How Chuckie Jumped From Being Chocolait's Mascot to Becoming His Own Brand
We all probably went through a chocolate milk phase when we were kids. Except for the lactose intolerant, the sweetened milk drink is a morning breakfast or afternoon merienda habit for many people. Some of us probably still drink it today as adults. Hey, we’re not judging.
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A casual survey among consumers will result in two or three brands dominating this segment of the market: Nestlé Chuckie, Magnolia Chocolait, and Selecta Moo. (Some might even include Zest-O’s Choc-O milk drink).
Personally, I grew up drinking Chocolait and Chuckie, and have hazy memories of the two brands somehow being once related. In a number of searches, Chuckie, the cute cow mascot of his own brand, actually turns up on Chocolait milk packs. How did that happen? And why are they now rivals fighting for consumers’ attention in this highly competitive segment of the market?
Origins of Chocolait
To understand this whole Chuckie-Chocolait issue, we first have to trace the beginnings of local chocolate milk drinks. Roger Pe wrote a pretty comprehensive article for the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the origins of Chocolait. The drink’s precursor is actually a product called Choco-Vim, which was introduced to the market in 1957. It was made by Magnolia Dairy Products, a subsidiary of the mighty San Miguel Corporation.
“Baby boomers will never forget Choco-Vim—that rich, creamy, healthy, flavorful milk chocolate brand in different shaped bottles: Square, round, squat, cute like your typical cola,” Pe writes.
It’s unclear exactly when, but Choco-Vim was eventually phased out and replaced by Chocolait sometime in the 1970s. While they were initially sold in bottles, advances in packaging in the 70s and early 80s eventually led to the milk products being sold in cartons and tetra packs. Aggressive marketing on San Miguel’s end turned Magnolia Chocolait into a market leader in the chocolate milk category for many years after it was introduced.
Now, before all of this, in 1960, San Miguel had actually formed a partnership with global food company Nestle S.A. on a company called Nutritional Products Inc. (Nutripro), whose main function was to manufacture the instant coffee brand Nescafe locally (the first factory opened in Alabang, Muntinlupa in 1962). In 1977, Nutripro merged with a company called Filipro Inc. (which had been importing Nestlé products since before World War 2). The surviving entity, called Filipro, changed its name in 1986 to Nestlé Philippines Inc. (NPI), which is still the company’s name to this day.
In February 1996, San Miguel and Nestlé (which were still partners in NPI), moved to strengthen their partnership when San Miguel spun off its milk and ice cream business under the Magnolia brand (Magnolia-Nestlé Corporation) and merged it with NPI, with NPI becoming the surviving company. According to a UPI report, both companies maintained their shareholdings in NPI—45 percent for San Miguel and 55 percent for Nestlé.
It was that same year when Chocolait started appearing on store shelves bearing the logo of the merged companies—Nestlé-Magnolia. This is why those who grew up in the mid to late 1990s remember Chocolait being sold under both Nestlé and Magnolia. It was also around this time when Chuckie the cow mascot appeared in the packaging of Chocolait, as seen in this tv commercial from 1999:
However, in 1998, San Miguel announced that it was selling its entire stake in NPI to Nestlé S.A. (the parent company based in Switzerland) for $700 million (around P30 billion). Then-San Miguel Corp Chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco said the sale was so the company could focus on its core businesses.
When the sale happened, it included a non-compete clause that essentially forbade San Miguel from selling any product or engaging in business that would compete with those offered by NPI. That non-compete clause lasted for five years.
NPI continued to sell milk and ice cream products that was once under the Nestlé-Magnolia brand under Nestlé during this period. Even the iconic Magnolia Ice Cream House in Aurora Boulevard (which was also the site of the company’s production facility) became known as Nestlé Creamery. Chocolait, its chocolate milk product, was sold to consumers as Nestlé-Magnolia Chocolait from 1996 to 2001; then as Nestlé Chocolait in 2001; and as Nestlé Chocolate Milk Drink in 2002. By 2003, Nestlé had completely rebranded the drink and called it Nestlé Chuckie, with, you guessed it, Chuckie the cow mascot featured prominently in the packaging.
Despite not being able to sell milk and ice cream under the name “Magnolia” during this period, San Miguel had actually retained the rights to the Magnolia brand. After the expiry of the non-compete clause, San Miguel re-entered the milk and ice cream business under the Magnolia brand.
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In 2004, Magnolia Chocolait made a return to grocery, supermarket and convenience store shelves. But it did so without Chuckie the cow, which had by then, as now, become Chocolait’s competitor for the hearts (and taste buds) of kids and adults everywhere.