Feature: Thirst for learning

Feature: Thirst for learning

Keeping pupils hydrated throughout the school day is key; not only does it keep them alert and engaged, but it is vital for their everyday health. Water is commonly classed as the best natural form of hydration, and throughout all UK schools, pupils must always have access to it. However, despite its well-known attributes, it isn’t necessarily a child’s first choice of drink.

The issue is that children tend to be drawn to the brightly coloured and attractive designs of sugar-fuelled options which are widely available on the high street. To help encourage healthy choices when it comes to refreshments, suppliers of school drinks are therefore taking guidance from trends appearing on the high-street. This allows them to adapt their ideas to appeal to the younger generation, while also meet guidelines set by the School Food Standards.

Drinks currently approved by the School Food Standards include water, lower fat milk or lactose reduced milk, fruit or vegetable juice, plain soya, rice or oat drinks, plain yoghurt drinks, plus unsweetened combinations of fruit or vegetable juice with water or milk options – all of which are limited to a portion size of 330ml.

To ensure that all drinks on offer for pupils are healthy and nutritious, drinks provided in schools can contain added vitamins or minerals; however, when it comes to added sugar, this cannot be more than 5%. In addition, fruit juice combination drinks must be at least 45% fruit juice, and to curb the amount of consumption of naturally occurring sugar which are found in these drinks, portions of all fruit or vegetable juices are limited to 150ml.

Whichever form of drinks schools decide to provide for their pupils, the goal at the end of the day is to make sure that pupils stay hydrated. This message is further amplified in a study conducted by the British Journal of Nutrition, which highlights just how important water consumption is for pupils during the school day.

“The British Journal of Nutrition reported how studies revealed cognitive function and mood are positively influenced by water consumption, particularly in those with poor fluid regulation, such as children,” points out Paul Vita, managing director of One Water. “Some of the most common effects [of poor water consumption] include reduced concentration levels, lower cognitive and physical performance and heightened feelings of aggression or irritation.”

In addition to the health implication, the researchers also highlighted how 60% of children in one study arrived at school dehydrated, while a further 71% did not drink enough fluid throughout the day.

In a school environment, factors such as concentration and performance are vital for learning, so it is imperative that schools do all they can to encourage pupils to drink more. Offering water in a variety of convenient ways, or presenting it in bright and colourful packaging, are just some examples of how schools can achieve this.

In keeping with trends surrounding environmental issues, water can also be presented as a sustainable option for pupils to go for – especially if schools use mains water filtration systems where pupils can fill up their reusable bottles whenever they wish.

“There is a wide range of equipment sizes to suit the volumes of water used by different operations,” adds Paul Proctor, managing director of EcoPure Waters. “There are bespoke, built-in systems for larger premises, or ready-to-go counter-top units for smaller operations.”

Sugar focus
One of the main barriers’ schools are faced with when it comes to encouraging pupils to drinks lots of water is that many children don’t tend to like the taste of plain drinking water. It is therefore important for schools to provide a variety of options.

The problem faced by schools and parents, however, is that with such a variety of sugary drinks available on the high street though, it can sometimes be a struggle to encourage children to choose healthier drink alternatives.

With nationwide campaigns such as Change for Life, plus the sugar tax which has helped steer people away from high sugar content beverages, society is becoming increasingly aware of the health implications of too much sugar. Thankfully, the demand for less sugary drinks has resonated with manufacturers, and many new offerings are appearing on shop shelves across the country.

The key to the success of these low-sugar options with children has been flavour. By either sticking with flavours they already know and love, or by using recognisable flavours to conjure up an exciting twist, children are being inclined to try the healthier water-, milk- or oat-based drinks that are low in sugar.

“We are increasingly seeing that pupils are looking for more and more flavour from their soft drinks,” points out Isabelle Haynes, category manager for snacks and beverages at Bidfood. “With pupils now becoming increasingly exposed to a wider range of flavours combinations, simply offering an orange or blackcurrant flavoured drink will no longer suffice. Options like watermelon and lime or guava are familiar to young pupils in the foods they are consuming, and so it’s not a surprise that they are keen to see this variety reflected in their drinks options.”

One way to help break down these boundaries even further is to offer drinks that are not only full of flavour, exciting to look at too.

“For pupils, flavour comes top of their soft drinks wish list,” James Logan, commercial director at Refresco UK says. “Children like familiar flavours such as orange, apple and blackcurrant. Summer Fruits, for example, is a flavour growing in popularity, offering the familiar but with a bit more interest. Older children [also] want something more exciting, be it carbonation, interesting flavours or both.”

The idea of adding flavouring isn’t just contained to water-based drinks; milk or oat-based drinks can also be livened up with some fruitful flavours – so not only will they taste good, but they will also provide children with a source of energy, protein, calcium, vitamin A and riboflavin. Compared to standard milk, flavoured milks are popular with children – and if they are low in sugar then they tend to be popular with parents too!

“Parents have told us how hard it can be to find a healthy drink option that children want to drink out of home,” says a spokesperson from Yazoo. “Yazoo No Added Sugar is packed with all the benefits you find in milk – protein, calcium and vitamin B2 – and it comes in two tasty flavours; chocolate and strawberry, which children love.

“Generally, flavoured milk’s strong performance is in part due to the innovation within the market amplifying the benefits of milk,” a spokesperson from Yazoo continues. “As dairy drinks with more than 75% milk is exempt from the levy, this has raised the profile of category and served as a reminder to consumers and customers of the goodness of dairy drinks as a soft drink alternative to carbonated soft drinks.”

Health benefits
When it comes to cold drink offerings, older pupils tend to opt for drinks that have a ‘grown up’ feel or are unique in flavour; as a result, they are more likely to follow popular flavour and style trends available on the high street. As William Watkins, managing director at Radnor points out, this can create an issue for caterers, as they are suddenly faced with having to compete with local retail outlets.

“Pupils want an offering that doesn’t make them feel like they are in school,” Watkins explains. “Caterers have to compete with local retail outlets where pupils can buy an array of sugary drinks on the way to and from school, so it’s important to offer a drink that stands up to this competition from other brands but which delivers so much more.”

The challenge, as Watkins points out, is for producers to supply drinks which are sugar-free, meet school guidelines and have that something extra – whether this is an eye-catching design or an on-trend flavour.

Thankfully, one of the top trends for high-street drinks are smoothies and fruit juices, both of which have multiple health benefits. Not only are they full of nutrients and vitamins, but a single portion can count towards one of the ‘five-a-day’ fruit and veg intake.

Despite these benefits, schools don’t always offer a variety of fruit juice options for children. This can be because of compliancy concerns; however, there are fruit juices available on the market that are school compliant.

War on recycling
Other ways to get pupils excited and engaged with different flavour fruity drinks can also be achieved by focusing on branding, messaging and point-of-sale displays. School-compliant carbonated juice SUSO, for example, is currently having a packaging redesign to promote the fruitiness of its drinks.

However, it isn’t just the look and feel of the product that can sway pupil choices, but the sustainability factors of a brand too.

“The education sector wants more sustainable packaging and is moving away from single use plastic to canned drinks and cartons, and older children tend to be more conscious of environmental factors, so look for drinks in recyclable cans,” Logan explains.

For many pupils, the environment and sustainability are key issues that they feel strongly about, so schools should look to provide drinks which are sustainable and have recyclable packaging. As Watkins says, the biggest issue for soft drinks is the plastic debate.

“There are several options available to schools which deliver sustainability,” adds Watkins. “Packaging varieties such as RPET bottles, cans and Tetra are all sustainable forms of packaging and the savvy supplier will be able to provide all options.

“We feel recycling and how to effectively recycle is important both for the reduction of waste and the supply of recycled PET to enable producers to source recycled material for our bottles,” Watkins explains. “Our Radnor Fizz range comes in a 51% recycled bottle and the bottle itself is still 100% recyclable. Where caterers choose to take the banning plastic route there are alternatives available, such as drinks in cans, which can be an alternative to plastic.”

The focus on recycling is one shared by many suppliers, and this factor should always be considered when schools are deciding what drinks options to purchase.

“Where plastic bottles are offered, they should incorporate recycled PET and/or be light-weighted to reduce their environmental impact, and where cartons are provided make sure they are recyclable,” Logan suggests. “There are also legislative changes coming in during 2021 banning ban plastic straws attached to cartons. At Refresco, we’ve been trialling alternatives and will have paper straws available from the beginning of May.”

Moving away from plastic straws has also been adopted by Yazoo, which will be introducing bendable paper straw to its portfolio. The move is part of the FrieslandCampina pledge to replace more than 100 million plastic straws with a more sustainable paper version.

“We’ve worked really hard to develop and launch the UK’s first bendable paper straw,” says Chris Gardiner, customer development manager at Foodservice at FrieslandCampina. “It is made from FSC certified food safe paper that doesn’t soften too quickly when drinking, plus it’s long enough that it won’t fall into the carton before the drink is empty, making it perfect for children!”

The new recyclable straws, made from FSC certified paper, will be rolled out across Yazoo’s No Added Sugar/No Artificial Sweetener cartons from March. The company intends to remove 57,000 kilos of plastic straws by 2021 through this initiative.

With so many different flavour options, style options, and even recycle options now available, schools should hopefully be able to find the right solutions to meet their needs. Whether this is by having a wider range of water-based drinks, or by offering on-trend smoothies or drinks in sustainable packaging, whichever options are chosen, as long as children are hydrated throughout the day that is the main thing – and if you can fulfil their personal preferences at the same time then that is an added bonus.

Join the Juiceburst #NoNonsenseSkills campaign
Soft drink brand Juiceburst has launched the #NoNonsenseSkills campaign to help encourage the younger Gen-Z generation to take part in creative offline activities in their free time. According to the Common Sense Media report, teenagers are spending more than seven hours per day on screen media – not including time spent for school or homework – while children aged between eight and 12 spend an average of five hours a day.

“There can be a stereotype around young people that they are lazy and entitled,” says Carly Pacheco, senior brand manager at Juiceburst. “We know that this isn’t the case and want to use our social media channels as a force for good to show the world the incredible talent and skills of our consumers in a fun and innovative way. The goal is to get young people focussing on activities that bring them happiness and excitement, and the confidence to share their abilities.”

The #NoNonsenseSkills campaign began with the talents of 14-year-old Juiceburst ambassador Alice Lean. Alice, who has been skating since she was five years old and is the UK champion slalom skater, was spotted by the Juiceburst team, who then went in search for more talent in the younger generation. They quickly discovered a whole range of skills in the younger generation, from skating and dancing, to playing instruments and making slime! With this campaign, Juiceburst aims to give these talented youngsters the recognition they deserve and a platform for sharing these skills with the nation.

“The #NoNonsenseSkills campaign is unique in that it champions young people,” Pacheco adds. “We have partnered with a talented young animator for our campaign video and we are recruiting even more Gen-Z talent into our bank of Juiceburst ambassadors.”

One such ambassador is 13-year-old Reuben Best, who features in the campaign video with Alice. The Brighton-based wunderkind competes all over Europe in street dancing competitions and recently won the prestigious accolade of World Champion in Advance Solo in the Under 12s division.

“I loved working with Alice on the campaign and combining our skills,” Reuben says. “There is always such a great vibe in a skills battle. It’s amazing to be able to perform and show our talents to the world.”

The video can be watched online here