Milo backs down on Heart Foundation tick

BY DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 26/04/2009

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Milo is dumping the Heart Foundation "tick" just eight months after the sweet chocolate drink first won its status as a "healthy" food choice.

Nestle's hasty withdrawal from the tick programme, by not renewing its licence, is an embarrassment for the food manufacturer and the foundation, and is seen as a carefully managed climb-down by both parties.

Nestle corporate services manager Maurice Gunnell confirmed last week it would remove the tick from Milo's packaging over the next few months.

"We just decided to pursue a different strategy... [The tick] served its purpose," he said.

The iconic drink was the subject of a national television advertising campaign last August, which boasted shoppers could now "say yes" to Milo because it had the tick. But outrage erupted as nutritionists pointed out the drink is almost half sugar.

Although the formula for the sweet, chocolatey powder remained unchanged, new information on packages stated that it deserved the tick when made with 200ml of trim milk and three level teaspoons (15g) or less of Milo powder.

"Milo made with trim milk always met the tick criteria. We were promoting using trim milk we were comfortable with it," Gunnell told the Sunday Star-Times.

However, many nutritionists said that the claim was misleading because the powder was 47.6% sugar and few people limited the amount to the supposed healthy level.

According to the foundation's website, Milo is the only product of about 1000 approved foods with a specified serving size to gain the tick. The foundation hands out ticks to foods that meet certain criteria, meaning it is a healthier choice compared to similar foods, but food manufacturers pay it to join the tick programme, passing on from 0.1% to 0.25% of sales to the foundation.

Obesity Action Coalition chairwoman Bronwen King said the coalition was appalled that a half-sugar powder got the tick in the first place. She was not surprised at its dumping of the tick.

"We were contacted by many nutritionists, other health professionals and members of the public with similar views. It caused many people to question the value of the tick, which is a pity, because currently it is the only labelling system the general public have to help them make healthy choices when purchasing food.

"OAC feels that giving Milo the tick has... devalued the tick brand."

Gunnell agreed negative comments had been made about Milo gaining the tick, but stressed it met the foundation's criteria.

Instead of public pressure, he blamed the economic recession for the change, which would mean Milo's packaging would get a "tweaking".

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At the time the tick was awarded, the foundation's medical director, Professor Norman Sharpe, said it was prepared for flak over the decision.

"There clearly is a downside when it's consumed in too large an amount, but it's the real world, and I think it's better that we make the recommendation in a positive way and educate people about the benefits of this product with trim milk as a healthy milk drink," he said.

In Australia, standard Milo does not have the tick but a low-sugar version of Milo, Milo B-Smart, has gained approval. Gunnell said there was no plan to introduce Milo B-Smart powder, which has 25% less total sugars and less fat, to New Zealand.

- Sunday Star Times

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