Hundreds of pupils will arrive at school on Monday to find the breakfast they have come to rely on is no longer available.

The last of the free Red Cross breakfasts were served at the end of last term, bringing to an end a popular programme which has provided more than 720,000 breakfasts for thousands of children during the past five years.

Red Cross national operations manager Wendy Potter said it was a "great programme" which ran in 61 decile 1 schools.

But there was no option but to close it down after its sponsor, the Countdown supermarket chain, decided to "move on".

"We are sad that we couldn't find another provider for it but we are also pleased that there is an option for the school to take up KickStart."

Although a majority of participating schools have switched to the KickStart Breakfast Club that Fonterra and Sanitarium sponsor, 12 have decided to go it alone, meaning many of their pupils will no longer get any breakfast.

Children at the 49 schools that have joined KickStart will also have fewer and smaller breakfasts than before, as it provides cereal and milk only twice a week.

The Red Cross programme was daily, also included toast and spreads, and arranged volunteers to help serve the food.

Countdown spokesman Luke Schepen said the company had given more than $1 million in food and other help to the Red Cross since the programme began in 2007.

But the supermarket chain was changing its priorities.

"We had a good partnership, but we are looking at developing a new programme that features the needs of the broader community."

The pullout decision, announced in May, prompted child poverty campaigners to urge the Government to take over feeding hungry children in low-income areas. But National and Labour both dismissed that idea.

KickStart has provided two million breakfasts since it started in 2008.

Fonterra's director of external relations, Kelvin Wickham, said the KickStart Breakfast Club was keen to welcome the Red Cross schools into its programme.

More than 18,400 children from 488 decile1 to 4 schools are now participating in the programme.