Unilever angers Chinese consumers by using powdered milk for its ice-cream products

Ice cream giant Unilever has been in hot water after internet users revealed last month the manufacturer’s “double standard” by using powdered milk in its Magnum ice cream products in China while serving its European customers with fresh milk.

After a month of intense speculation online, Zeng Xiwen, global vice-president of Unilever admitted on 19 August that the company uses a combination of milk powder with water in Magnum ice cream produced in China while using concentrated milk and water for the same products sold in Europe.

Zeng also said it is difficult to import fresh milk from Europe while there are “supply issues” with domestically produced milk. The statement contradicts his earlier response on 5 August to the ingredient scandal. In a post on his Weibo account, Zeng described the scandal as an “unexpected calamity”, claiming China is the “top market” for the Magnum brand and the company has been using 11% more chocolate ingredients than that used in products in Europe to cater to Chinese customers.     

While Zeng attributes the difference in ingredients to the “large scale production and export” of the ice cream, which requires a stable milk supply and quality control, Song Liang, an economist from the China State Farm Dairy Alliance told state media that the thinking could be driven by cost-saving. “With the same amount of protein level, the cost of using milk powder is between 8,000 and 10,000 RMB (£903 – £1,129) per tonne – at least 3,000 RMB (£338) cheaper compared to the costs in Europe,” Song Liang said.

The scandal has sparked public outrage with many turning their back on this product.

“Using the cheapest ingredients while selling at the highest price in China, I will never buy it again.”

“I’ve got to start checking the ingredient list now so that I know what I will be eating.”

Comments from Weibo users

Some are also calling to strengthen market supervision to improve the industry standards. 

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