She can offer several good reasons why.

While sales people may offerfigures showing profit, what they fail to take into consideration are labor costs associated with the handling of another product. Staff must order, unpack, stock, and inventory such products, she said.

"There is a labor cost involved," Muschik said. "And (the products) would have to be sold in schools at a high price. We might pay 25 or 30 cents for a 12-ounce can of Hawaiian Punch and then sell it for at least twice that."

Another reason for avoiding these snacks, she said, is that most are not high in nutrition. Hawaiian Punch, for instance, contains only 10 percent fruit juice. Milk is a more healthy alternative, she said. Chips and Little Debbie snacks are high in fat and calories.

The school system makes its own cookies, often using commodity items from the federal government. That means prices are low -- 15 cents a cookie. Little Debbie snacks, Muschik said, would sell for about 50 cents.

"(Vendors) feel these items are wanted by the children," Muschik said. "If kids can't have a Coke, they could have Hawaiian Punch. But what they don't realize is that I'm a hard-coreperson who intends to sell nutritional lunches."

By selling a la carte items, the cafeteria system would end up competing against itself for business. The district's cafeterias operate on a $4 million annual budget, independent from the school system. The budget covers food and labor costs.

Muschik said she prefers that students purchase lunches, which contain items from each of the four basic food groups and provide one-third of the nutritional needs of a growing child.

Besides following federal guidelines, Muschik said the cafeteria follows the recommendations of such groups as the American Heart Association, which suggests a daily intake of no more than 30 percent fat.

"My overriding concerns is that most of these (snack) items are not high in nutrition," she said. "I'm making a judgment in what I think is best for the student. I'm supposed to provide good nutrition."

George Kelso, sales manager for Canada Dry -- Potomac, said although Carroll has resisted Hawaiian Punch, Baltimore City has begun selling the product at four schools.

"They're doing an unbelievable job," Kelso said. "If schools can sell Hawaiian Punch and make money out of it, I think it behooves them to try and do it, especially duringthese economic times. It's something different for the kids and a profit deal for the schools."

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