The Heart Foundation’s Pick the Tick food approval program was designed to help Australian shoppers make healthier food choices. Companies paid to have the Heart Foundation Tick endorsement on their products. The program helped to lift awareness of healthy foods in Australian supermarkets and stores, although some of the endorsements proved controversial.
At the time the Tick program was introduced, nutrition information panels were not mandatory on food packaging. They didn’t become so until 2001. To carry the Heart Foundation Tick, packaged foods were required to display nutritional information. In the first year, 31 companies signed up to the program and the Tick was displayed on 140 products. After 25 years, more than 2000 products carried the logo across 80 food categories. Research showed the Tick to be the most recognised logo on food products in Australia.
The Heart Foundation says the Tick program also drove food manufacturers to change their products to meet consumer expectations for healthier food. Among the achievements they cite are the removal of trans fats from margarine and a significant reduction in the salt content of a range of products, including breakfast cereals.
Critics of the Tick felt the fact that companies paid to display the logo compromised its usefulness, saying there were many other products that were just as healthy but had not joined the program. Some also felt that the Tick was sometimes awarded to the “best of a bad lot” – for example, pies – giving the category a “health halo” that it didn’t deserve. There was an outcry when the Tick was given to McDonald’s “healthy options” and it was later withdrawn.