Fonterra today announced that a pilot "Milk for Kiwis" scheme would be trialled in Northland schools next year and if it was successful would be rolled out in schools across the country in 2013.
"Milk is an important block for good nutrition. We want kiwi kids to grow up drinking milk because it is for good for them," Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said at the announcement in Auckland today.
Spierings said New Zealand dietary guidelines recommended schoolchildren drink at least two-three servings of milk per day.
The Northland pilot will cover 110 schools and 14000 children.
The price of milk has been a hot topic, and a Consumer NZ commissioned survey this year of 1000 people found 91 per cent thought they were paying a high price for milk compared with other staples.
According to Statistics New Zealand the average price for two litres of standard milk in November was $3.67 - 1.4 per cent and 16.1 per cent higher than the same time last year and in 2009 respectively.
Fonterra partnered with Sanitarium in 2009 to provide free school breakfasts, and nearly half of decile one to four schools served meals to students up to twice a week in that programme.
Under a scheme that ran from 1937 to 1967 half a pint of milk was given to all schoolchildren every day, after the government decided to improve health and help use excess milk.
Spierings said in September that the dairy giant would take a fresh look at retail milk prices because of a perception they were too high.
Manaia Health PHO executive Chris Farrelly said the announcement "indicates a significant gesture from Fonterra to alleviate some of the impacts of child poverty".
"I truly believe that they [Fonterra] have a genuine interest in the children of New Zealand and what they are doing gives them mana in their own country and mana throughout the world."
Farrelly likened the move to Christmas present under a tree.
"We know it's looking good, we want to get the details but it will be unwrapped tomorrow," he said.
Whangarei mother Alesha Standing, whose children Wyatt, 5, and Cameron, 7, go to Whangarei Primary School, applauded the idea.
"It's really good, especially since a lot of kids miss out on milk because they can't afford it. If Fonterra and the schools help make up for that, it would be great," she said.