CHOICE says powdered milk marketing is “outlandish”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 16th July 2014
CHOICE says powdered milk marketing is “outlandish”
CHOICE says powdered milk marketing is “outlandish”

Consumer group CHOICE has claimed that Aspen, Nestle and Nutricia are targeting unsuspecting parents with costly “junior milk” products, which it said make a range of “outlandish nutritional claims and offer few benefits to healthy toddlers”.

Many products in the $229 million a year formula market are designed to appeal to parents of older children, however CHOICE said many of the products were “unnecessary” after a child turns one and that many parents would not be aware that this was the case.

While the marketing of infant formula for children under one is banned under a World Health Organisation Code, there is no restriction on manufacturers such as Nestle and Aspen advertising toddler and junior milks for babies over 12 months.

“We believe the branding of toddler and junior milk is too similar to infant formula, and acts as proxy advertising for all types of formula,” said Kate Browne, CHOICE journalist.

“Older children should be able to meet their nutritional requirements from eating a healthy diet without special toddler milks,” Ms Browne said. “Nutrients in these formulas such as iron, omega-3 and prebiotics can be obtained from a healthy diet of meat, fish, wholegrain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables,” she said.

When it came to nutritional claims, Ms Brown said CHOICE found Nestle’s NAN toddler milks claimed to “support your toddler’s digestive immune system”, while Aptamil toddler and junior milks promised to “nutritionally support your child’s immune system and brain development”.

“While the claims might sound great to some parents, they don’t really mean anything,” Ms Browne said.

“Perhaps the worst offender is Aspen who advertises its S26 toddler milk with the claim it’s the ‘perfect mix of science and love’,” Ms Browne said. “However, they have a different message for retailers, ‘keep mums buying even after their little ones turn two’,” she said.

“It’s clear food companies are cashing in on parents who are trying to nurse their pre-schoolers through the seemingly never-ending cycle of colds and tummy bugs,” Ms Browne said. “What they don’t tell you is you’d be better off concentrating on developing better eating habits for your child,” she said.

Ms Browne said the branding on pack was also confusing with large 3 and 4 figures depicted by the age panel that had “nothing to do with the age of the child the product is designed for”.

“They seem to be there to deliberately confuse parents,” Ms Browne said.

“It’s really important toddlers become familiar with foods and formulas shouldn’t replace a healthy diet in toddlers,” Ms Browne said. “Given most healthy one-year olds are capable of drinking cow’s milk there is very little point paying a lot more for powdered supplements,” she said.

Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula

In Australia, the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formulas (MAIF) agreement is a voluntary self-regulatory code of conduct between manufacturers and importers of infant formula.  The code was developed in response to the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes 1981 (WHO Code), which includes a ban on the advertising and promotion of infant formulas.

National Health and Medical Research Council formula guidelines

The National Health and Medical Research Council Infant Feeding Guidelines state:

  • Toddler milks and special and/or supplementary foods for toddlers are not required for healthy children
  • From 12 months of age and beyond, toddlers should be consuming family foods consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines
  • Solid foods should provide an increasing proportion of the energy intake after 12 months of age.

Types of formula and milk

  • Infant formula is designed for babies under six month who are not being breastfed
  • Follow-on formula is marketed as a “second-step” product for infants aged 6-12 months that, like infant formula, is designed for babies who are not being breastfed
  • Toddler milk is for children aged 12 months and older
  • Junior milk is for children two years and older

Aspen Nutritionals Australia responds

Aspen Nutritionals Australia Pty Ltd told Australian Food News that it “supports the promotion and protection of breastfeeding and is committed to complying with the Marketing in Australia of infant formula (MAIF) Agreement that prohibits advertising of infant and follow-on formula (0-12 months) to consumers”.

The Company said that its S-26 Gold Toddler and S-26 Gold Junior products were formulated supplementary foods for young children aged 1 to 3 years and were regulated in the Food Standards Code. It said toddler milk drinks were based on cow’s milk and were “formulated to provide key nutrients and energy”.

“They can provide an alternative to cow’s milk, providing choice to mums who are looking for a supplementary milk drink for their child,” an Aspen spokesperson told Australian Food News.

“Solid foods and the family diet should be the major source of nutrition for toddlers,” the spokesperson said. “As toddler milk drinks are designed as a supplement the suggested feeding guide on pack is no more than 1-2 serves per day. Toddler milk drinks, also known as ‘growing up milks’, are widely available and consumed globally,” they said.

Aspen Nutritionals said it maintained its advertising of toddler and junior milk drinks to consumers “is ethical and appropriately targeted to parents of children over 1 year of age”.

The Company said advertising of these products is permitted as they are a separate food category and intended as a supplementary milk drink when children’s intake of energy and nutrient may not be adequate.

“The imagery and props used in all advertising is deliberately considered to accurately reflect the toddler age group,” the spokesperson said. “In addition, any nutrient claims made about our products are compliant with the Food Standards Code,” they said.

“We agree that not all toddlers need toddler and junior milk drinks,” the spokesperson said. “These products are available as a food supplement to a child’s diet when they are not getting the nutrition they need,” they said.

“We acknowledge that ideally toddlers should be eating a balanced diet in line with the NHMRC Australian dietary guidelines,” the spokesperson said. “However, depending on the adequacy of their diet, toddlers can be at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Therefore toddler milk drinks can play a role in supporting their nutritional needs. Scientific studies have supported the efficacy of fortified toddler milk to improve the iron stores  and vitamin D adequacy  in toddlers,” they said.