by Marion Nestle
Jun 10 2010

Mead-Johnson withdraws Chocolate toddler formula: Meaningful or just PR?

Mead Johnson announced yesterday that it was withdrawing its Enfagrow Chocolate Toddler Formula–just the Chocolate version–from the market:

Like all our Enfagrow Premium products, the recently introduced chocolate-flavored version has a superior nutritional profile to many other beverages typically consumed by toddlers — including apple juice, grape juice, and similarly flavored dairy drinks. Unfortunately, there has been some misunderstanding and mischaracterization regarding the intended consumer for this product and the proper role it can play in a child’s balanced diet. The resulting debate has distracted attention from the overall benefits of the brand, so we have decided to discontinue production of Enfagrow Premium chocolate toddler drink and phase it out over the coming weeks.

I can’t resist quoting the Chicago Tribune’s explanation of the origin of the debate caused by “misunderstanding and mischaracterization:”

Introduced in February, the chocolate-flavored formula was widely criticized in the blogosphere after Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote that the drink would lead children to crave sugary beverages on her influential blog, www.foodpolitics.com.

Influential?  Maybe, but it seems that my comments on this formula did not go nearly far enough.  Mead-Johnson may be withdrawing the Chocolate version, but it is keeping the Vanilla (as explained by Susan James on ABCNews.com, which also quotes me).

What’s the difference?  The Vanilla has exactly one gram less sugar than the Chocolate, 18 grams per 6-ounce serving, rather than 19 grams.  In contrast, the milk in my refrigerator has 9 grams of sugar (natural, not added) in 6 ounces.

Clearly, Mead-Johnson doesn’t get that it’s the sugars, stupid.

Why do I think this is a PR stunt?  Three reasons:

  • The Vanilla doubles the sugars in regular milk.
  • The Vanilla has the same health claims as the Chocolate: growth, brain development, and immunity.
  • Mead-Johnson’s stock went up after the announcement.

One more time: Where are the FDA and FTC on this product?  This Immunity claim is no different from the one on Kellogg’s Krispies cereals that the FTC went after a couple of days ago.

Tomorrow: Some speculation on why the FDA is reluctant to take on things like this.

Addition, June 11: Here is Melanie Warner’s take on this on her BNet Food Industry blog site (she quotes my post).

  • http://www.andrealeigh.com Andrea Leigh

    It’s like 50 said… this is why you’re hot:

    “Introduced in February, the chocolate-flavored formula was widely criticized in the blogosphere after Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote that the drink would lead children to crave sugary beverages on her influential blog, http://www.foodpolitics.com.”

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  • Jack

    Just a PR stunt by them. It remains shameful that they’ve kept the vanilla formula on the market. Well, shameful they ever produced either product. But shameless greed with no accountability…that sums up Corporate America.

  • http://www.becomingmamas.com Holly

    Great post! I, too, thought it was pretty ridiculous that they kept the vanilla flavored one (or that they are even allowed to market toddler “formula” at all!). Apparently, only the chocolate flavor received the headlines. We blogged about this yesterday, too.

  • http://www.StopBloggingAndCook.com Joy

    Way to go, Marion! Influence by thinking individuals has it’s rewards, and this is just one example.

    I agree with you, Jack, on three points: PR, shameful, and shameful in the first place. So, one down, 34 million to go in getting sugary food products that masquerade as food off of the shelves. Information and public discourse IS power.

  • Anthro

    Let’s hope your “powerful influence” (who knew? I thought we on this blog were lonely little champions of public health) will wipe out the vanilla flavor as well.

    I eagerly await tomorrows post regarding the lethargy of the FDA!

  • http://turdacres.wordpress.com Edwina

    Awesome news! The power of the blogosphere and the little guy–woo hoo! I’ll take it. Interesting that vanilla stays, for now. Looks like milk in the transparent bottle? We seem to accept that–as in the starbucks it’s not a milkshake it’s a coffee therefore ok thing.

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  • amanda

    oh jeez, it’s called moderation, people…. my 13 month old son enjoys a small (2-3 oz) cup of the chocolate stuff with his meals. the rest of the time he has either water or breastmilk. trust me, you can pull the enfangrow brand and those same people you’re worried about will go on feeding their infants and toddlers real chocolate milk, mt dew in bottles, and hot dogs. it ain’t the products it’s the parents

  • amanda

    i had to post again just because this whole thing irritates me… just because a bunch of upper class stay at home soccer moms that drive around in their hybrid mini vans that run on electricity, water, and smug self satisfaction get together and decide that they don’t anything as purely evil as chocolate passing the lips of their little elitist, my child who enjoys the taste of this stuff now can’t have it. ya know what, a little taste of chocolate isn’t gonna hurt them. teach them that certain things, most things, are best when enjoyed in moderation. i watch people scream at 10 month old babies, drag toddlers w/ black eyes screaming through toy stores, blow smoke in children’s faces cuz it’s cute when they cough, and on and on and on. i know there’s plenty of people that love nothing more than coming home from a long hard day filling out welfare forms to sexually assault some infants. so ya know what, if wanna lobby to make a real difference, leave the damn toddler chocolate alone and do something that actually matters. why not volunteer to mentor new parents, lobby for money for CPS so it’s not one under paid caseworker per thousand cases, something real. maybe put down your picket sign, turn off the damn baby Einstein, go outside and play w/ your kids, hell mix up a glass of toddler chocolate to share, maybe they’ll like it because chocolate isn’t even close to being the biggest problem around, it’s not even a starting point… and ya know what, baby Einstein ain’t that bad either, in moderation, and as long as you don’t really believe that it’s make your kids any smarter and it’s not a substitute for human contact but some of that music sure is catchy

  • Jake Jones

    A lady was just arrested for drunk driving on Vanilla extract. We’re easing kids into boozin’ early.