Big brand food manufacturers are gearing up for major changes to school food criteria this month.

Potato products supplier McCain Foods said it was expecting its canteen sales to be hit, while rumours emerged that Nestlé was to withdraw from vending in schools completely.

An industry source told The Grocer that Nestlé saw no other option in light of government plans to allow only vending of nuts and seeds without added fat, sugar or salt, and a variety of fresh and prepared fruit and vegetables. "Food vending will disappear in schools," he added.

Nestlé denied it had already decided to pull the plug, but a spokeswoman for the company admitted it was reviewing all aspects of its school vending business because of the very narrow range of products allowed.

She said: "We have consistently argued for a nutritional, rather than food-based, approach to school food outside lunch.

"Nestlé Refuel machines are an innovative solution to healthier vending which offer a range of healthier foods, such as pretzels, fruit bars, dairy snacks, popcorn and rice cakes.Unfortunately, the standards set by government mean that only a few of these products will be sold in schools."

Jan Podsiadly, communications manager for the Automatic Vending Association, said he believed that brand manufacturer-run vending operations, such as those of Nestlé and Masterfoods, would be hit hard as there were not sufficient products on the list of allowed foods to fill the machines. "This just means children will stock up before or after school," he added.

Meanwhile, McCain Foods' corporate affairs director Bill Bartlett said the company was still holding out for the government to rethink its plans on school meals.

Despite McCain oven chips meeting FSA standards of less than 5% fat and 1% saturated fat, the government has decided that the brief deep frying which the chips undergo during manufacturing puts them in the same bracket as those deep fried from scratch.

"It's a catch-all situation. Reducing fat is something we support, but this has precluded our healthier efforts," said Bartlett.