Many of us have used the healthy heart tick to help us choose items when we shop that were meant to be lower in sodium and better for the heart but this little tick has officially announced its retirement, and will be replaced with a new Healthy Star rating scheme. Maybe it’s a PR stunt with the tick having run its life-cycle. Maybe it has suffered brand damage after McDonalds was able to use it. Or maybe it’s just time. As it happens, we want to talk about how this little tick has changed your shopping behaviours and whether you think it is for the better that we are seeing the back of it?
Remember back to 1989, and you might consider the fact that back then there was no nutritional information on food. You had no way to know whether your baked beans were bad or good, and no way to analyse. The world has changed a lot since then, and the little tick is one of the first triggers some say. But with its departure will come a lot more information, keeping in line with the demands of consumers to stay one step ahead of their nutrition. The new scheme, called the Healthy Star Rating System is for labelling of food to more clearly assist consumers in making healthy choices in shopping for processed food.
The Heart Tick will stay with us for the next couple of years, gradually being retired in favour of the new scheme and hopefully some of the controversy will retire with it.
You see, the tick was a commercial project as much as it was a nutritional one. Food manufacturers had to pay a fee to use the tick.
Dr Rosemary Stanton was not impressed. “I was critical because people had to pay for it, and it was always described as ‘we earned the tick’, as if you were selected.” she said to the ABC.
“The Heart Foundation didn’t just look at the products and say ‘this is a good one and give it a tick’. People had to apply and if their product rated well enough, and they paid the money, then they got the tick.”
Because of this, there was a lot of furore about the tick and that products that might not have wanted to pay for the endorsement would be overlooked by it for their lack of commercial desire. The tick drove a lot of purchasing, sometimes of products that were not quite as healthy as others, but consumers were none the wiser.
But it is important to note that people couldn’t just directly “buy” the tick. A company had to apply for the nutritional qualification then pay the fee to use the Heart Foundation endorsement.
“People had the perception, and we had to live with the perception, that the tick could be bought. But it couldn’t be bought because if you didn’t meet the nutrient criteria, you did not qualify for the tick,” said Ms Barry from the Heart Foundation.
But it started to change people’s behaviours, and got them thinking about what they were eating some say.
“The most important thing that the tick did was that it got people thinking about the healthiness of different types of food and focused attention on food labelling,” says Professor Sandra Jones, director of the Centre for Health and Social Research at the Australian Catholic University.
“The tick brought the idea to consumers that there was a potential for an independent body to provide some indication on food packaging that something was good for you or not good for you.”
The Heart Foundation credits the tick with:
- helping to reduce unhealthy trans fat levels, especially in yellow spreads (margarines and butter substitutes)
- helping improve the quality of many processed foods in Australia. For example, in 2013, approximately 16 tonnes of salt was removed from the food supply from the reformulation of pasta sauce alone.
Finally, in talking about the tick we have to remember the day McDonalds got its tick, paying a rumoured $300,000 per year for it, then lost its right to use it in 2011. Perhaps the day McDonalds became tick-worthy was the day the brand of the tick took a beating. I mean – do you think the Heart Foundation should be advocating Maccas? Is that a sign that the system is not really working to its intent?
And so we ask what you think of the little tick… Did it change your health or are you a skeptic?