Dear Sanitarium

Just a few thoughts on your Up & Go Vending Partnership Program.

I missed this story from last week when you featured on TV3. Now I’ve seen the clip I’m almost speechless, almost. Sanitarium I’m sorry to have to say it but you’re setting the bar extremely low for corporate responsibility.

In case you missed a few of the more blatant contradictions that were apparent, I’ll run through some of what’s highlighted in the TV3 piece so you can see them for yourselves.

1. Your position according to your spokesperson:

“We do produce a range of products for a range of eating occasions and a range of consumers.”

“We wouldn’t necessarily assume that children should be consuming those products.”

“It is provided to children but it wasn’t formulated for children.”

“It is a sometimes food. As a company we definitely support that it’s a sometimes food. It’s not something that we would encourage children to eat or consume everyday.”

2. The TV3 news clip reported that you’ve:

Entered into agreement with hundreds of NZ schools to have your vending machines placed in these schools specifically for consumption their students.

Schools receive different incentives which may include receiving up to 40c per drink sold through your vending machines.

Per (smaller) serve size there are almost 5 tsp of sugar. That’s only 1 teaspoon less than the same amount of coke.

The World Health Organisation recommends consuming no more than 6 tsp of sugar total daily.

3. From the clip (and my own anecdotal observations):

Children are clearly under the impression that Up & Go is a healthy choice. (Yes, give your marketing department a bonus – they’re clearly doing an incredible job up selling what’s essentially sugary water as a health product.)

Many children at these schools (perhaps the majority) are drinking a carton or two of your drink daily.

4. Your own marketing materials for schools in respect of the vending machine program state: “We believe all children should have a nutritious start to their day and access to healthy food throughout the day. We will commit to the mission of the school by offering free vending machines. You pay nothing – it’s risk free.” (As an aside I see you pulled these marketing materials down last week. Perhaps because you’re worried people might interpret the material as you encouraging daily consumption of your “nutritious” product?

I see in the TV clip you tried to make something of the fact you have a sugar free option. Well here’s the thing though. You’re not selling that like you are the full sugar version. And then in any case: It’s not all about the sugar.

Because, let’s see – what other additional ingredients do our kids get for their “nutritious start” to the day if they consume your cartons of convenience?

Skim Milk Powder
Wheat Maltodextrin
Soy Protein
Sunflower Oil
Canola Oil
Hi-Maize Starch
Corn Syrup Solids
Oat Flour
Food Acid 332
Vegetable Gums 460, 466, 407
Stabiliser 452
Vitamin C, A, B12, B6, B2, B1, folate

Now Sanitarium I know you won’t disclose what schools are making from these deals they’re doing with you. But I see you’re happy to report that “schools are experiencing positive outcomes.”

But the thing is – are they are really? You won’t be surprised to learn I very much disagree.

If you haven’t noticed we have a global epidemic of obesity. New Zealand has the third highest adult obesity rate in the OECD, and our rates are rising. Almost one in three adult New Zealanders (over 15 years) is obese and one in ten children. We also have rampant levels of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance and in children something previously a rare thing. Finally over 35,000 children under 12 (and many under 4) are admitted for hospital each year in NZ to have teeth extracted due primarily to decay caused from ingestion of sugary drinks.

The thing is that as far as I can tell, the only one experiencing real “positive outcomes” in this scenario is you and your profit centre.


A Mother.

PS. Perhaps read my letter in conjunction with a couple of others you’ve received lately from others in field of health and nutrition because it’s not just the Up & Go that’s the problem.

PPS. I hear the All Blacks are going towards a LCHF (low carb/healthy fat) or Paleo way of eating. Perhaps time to rethink the business model.

PPS. And don’t even get me started on the healthy star rating system and your product rankings there…

[It’s not just about the sugar or the calories. It’s about highly processed non-foods being marketed to our kids in an educational facility. We need to draw the line somewhere and surely we can draw it to exclude this.]

Watch the TV3 news clip on Up & Go Vending Program in schools here.