Students attending seven of Fairfax County’s 25 public high schools will see soft drinks replaced by healthier alternatives beginning this fall.
A “soda ban” is being piloted at Chantilly, Falls Church, Langley, Marshall and West Potomac high schools as well as Lake Braddock Secondary and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Regular soda products on sale to students through vending machines will be replaced by drinks such as diet and unsweetened teas, coconut water, V-8 Fusion Juice, SoBe Lifewaters, Gatorade, diet sodas and more. The shift is part of a School Board initiative headed by member Ryan McElveen (At-large).
“My goal is to show that these new offering would be able to bring in the same amount of revenue and the students will want them,” McElveen said.
Some of the high schools volunteered for the pilot, while others were chosen for geographic and demographic diversity.
“For example,” McElveen said, “at Marshall, Langley and TJ there was a ground swell of support for this.”
“We are not banning soda, but instead providing more outlets for non-soda alternatives. Students like variety,” said Even Glazer, principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Chantilly Principal Teresa Johnson said she has not received feedback yet about the program.
“I believe we were chosen because we are one of the high-volume after-school vending sites,” she said.
During the 2011-12 school year, more than 430,000 soft drinks were sold from 139 vending machines based in 28 school facilities, according to the Fairfax County Public School system. The machines included Pepsi and Coca-Cola products. Soda sales declined during the 2012-13 school year, with 334,500 sold.
Assuming all sodas were purchased by students, the average consumption rate would be less than one soft drink per student a month.
Soda machines are only turned on after school hours, and during weekends and holidays, according to school officials.
“There is a misconception that we’ve always sold soda. We never had during the regular school day,” said Penny McConnell, director of food and nutrition services. “We want to study whether [the ban] does have an impact on students. Some of those things –like coconut water—will cost more… [But] I think you have to pilot things to get feedback.”
On average, sodas from vending machines cost $1.50. Diet sodas will remain on sale for that price. Coconut water will cost $2.50, and ice teas and juices about $1.75.
The “soda ban” will not impact student and parent after-school fundraisers such as snack bars and booster clubs. At participating schools, 47 existing soda machines are being replaced by 37 new glass-front beverage machines.
Traditionally, Fairfax schools have received 50 percent of the profits from vending machines as part of a profit agreement with the vendor. The county schools’ food and nutrition services department donates a portion of their profits to high school sports scoreboard repairs.
In fiscal 2012, the schools received $114,604, which included $82,682 from the schools’ share of soda sale profits and $31,976 donated from food and nutrition services.
The “soda ban” pilot will also gather data on the impacts to school revenues.