Although mini-sip pouches have fallen out of favor in school districts, more and more cafeterias are starting to request bag-in-box bulk pouches as a way to reduce their environmental footprint. “It’s really been in the last 15 to 16 months that the interest has really bubbled to the surface” for bag-in-box milk at grade schools, says Scott Dissinger, a representative with the dairy research firm Dairy Management Inc. Each bag-in-box is loaded into a refrigerated dispenser known as a steel cow. Students then pour their own milk into a reusable cup. The format works better for schools whose students gather in a traditional cafeteria rather than eating in their classrooms.
Schools in Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia have taken up the steel cow. Students, Dissinger says, like the self-service format and being able to customize their milk — maybe by mixing different ratios of chocolate with plain. Some students also believe the milk comes out colder than in the traditional carton. It doesn’t hurt that the bulk system reduces food and packaging waste. All those pieces are helping drive a resurgence in the 5-gallon bulk milk pouch, which has been a staple in college cafeterias, mess halls, and on cruise ships for at least 30 years. As the dairy industry adjusts to accommodate demand for the bag-in-box milk, children around the U.S. could start seeing fewer cartons and more steel cows.