This article was significantly expanded and updated on March 17, 2013.
Projections from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicate that the country's total K-12 enrollment will increase 7 percent over the next decade, a reliable indicator of demand for foodservices in the nation's schools. At the same time, more of that growth will occur in the lower grades (see chart) in the near term.
For 2013, K-12 foodservice sales are projected to grow 2.0 percent in nominal terms, according to Technomic, the Chicago-based consulting organization. USDA statistics show that most of that growth is coming in the free and reduced meal category (more on that in a moment).
Regional & Demographic Trends
Regional and demographic population shifts are also having a major impact in terms of where growth occurs. Comparing its 2021 forecast to 2010 numbers, NCES says K-12 enrollments will be lower in ten states and the District of Columbia.
Regionally, NCES says enrollment in public elementary and secondary education will increase two percent in the Northeast and Midwest over the same period, while enrollment in the South will increase nine percent and in the West, 13 percent (see map).
In terms of demographics, the percentage of white students will decline two percent; the percentage of black students will increase five percent; the percentage of Hispanic students will increase 24 percent; and the percentage of students who are from two or more races will increase 34 percent.
These and other trends are covered in more detail in the NCES report, "Projections of Education Statistics to 2021." (You can download a full copy of the report, just released in January, here.)