Hi-Lo Milk, Canberra 1976Ho-Lo milk was the first low-fat specialty milk to be launched on the New South Wales market and a few years later was marketed in the Australian Capital Territory. It had high calcium and high protein, and was promoted as useful for people who were trying to lower the cholesterol in their diets. The “Hi” aspect of the name referred to the addition of milk solids made up of protein, minerals and lactose. Boosting the milk solids also increased the calcium content. 

During the 1970s and ’80s, dietary fats were the villains that made you put on weight and gave you a heart attack. And animal fats – from meat and dairy – were the worst of all.  We started to see “reduced fat” and “low fat” foods on the supermarket shelves. Including modified milk.

Hi-Lo Milk was launched by Dairy Farmers Co-operative Ltd. in the early 1970s.  It had a 2 per cent fat content, as compared to the 4 per cent fat of regular milk. The product was introduced in Canberra  (ACT) in 1976. In 1983 Dairy Farmers followed up with Shape, a no-fat high calcium milk.

Hi-Lo ran into trouble with the Trade Practices Commission in 1976. The TPC claimed that the milk was being advertised as an aid to slimming, although the calorie content was not much lower than that of full fat milk and gave the company 28 days to change the name. Dairy Farmers responded that the name was not misleading.  Dietitians weighed into the argument, claiming that Hi-Lo was not milk, but a product made from milk. They were particularly concerned that mothers would give low-fat milk to their children.

Over the years a wide variety of low-fat and no-fat milks were developed by the various dairy companies, often marketed only in their home states. In Victoria, for example, Rev was launched in 1978. Sales of full-fat milk declined in favour of the low-fat versions and this situation persisted for decades. Low-fat dairy became part of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

However, by 2018, the new villain had become carbohydrates. There was a noticeable swing to full-fat milk with sales surging by almost 10 per cent in the course of a year, while consumption of low-fat and other modified milks dropped by about 6 per cent.  Sales of non-fat milk had dropped by almost 20 per cent since 2014/15.

But we’re probably still not drinking enough milk. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2011/12 only around one in ten Australians consumed enough dairy products to meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines.  Children aged 2-8 years were most likely to meet the recommendation they reported, while  less than 1% of people aged 71 years and over were getting enough..