Australia’s rich food and lolly history seen in 150-year-old Nestle archives

Australia’s lolly history is preserved the Nestle archives. Photo: Nestle In its first few decades, Milo was marketed as a food that could “sooth senses, induce sleep, and nourish the sick”. Photo: Nestle
Nanjing Night Net

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As a schoolgirl in the early ’70s, Toni Risson would buy a Cobber for a cent, nibble off the chocolate coating and try to make the chewy caramel last the half-hour wait for the train home.

“I see lollies as magic, as something that holds a very important place in our childhood memories,” said Ms Risson, a social history researcher. “It’s wonderful that lollies like Minties and Fantales with a rich and long history are still sold today.”

At the time, Cobbers, as well as its wrapped counterpart Fantales, was made by the historical Sydney lolly business Sweetacres, which passed through several hands before being acquired by Swiss conglomerate Nestle in the ’80s.

Having amassed a portfolio of Australian confectionery brands and products, Nestle chose to slap the Allen’s brand on Cobbers and Fantales, as well as on other Sweetacres products such as Minties and Jaffas.

“All the branding’s been mixed up, because the products with Allen’s branding aren’t the ones from the old Melbourne confectioner Allen’s, so it’s like a big sticky mess now,” said Ms Risson, who completed her PhD in Australian lollies.

For its 150th anniversary, Nestle has given Fairfax Media a peek into its extensive archives, which show how brand ownership, product packaging, advertising slogans and pricing have changed over many decades.

A price list from September 1992 reveals the price of a Fantales 300g “family” pack was $2.85, which today, taking inflation into account, would be $5.16.

Since the same product is now 40g bigger and sold at Coles for $5.50, shoppers are paying less for more.

It’s a similar story with Minties. The 1992 price list shows the size and price of a Minties “family” pack was the same as Fantales.

Fast forward to 2016, and the product is 70g heavier and available at Woolworths for $5. Taking inflation into account, this again means shoppers are now paying less for more.

“Minties were created by Sweetacres in 1922 and the famous line ‘It’s moments like these you need Minties’ is among the longest-running in advertising history,” said Ms Risson.

“Reading the wrapper, tearing the wrapper to make it as long as possible, putting a Mintie in the freezer to make it rock-hard or on the heater so it becomes soft, it’s all part of the cultural meaning of lollies.”

Price-wise, things are different with the 81-year-old chocolate-covered wafer Kit Kat. In 1992, a four-finger Kit Kat was 85¢, or in today’s terms, $1.54.

Consumers are now paying $2.20 for the same product, which has stayed the same shape and weight.

The rise may be explained by the world’s cocoa supplies running dangerously low and Nestle’s commitment in 2013 to only use sustainably-grown, UTZ-certified cocoa.

Grappling with the same cocoa issues, its rival Cadbury chose to shrink its chocolate bars by 10 per cent and keep prices stable so they’re still “affordable for families across Australia”.

In response to health concerns over sugar, Nestle a couple of years ago slashed the size of its rainbow Killer Python in half.

The powdered chocolate malt drink Milo was created by food scientist Thomas Mayne in 1934. In its first few decades, marketing materials show it was touted as a “fortified tonic food” that could “sooth senses, induce sleep, and nourish the sick”.

Tony Durante, Nestle’s 72-year-old barista trainer, recalls the days after school in the late ’50s when he stirred a spoonful of Milo into a cup of milk. He has worked for Nestle for more than 47 years.

“Of course you would always try and cheat a little bit, putting a wet spoon into the powder and sneaking in an extra scoop. My mum wasn’t very impressed,” he said with a laugh.

As it has for a long time, the Milo label features a child playing a sport. In recent years, reflecting ever-changing labelling laws, the daily intake guide has disappeared from the label and been replaced with the health star rating.

Recently, Nestle was accused of making Milo appear healthy by slapping on a 4.5 health star rating on the tin, when the product without the milk would only achieve a 1.5 star rating.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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