Local supplier steps up to the plate in delivering product that meets school canteen guidelines

The importance of ensuring good nutrition for growing children is what sparked the creation of the school canteen ‘traffic light’ system, and this has led to the gradual removal of many readymade products which were once commonplace in canteens.


But even these days, with more and more canteens preparing a wider range of healthy meals from scratch, canteen managers still look to food manufacturers and suppliers to provide at least some of the products that their canteen stocks.


These can be complete meals or they can simply be snacks or drinks. In any case, food suppliers today need to conform to the stringent nutritional guidelines that the canteen market expects, in order to create products that suit.


The most proactive of these suppliers have risen admirably to this challenge. One example is the Slush Puppie Naturals range of ‘slushie’ drinks, which uses a base syrup made of 99 per cent fruit nectar which is then mixed with natural flavours – ensuring no artificial colours or flavours within the range.


“We try to do a range of flavours in line with different fruits, rather than confectionery or soft drink style flavours,” adds Anthony Hartigan of Slush Puppie. “So, rather than cola or fairy floss or bubble gum, we’ll offer flavours like forest fruit, sour apple and tango berry.”


Anthony says fruit flavours appeal to parents, but it’s important to put a ‘spin’ on their presentation in order to engage the kids.


As an Australian owned and operated company, Slush Puppie sources all its produce ingredients locally for its slushies, and is proud of the fact that it offers “probably the healthiest slushies on the market”.


“If you were to put the nutritional chart of a fresh apple juice or orange juice up against our products, they’re very similar in sugar, fruit content and so on. We have no added or refined sugar in our slushies – it’s all the natural sugar from the fruit. Our flavours are quite sour in themselves, and need to be mixed with the base to create the overall end product.”


Slush Puppie’s Naturals range was launched in 2014 and was specifically designed for the school market. Anthony explains: “When Smart Choices and Healthy Kids were launched in Queensland and NSW respectively, we realised schools wanted a healthier product. The perception of slushies wasn’t that healthy, so we are trying to re-educate the market – that this can be a healthy product, it contains the vitamins and minerals kids need within it.


“When we launched in 2014, the Naturals range was designed to meet the new canteen guidelines that were coming in across all states, so our aim was to move with the market in coming up with this.”


Anthony worked on the Naturals project since joining the business back in 2013 and emphasises “it’s something that dear to my heart – I believe we need healthier options, but we mustn’t take out the fun and engagement that kids have with the brand, as that’s part of the ‘feel good’ aspect of it.


“As a business that’s been around for 40 years, it’s pivotal for Slush Puppie that we stay ahead of market trends while at the same time meeting the guidelines of what’s required. Forty years ago there wasn’t a requirement for a healthy slush, but the market has moved and it’s critical that we can deliver a product to kids with a brand that they feel is engaging and that they can connect with, so they still feel they’re getting a treat. At the same time, we’ve created a product that meets the nutritional criteria.”


Anthony says part of the appeal of the product range is its natural colouring: “Our slushies are not hyper bright in intensity – they’re not rich blues or reds or greens, because they are made with all natural ingredients, so they have a more natural look about them. Our 99 per cent juice base always has a slightly amber tone to it, due to the apple juice which we use in it.


“A lot of our competitors try to make their colours ‘pop’ by deionising their base syrup – this strips the vitamins and minerals out of the base, and all you’re left with is natural sugar and water. So you’re taking out the natural goodness along with the ability for the product to oxidise. When fruit oxidises, it goes darker in colour as time goes on – so a deoxidised base will stay light in colour, but it’s not really meeting the spirit of the canteen guidelines.


“We don’t believe a deionised product is appropriate for school canteens so we don’t use one.”


Slush Puppie Naturals was launched with six flavours but two have since been replaced. “We introduced Cloudy Lemon which is based on a traditional lemonade, and Tangy Berry which is a sour berry mix. This has given us two tangy/sour flavours which we know kids love.”


Anthony says that canteens managers, once educate about what Slush Puppie is trying to achieve with its flavour range, have responded well. “We’ve got good traction although we’ve had a lot of hoops to jump through. The main challenge is educating parents on the product – people are looking for the healthier options for their kids, but they are understandably sceptical about the use of the word ‘natural’.


“So we need to educate them about what we are putting in to the slushies and what we do with the base behind the flavour. That’s why we’ve created a special Slush Puppie Naturals logo – where you see this logo you know we’re working with school groups like QAST and Healthy Kids and we’ve got an approved product that’s been tested and meets the certification guidelines.”