Israeli Health Minister's Junk Food War Sets Sights on Chocolate Milk

Litzman says he will try to ban sugary version of the drink at government-supervised summer camps

Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
Young boy with chocolate milk.
Young boy with chocolate milk (illustration).Credit: Dreamstime
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
Adi Dovrat-Meseritz

Health Minister , has struck again, this time against the chocolate drinks sold in single-serving plastic bags that are the staple of summer for Israel’s children.

Speaking at a conference of pediatricians on Wednesday, Litzman said he planned to coordinate with the Education Ministry to ban sugar-sweetened version of “shoko” at summer camps funded and/or supervised by the government.

“We need to stop giving children this garbage,” Litzman said, echoing the harsh words he used against McDonald’s earlier this year.

No order has been issued yet, and the Education Ministry will have to agree to sign on, but if Litzman’s plan is enforced it would mean a big change in the summertime drinking habits of hundreds of thousands of Israeli children, not to mention sales for the three companies that make the product.

“Chocolate milk and a roll are an essential part of the Israeli experience during the summer. A ban by the Health Ministry on distributing certain shoko drinks is an important declaration to parents that the product is unhealthy,” said one food industry source, who asked not to be identified.

Litzman’s shoko broadside comes amid a struggle between his ministry and the food industry over proposals issued by the government’s food regulatory committee, which would require makers to red-label products with high sugar, nitrate or saturated fat content.

The committee is due to publish its recommendations shortly over the objections of the industry, which says that 60% of all products would have to carry the label.

Among them is Tnuva’s shoko products, which even after the company reduced its sugar content three years ago still contain nine grams of sugar per 100 milliliters, well above the five milligrams that would require the label.

Tnuva has 28% of the market for shoko products, but it is the only one of the three makers that doesn’t make a sugar-free product. The Health Ministry has already warned the company, which is owned by China’s Bright Foods, that it could land in trouble with regulations.

On Monday Shraga Brosh, president of the Israel Manufacturers Association, met with Moshe Siman-Tov, the Health Ministry director general, together with the CEOS of the leading food companies. Sources told TheMarker afterwards that the industry planned to fight the new rule and would go as far as pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if necessary.

Yesterday, only hours after Litzman issued his warning on shoko, the Strauss Group – which owns Yotvata, the leading maker of chocolate milk with a 66% market share – said it would launch a sugar-free or artificially sweetened version of its product, packaged in plastic bags, next month.

Until now, Yotvata has offered sugar-free shoko only in one-liter bottles.

“Shoko Yotvata has only a teaspoon and a half of sugar per serving, the lowest in the market,” said CEO Ram Srugo. “Our Shoko Sheli product doesn’t have a single gram of sugar, sugar substitutes, artificial or natural. We are extending that now to our 1.75-liter cartons as well as our single-serving bags, so that out sugar-free chocolate will be used more widely.”