The Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG) has announced new multi-industry voluntary agreement that brings together leading food manufacturers, group purchasing organizations and technology companies to help America’s schools serve healthier meals at more affordable prices.
AdvancePierre Foods, Domino’s Pizza, JTM Food Group, McCain Foods USA, Rich Products Corp., Schwan’s Food Service, Trident Seafoods, HPS, Premier Healthcare Alliance, Summa/Provista, Interflex, Dole Food Co., Inc., and the National Turkey Federation have joined the effort to combat childhood obesity by agreeing to develop, market and competitively price products that will lead to healthier school meal options; streamline the ordering process; and make identifying healthy options easier.
“With students consuming up to half of their daily calories at school, healthy school meals are key to winning the fight against childhood obesity,” says Former President Bill Clinton, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, which co-founded AHG in partnership with the American Heart Association (AHA). “Building on our agreements that have reduced the number of calories in beverages shipped to schools by 88 percent, the Alliance is now focusing on helping provide more nutritious meal options to more than 30 million school children nationwide.”
The participating manufacturers pledge not to price healthy options out of reach of school cafeterias. Signatories will set prices for healthier items that meet the AHG’s science-based standards for nutrition at prices no higher than less healthy comparable products. Participating manufacturers have also pledged to increase the sales of compliant products to least 50 percent of their entire school sales within five years.
The manufacturers have also committed to aggressively promote products that align with the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program standards and will help schools meet or exceed the requirements currently being finalized by the USDA. Product commitments fall in at least one of the following categories within the Alliance’s science-based guidelines for school foods:
• Lean protein products, such as lean red meat, skinless poultry, lean deli meats, fat-free or low-fat cheese, beans, and tofu;
• Low-fat lunch entrées with reduced total fat, saturated fat and sodium levels;
• Whole-grain products, such as bread, pasta and pizza crust;
• Fresh, canned or frozen fruit;
• Non-fried vegetables;
• Zero trans fat cooking oils.
“Increased access and lower prices to purchase healthy meal components makes it easier for schools to offer healthier school meals—a key strategy to help combat childhood obesity and to move students and staff toward ideal cardiovascular health,” says AHA President Ralph Sacco, MD, who is also chairman of the department of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.
Schools can also save time and gain buying power by joining a group purchasing organization (GPO). With today’s agreement, three of the largest GPOs in the U.S.—HPS, Premier Healthcare Alliance and Summa/Provista—have agreed to offer products that meet the Alliance’s nutritional guidelines. By applying their consolidated buying power model to America’s schools, the GPOs can effect a savings of 10 to 20 percent in their food and beverage purchases for participating schools, the AHG claims.
In order to help schools take the first step in changing their purchasing process, the Alliance is collaborating with the technology firm Interflex to create an online tool that streamlines the procurement process by assisting schools with planning, bidding and purchasing healthier products. Dole Food Company, Inc. and the National Turkey Federation have also agreed to leverage their tools and resources to support schools in their implementation of this new approach to school meals.
“Today is just the beginning," says AHG Executive Director Ginny Ehrlich. "The food manufacturer, group purchasing and technology agreements are just three components of the Alliance’s larger healthier school meals strategy with the goal of impacting more than 30 million students within a five year period.”
Additional components in the Alliance’s school meals strategy to support food service professionals being launched over the next year will include in-person and online training programs, menu planning and cooking techniques and recipes from celebrity chefs to school food service staff.
The USDA recently released its proposed rule for nutrition standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. To help schools more easily navigate AHG and USDA standards, the AHG says it will update its guidelines to meet or exceed the final rule.
Parents, school administrators and food service directors can join AHG’s Healthy Schools Program online at www.healthiergeneration.org  at no cost. Members will get access to hundreds of resources, including a variety of free technical tools that enable anyone who makes purchasing decisions about school meals to implement and promote healthier options for students.