Lisa Birrell: One delicious Valley partnership

FresnoJune 22, 2014 

Creamy, delicious chocolate milk — it's a favorite of more than 1 million school children in our Valley every week.

That's why when Fresno Unified School District approached Richie Shehadey, Producers Dairy director of sales and marketing, concerned that their students' favorite chocolate milk was too high in sugar content, he took notice. From there, a partnership between big dairy and big district formed to benefit the most important citizens of Fresno County — our children.

Research shows that adequate nutrition, especially from birth through age 5, is essential for children to achieve developmental milestones. For many of them, that cool sip of milk at lunchtime is the healthiest thing they consume all day.

As a local business, Producers Dairy recognized it could make a change in its product that will help in the fight against childhood obesity, while at the same time supplying needed nutrition for physical, mental and educational growth.

For more than 80 years and three generations of the Shehadey family, Producers Dairy has provided the Central Valley with high-quality dairy products. Over time, the industry has evolved to meet the needs of consumers. White milk became chocolate and strawberry to appeal to schoolchildren with a sweet tooth. And Producers followed down that chocolatey road until about a year ago, when it decided it was time to take a stand and make a change.

The seeds of this change were planted in 2011 during The Great Chocolate Milk Debate, when nutritional experts in our nation started to weigh the value of wholesome milk flavored with chocolate versus the toll it takes on our kids in extra calories and sugar. Children need the calcium, protein, potassium, Vitamin D and five other key nutrients milk contains, but when does it veer from a dietary pillar to a dessert?

As the experts at Producers Dairy followed the debate and considered the ingredients of their own chocolate milk, Fresno Unified School District's Food Services Director Jose Alvarado entered the picture. His concern for the health and welfare of the students in his district put Producers' plans into high gear and in less than one year Producers reformulated its Fat Free Chocolate Milk twice. This new 8-ounce carton now contains 20 fewer calories and five fewer grams of sugar per serving than its predecessor. This equates to a reduction of more than one tablespoon of sugar per half pint. The improvements won't stop there. Producers is currently working to modify the formula even further to reduce its sodium content.

From sharing the Producers story, I hope other businesses and community members will ask themselves, "What can I do to make positive changes for the future of our children?" Sometimes large-scale changes come from corporations with a local heart like Producers Dairy, who believe we all have a responsibility to be stewards of our community's success.

I encourage every business to think about ways they can positively impact our school districts from donating backpacks filled with supplies to mentoring students to sponsoring PTA events — the list of needs is endless.

Individuals can help, too. Volunteer in your child's classroom. Donate books to your school library. If you're still not sure what action to choose, there's a great opportunity available now to sponsor a child's summer learning experience through The Children's Movement.

We know how important reading is to our children. Many families can't afford to buy books, so here's a worthwhile chance to help a child at risk for summer learning loss. For your $20 sponsorship, the child and a parent or guardian will receive a ticket to the June 29 Fresno Grizzlies home game summer learning celebration, including a bag filled with books, a reading journal and a parent guide on how to support his or her child's literacy. Please visit for more information and to sponsor a child.

There is need in our schools for partnerships with business and community members. Open your eyes and your heart, become engaged and you will find your own sweet ending — with or without sugar.


Lisa Birrell is communications and public relations officer for the Fresno County Office of Education.

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