Remember the golden age of childhood snacks? I’ll give you a hint, that was in the ’90s.
A time when every school lunchbox was a treasure chest filled to the brim in multiple colors and multiple flavors of questionable nutritional value.
A time when Dunkaroos fell from the sky and Go-Gurts flowed like water.
Among these snacks was the king a special treat.
It was a multicolored ice pole that came on a stick, and used a toucan as a talisman.
I remember her clearly, as well as everyone I asked over the age of 25.
Some even managed to recite the ad song (“I can, you can, one or two packets!”) and the four-color menu of the frozen dessert.
But inexplicably, when I went searching I couldn’t find any photos or records of the Ice Toucan Pole online.
In 2022, it seems almost impossible for something not to have a digital footprint.
Although they are long out of production, images and TV commercials for vintage treats like Incredibites, Fruity Bix Bars, and Sunnyboys can easily be found online.
How could a ubiquitous ice pole beloved by people across the country disappear without a trace?
I decided I was going to look for the mysterious candy.
Who made the toucan?
Finding the manufacturer of this legendary frozen treat has proven nearly impossible.
I reached out to both Streets and Peters Ice-Cream to find out if any of the candy giants produced a toucan-style ice mogul at the turn of the millennium.
I was met with confusion and polite dismissals.
Not only have pictures of this icy pole been found, but there seemed to be little evidence of its existence at all.
That was until I came across a document detailing an intellectual property law case that was brought before the Australian Federal Court in the late 1990s: Kellogg Company v. PB Foods Ltd – November 19, 1999.
The Kellogg Company, known as a breakfast cereal empire, was appealing against a move by a company called Peters & Brownes Group (PB) to trademark the word “Toucan.”
Along with several paragraphs outlining what a toucan is and dialogue scripts for Kellogg’s Toucan Sam’s grain mascot in TV commercials, the document revealed that PB owns three trademarks of “Toucan”.
One description was buried in the text:
“PB also manufactures and markets ice candy throughout Australia, TOUCAN Double Sticky Ice Columns.”
There – in a legal document from the Australian Federal Court – was not only evidence of the existence of this ice pole, but a definitive answer to its manufacturer.
Finding PB Foods in 2022 was another matter entirely.
The document stated that the “double ice toucan pole” was made in a joint venture with Cadbury Schweppes, a company that has since turned into the multinational snack conglomerate Mondelez International.
PB Foods itself has been acquired twice, first to New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra in 2002 and then again to food giant Nestle in 2009.
What started as an exercise to find a stalled ice pole has turned into a financial investigation for multinational food companies.
To give an idea of the scale for the size of these companies, if Nestlé was considered a country, its revenue would be greater than the GDP of the other 150 countries on Earth.
Spokespersons from both Mondelez International and Nestle told ABC that they have no product records.
So if the seemingly mythical Toucan Ice Pole were to be found, it wouldn’t be in the archives of a multinational corporation.
With PB Foods in my eye, I tracked down David Hahn, who worked as a product manager for the company from 2000 to 2005.
“No, you’re not going crazy,” Han said. “We definitely made this product.”
“It was four flavors from memory, and you’ll ask me what flavors it was, but that was way back in the dark days my friend.”
He believes Fonterra was still making toucan glaciers until the ice cream business was eventually sold to Australian dairy company Bulla.
“It’s possible at that point that the product would have been discontinued, and the reason for that was because Bulla didn’t have the manufacturing – that mold shape with double sticks – they didn’t have that piece of kit,” said Mr. Hahn.
The search for the ice pole is heading west
Mr. Hahn told me that PB Foods only owned the Peters brand in Western Australia, having been registered as Peters (WA) prior to 1997.
I went to the west.
A phone call to the Western Australian State Library revealed that more than 70 files of financial records, photos, packaging samples, inventory catalogs and more are in the Peters (WA) Ltd archives. – Each file contains up to 200 items.
With the help and patience of a very dedicated library team, an image has been found.
The photograph was taken by Canadian Peter Lawrence around 2005.
Furthermore, the team was able to use the Australian National Library’s Trove digital catalog to find more evidence of the Toucan Ice Pole.
As part of the Copyright Act 1968, every publisher in Australia must submit a copy of every item they publish to be kept in the National Library.
But the National Library also hosts a large collection of strange and fascinating artifacts that document everyday Australian life through the ages.
For example, this 2004 canteen listing from Burwood East Primary School in Victoria that clearly states that you can get a Toucan ice column for 95 cents.
And I would have been satisfied with these little shots as proof of the existence of this joy of childhood.
But fate had another surprise in store.
Meet the Ice Cream Collector
I initially contacted Will McGowan on advice from Nestle.
“Unfortunately, our archives are limited,” a Nestlé spokesperson said.
“You may want to try searching online for collectors or enthusiasts who may be able to provide more information.”
Will is the co-owner of the Ancient and Modern Toys Gallery in Melbourne and is an amateur collecting antiques from ice cream in Australia and documenting them on his blog, Toll Toys Kid.
From the 1978 glacier based on the hit TV show M*A*S*H to the 1988 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ice cream, Will is a certified Ice Pole Award winner.
Over the decades, Will has collected and archived a large collection of vintage ice cream, toys, and other ephemera on his personal website and Instagram.
His affair with packages of ice cream began when he was taken to watch Star Wars in 1977, and he immediately became desperate to get any good out of the movie.
Keep everything from ice bar wrappers and sides of cereal boxes to toy packaging and labels, before you start collecting old cardboard ads in milk bars.
In 1999, eBay appeared in Australia and was immediately joined by Will to delve into the global market for vintage merchandise.
The hobby, while strange to some, is the only way to preserve the many cultural treasures Australians grew up on.
Will owns several pieces that are the only ones left of their kind, and he has more photos of items that have only appeared once online in all of his collecting decades.
He said that rare items are often placed in private collections, and it takes several thousand dollars to free them for public viewing.
When I sent a desperate letter asking for a toucan ice column, he went to work.
“When I said touqan,” he said, “something rang the bell.”
He’ll delve into his personal digital archive of photos dating back to 1999 to try and find them buried in his collection of ice cream merchandise past and present.
“It took about five minutes of scrolling through things to find it, which is really weird because I could have gone two hours and find nothing,” he said.
He will have his own white whale. Despite searching the internet for nearly 23 years and helping him find his own legendary ice pillars, he was never able to locate the item of his dreams.
“The biggest beluga whale is the milk bar banner for the Empire Strikes Back Ice Pillars, of which I have the box and cover,” he said.
“But I’ve never even seen a picture of the sign. If anyone has a sign of Empire Strikes Back’s ice pillars, I’m your buyer.”
If you or someone you know has information about the Toucan Ice Pillar, please contact me at [email protected]abc.net.au.