Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. said Wednesday that it will stop production of a chocolate-flavored toddler formula that has garnered outrage across the blogosphere by parents who said it would contribute to the epidemic of childhood obesity. Mead Johnson said it will keep producing the vanilla version, which is less sugary.
"The chocolate got off on a tangent," said Christopher Perille, spokesman for Glenview-based Mead Johnson, which produces the Enfagrow branded formulas. "People were assuming it was for younger ages than it really was. There were a lot of references to baby bottles and infants."
Perille said the company has decided to continue selling the vanilla formula, which carries 18 grams of sugar per serving versus 19 grams in the chocolate formula. The sugar content is on par with that of orange juice or chocolate milk, the company has said, but with added nutrients.
Perille said Mead Johnson's unflavored formula has no added sugar and roughly half the sugar overall of the chocolate version.
"The debate and the misinformation just overwhelmed the nutritional benefits," Perille said.
Some parents had lauded the product as a useful way to get their picky eaters to take in nutrients when nothing else worked.
"The mischaracterizations were really driven by 'chocolate,' which tends to be an emotional, evocative kind of product and has connotation of things that are sweet and less nutritional," Perille said.
In a news release announcing the decision, Mead Johnson stood behind the nutritional benefits of the chocolate formula, which is intended for toddlers 12 to 36 months old.
Introduced in February, the chocolate-flavored formula was widely criticized after Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote on her influential blog, foodpolitics.com, that the drink would lead children to crave sugary beverages.
Mead Johnson launched 30 products in 2009 after a several-year dry spell and has a strategy that aims to extend the time customers spend using their products beyond early infancy. In 2009, Mead Johnson reported total sales of $2.8 billion; about $900 million of that came from children's nutritional products, mostly toddler milk such as Enfagrow.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun