If you've had lunch at Papillion-LaVista or Westside schools, you may have noticed something out-of-ordinary on the food tray. The milk carton is a milk pouch.
“There aren't many dairy farms in Nebraska," said Dan Rice, General Manager of Prairieland Dairy. "In fact, there are less than 150 in the state today.”
When Dan Rice decided to merge his family farm with other Nebraska farms in the late 90's, the idea was to keep dairy farming around for future generations. “I have four children and three of them work with us. Originally I started with 27 cows. We've built up to 1,300 cows we're milking today.”
But those behind the dairy in Firth, Nebraska -- located a few miles south of Lincoln -- knew they'd have to do more than just be local to compete.
"We don't have the near the volume that the big guys do," said Rice, "So we have to be more efficient and find out other ways to compete and the pouch gave us the price advantage in order to do that.”
The Prairieland pouch is a plastic bag full of milk (white, chocolate or strawberry) that replaced the carton in 150 schools in Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado.
“They used to have cartons but now they have them in bags for some reason," said Norris School 3rd grader Jordan Tilford, who doesn't understand the economics of the school lunch.
But when we asked her to compare opening the pouch to the milk carton, she said: "It's easier – you wouldn't have to stick your finger in it – and it wouldn't hurt your nails so much.”
Two years ago when Norris Schools decided to go with the pouches, the worry was whether the children would have trouble using them. So administrators scheduled a training day. The kids had no problems, but the staff struggled.
The idea of jamming a straw anywhere in a bag of milk didn't seem strange for students.
Reporter: “Was it hard for people to accept the pouch? It's a lot different than a carton.”
Dan Rice: “People our age – it's hard for them to accept it because they're not used to it. But kids today are used to the Capri Suns – so they have no problem at all with the pouches.”
On average, a cow at Prairieland Dairy produces 10-gallons of milk a day.
"We control everything from the soil – to the feed and the cows – processing and taking it directly to the stores," said Rice.
For a farm which prides itself on reusing and recycling whatever it can – now it has milk pouches that fall into that category.
Husker athletes also used the pouches, according to Prairieland Dairy.
While the pouches are not available to buy at the grocery store – plans are in the works to have them on store shelves in the early part of 2016.