For those of us old enough to remember shopping in supermarkets when packaged foods had no nutritional information on them, it was kind of like trying to pick the healthier food option in the dark. It was guesswork.
The Tick front of pack labelling system was a pioneer. It commenced at a time when there was little to guide healthier food choices for shoppers. People were not nearly as aware or savvy about what ingredients made up packaged foods.
The Tick was the first of its kind in Australia. It took food reformulation seriously, and took up the cause of consumer rights by ensuring the inclusion of a Nutrition Information Panel on the back of all packaged foods. This was 13 years before it was mandated by the Food Standards Authority.
A year after Tick’s launch in 1989, 31 companies had earned the Tick for 140 products. Today more than 2,000 products carry the Tick across 80 food categories.
For over 26 years the Tick has been a recognised and trusted symbol. Tick has innovated the way people shop for food and helped improve the food people buy.
It was a bold public health initiative, the Tick program engaged the food industry to reduce trans fat levels. In 1997, Kellogg’s started reformulating 12 breakfast cereals to reduce sodium content. As a result, 235 tonnes of salt were removed annually from Australian cereals.
By 2005, all spreads with the Tick were virtually trans fat free. Tick also helped reformulate everyday food for all Australians. In 2013, approximately 16 tonnes of salt was removed from the food supply from the reformulation of pasta sauce alone.
Despite the perception by some, the Tick has never been bought, it was always earned.
The Heart Foundation has always recommended eating a diet of wholefoods first and foremost and reducing packaged and processed food. However the reality is that 35% of the energy Australians eat every day comes from discretionary food and drinks.
Over a quarter of a century, the Tick worked hard to earn the public’s trust. Our research showed the Tick was the most recognised logo on food in Australia. Around 2.8 million Australians looked for the Tick every day when they shopped for food.
And it is because the public trust us that we also recognise when it is time to step away from a program like the Tick to allow a more modern version to replace it.
The Heart Foundation was one of the groups that helped design the Federal Government’s Health Star Rating (HSR) system. It was specifically designed to guide consumers to healthier choices by providing information on the amount of energy, saturated fat, salt and sugar on the front of packaged foods. The uptake of the HSR sees more than 1500 products currently carrying the stars.
A government-led food reformulation program has proved highly successful in the UK where a 30% reduction in salt in the food supply has been achieved through reformulation efforts. This has resulted in a predicted saving of an extraordinary 9,000 lives a year from heart attacks and strokes.
The Heart Foundation sees great potential value in the HSR, particularly if implemented in a mandatory form, to assist consumers to make healthier and more informed choices into the future.
So, while Tick has served Australians exceedingly well over the last 26 years, the time is right to make the transition to a new system that better reflects community needs and expectations.
This in no way diminishes the very significant achievements of Tick, and the Heart Foundation is rightly proud of all that it stands for and represents.
While not perfect, no system ever is, as Australians and as consumers we are undoubtedly the better and healthier for its presence on shopping shelves over the course of the last two decades.
And that’s something truly worth celebrating.
Mary Barry is the National Heart Foundation CEO