Schools will be left with a shortage of healthy drink and snack options this month because manufacturers have not developed new products in time, industry figures have warned.
They claim producers have reacted too slowly to the Government's new nutritional standards, announced in May.
Simon James, managing director of school caterer Eden Foodservice, said: "It's unfortunate that manufacturers have sat back and waited for the standards. It means that some products will only come on line later in the school year."
The view was supported by Kevin Taylor, area catering manager for senior schools at local authority caterer Devon Direct Services.
"They made the mistake of holding out for the rules to be made more flexible," he said. "They had a problem when hardline rules restricted drinks to water, milk and pure fruit juices."
According to Taylor, a drop in income for caterers at the start of the school year is inevitable. "But it would be less of a drop if there was a wider range of healthy products out there," he said.
Gary Stewart, managing director of Catering Management Consultants, said the Government's eleventh-hour announcement of the nutritional standards meant many products wouldn't be ready in the first crucial weeks.
He said drinks manufacturers Calypso and Spring Cool had struggled to meet the September deadline, while Coca-Cola had failed to replace its Coke and Diet Coke with healthy alternatives.
Spring Cool sales director Simon Beale conceded the last five months of hurried product development had been "a nightmare", and said about a fifth of its new products would not be ready this month. But he expects turnover to double to about £56m next year because of the shortage of healthy products available.
Calypso denied any of its products would not be ready, while a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Enterprises insisted that the company has responded to changes in the rules quickly to ensure its product range reached caterers in time for the start of the school year.
"To limit confusion with schools and caterers we also made the decision to provide a limited range both during and outside of school lunch periods from this September," she said. "The range includes Minute Maid 100% Juice Orange and Apple, Capri Sun 100% Juice Orange and Apple, Appletiser and our Malvern water brand".
By Tom Bill
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