Kit-Kat, Orang-utans, and a Facebook Revolt [Video][Inside the Label]

WARNING: The video below is a bit gross!

There’s a revolt brewing on the web. What started as another Greenpeace ad aimed at stopping deforestation in southeast Asia, has turned into a PR disaster for Nestlé.

Kit-Kat, one of the most beloved candy bars in the world is made with palm kernel oil. The oil is in such high demand that entire swaths of rain forest in countries such as Indonesia are being cleared in order to grow palm trees. And with the forests, entire populations of orang-utan monkeys apes are disappearing.

Nestlé has about 92,000 fans on it’s Facebook page. When they started to demand explanations, and used Nestlé logos in various creative ways, Nestlé’s PR department reprimanded the fans and deleted critical posts. The backlash from users was much worse than the original; More foolhardy decisions by the company to explain and silence critical fans have spiraled to a full blown Facebook Revolt. (Note: some of the interchanges from Nestlé have been deleted in the last 24 hours). Here is Nestlé’s official position on palm oil sourcing.

What you need to know:

Globally, Kit-Kat is sold under the Nestlé namesake, but in the US it is manufactured and sold by Hershey’s, a Nestlé competitor, due to a prior licensing agreement with Rowntree, the company that introduced Kit-Kat in the 1930′s. US Kit-Kats contain less milk and more sugar than their global counterparts.

Here is the ingredient list for American Kit-Kat (no thanks to the product website)

Sugar; Wheat Flour; Nonfat Milk; Cocoa Butter; Chocolate; Palm Kernel Oil; Corn Syrup Solids; Milk Fat; Contains 2% or Less of: Soy Lecithin; PGPR, Emulsifier; Yeast; Vanillin, Artificial Flavor; Salt; Sodium Bicarbonate.

Sugar and refined flour are the expected ingredient list openers. Cocoa butter is a vegetable oil extracted from cacao beans. It gives chocolate bars their creamy and smooth texture. Palm Kernel Oil, #6 on the list, and not be confused with Palm Oil, is 80% saturated, and contributes to most of the 7 grams of saturated fat in the snack (about 35% of the daily max). PGPR is a cheaper alternative to cocoa butter, made from castor beans.

The 20 grams of sugar here are the equivalent of 5 teaspoons. The 4 chocolate fingers will tax you 200 calories for a treat that is consumed by many people in less than 2 minutes.

Ethical considerations aside, some candy bars are plain worse than others from a nutritional perspective. Most are very highly processed and contain the cheapest ingredients possible. With chocolate, the true connoisseurs know that a high cocoa percentage (75% and higher) is key to great flavor, plus has the added nutritional benefit of heart healthy antioxidants.

By the way, if any of you noticed a one sentence press release by General Mills over the weekend, now you know the reason for the curt text.

What to do at the supermarket:

Have a go at some dark chocolates. It’s an acquired taste (like wine, beer). After you’ll get used to them, it’ll be difficult to go back.

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  • Maggie

    Just because I’m anal and for accuracy’s sake – Orangutans are not monkeys, they are apes :)

    • Editorial Staff

      @Maggie thanks for the correction, it now appears in the post!

  • Dr Susan Rubin

    KitKats are not the only product using palm oil.
    Girl Scout Cookies are also loaded with palm oil and cottonseed oil.

  • Jen Maidenberg

    Way back in the day, Kit-Kats used to be my favorite yummy chocolatey-crunchy goodness treat. Now, even one bite creates a big glob of mucous at the back of my throat. Is it the dairy? Could be…Is the sugar? Could also be. is it the palm oil? Likely. More likely it’s the nasty combination of all the ingredients masquerading as food.

    I don’t indulge in chocolate much anymore, but on the rare occasion it’s always organic dark chocolate.