Do you remember the golden age of childhood snacks? I’ll give you a hint, it was the 1990s.
A time when every school lunchbox was a treasure chest filled to the brim with multicolored, multi-flavored treats of questionable nutritional value.
A time when Dunkaroos fell from the sky and Go-Gurts flowed like water.
And the king among these snacks was a special treat.
It was a multicolored ice cream pole that came on two sticks and used a toucan as its mascot.
I remember it vividly, as do all the people over 25 I’ve asked.
Some even got to recite the advertising jingle (“I can, you can, one or TWO cans!”) and list the four colors of the frozen treat.
But inexplicably, when I went looking, I couldn’t find any photos or recordings of the Toucan icy pole online.
In 2022, it seems almost impossible that something doesn’t have a digital footprint.
Although long since discontinued, photos and TV commercials for vintage treats like Incredibites, Fruity Bix Bars and Sunnyboys are easily found on the internet.
How is it possible that a ubiquitous ice pole loved by people across the country could just disappear without a trace?
I decided I was going to find the mystery confection.
Who created the toucan?
Finding the maker of this legendary frozen treat has proven nearly impossible.
I contacted Streets and Peters Ice-Cream to find out if any of the dessert giants had produced a toucan-themed ice cream pole around the turn of the millennium.
I was greeted with polite confusion and dismissal.
Not only were there no photographs of this icy pole, but there seemed to be little evidence that it ever existed.
That was until I came across a document detailing an intellectual property law case brought to the Federal Court of Australia in the late 90s: Kellogg Company v PB Foods Ltd – November 19, 1999.
The Kellogg Company, known for its breakfast cereal empire, was appealing the decision of a company called Peters & Brownes Group (PB) to trademark the word ‘Toucan’.
Along with several paragraphs defining what a toucan was and transcripts of dialogue from Kellogg’s cereal mascot, Toucan Sam, in television commercials, the document revealed that PB owned three “Toucan” trademarks.
And buried in the text was a description, which read:
“PB also manufactures and markets the frozen confection, ‘TOUCAN twin stick icy poles’, throughout Australia.”
There, in a legal document from the Federal Court of Australia, there was not only proof that this icy pole existed, but a definitive answer as to who made it.
Finding PB Foods in 2022 was an entirely different matter.
The document said the “Toucan Two-Stick Ice Cream Pole” was made in a joint venture with Cadbury Schweppes, a company that has since morphed into the multinational snack conglomerate Mondelez International.
PB Foods itself has been acquired twice, first by New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra in 2002 and then again by food giant Nestlé in 2009.
What started as an exercise in finding an abandoned ice pole has turned into a financial investigation into multinational food corporations.
To give an idea of the scale of the size of these companies, if Nestlé were considered a country, its revenues would exceed the gross domestic product of 150 other countries on Earth.
Spokespersons for Mondelez International and Nestlé told the ABC they had no trace of the product.
So if the seemingly mythical ice pole of the toucan were to be found, it wouldn’t be in the archives of a multinational company.
With PB Foods in my sights, I tracked down David Hahn, who worked as a product manager at the company from 2000 to 2005.
“No, you’re not going crazy. We certainly made this product,” Hahn said.
“It was four flavors from memory, and you’re gonna ask me what flavors it was, but that was a long time ago mate.”
He believes the Toucan ice cream post was still made by Fonterra until the ice cream business was eventually sold to Australian dairy company Bulla.
“That’s probably when the product stopped being made, and the reason for that would be because Bulla didn’t have the manufacturing – that form of mold with the two sticks – they wouldn’t have had that kit,” Mr. Hahn said.
The Frozen Pole Quest Heads West
Mr Hahn told me that PB Foods owned the Peters brand only in Western Australia, having been registered as Peters (WA) before 1997.
I went west.
A phone call to the State Library of Western Australia revealed that there were more than 70 files of financial documents, photos, packaging samples, inventory catalogs and more in the Peters Archive (WA ) Ltd. – each file containing up to 200 elements.
With the help and patience of an extraordinarily dedicated library team, a photo was found.
The photo was taken by Canadian Peter Laurence around 2005.
Additionally, the team was able to use the National Library of Australia’s Trove digital catalog to find more evidence of the toucan ice pole.
Under the Copyright Act 1968, every Australian publisher must send a copy of every item they publish for safekeeping in the National Library.
But the National Library is also home to a vast collection of weird and wonderful artifacts documenting daily Australian life through the ages.
For example, this 2004 canteen menu from Burwood East Primary School in Victoria that clearly states that you can get a Toucan Popsicle for 95 cents.
And I would have contented myself with these little shots as proof that this childhood delight existed.
But fate had another surprise in store for us.
Meeting with the ice cream collector
I first contacted Will McGowan on the advice of Nestlé.
“Unfortunately, our records are limited,” said a Nestlé spokesperson.
“You might like to try an online search for collectors or enthusiasts who might provide more information.”
Will is the co-owner of the Melbourne Vintage and Modern Toy Fair and is a hobbyist who collects bygone relics of Australia’s ice cream past and documents them on his blog, Toltoy’s Kid.
From an Ice Pole from 1978 based on the hit TV show M*A*S*H to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ice cream from 1988, Will is a Certified Ice Pole winner.
Over the decades, Will has accumulated and archived an extensive collection of ice cream, toys and other vintage ephemera on his personal website and Instagram.
His love affair with ice cream wrappers began when he was taken to see Star Wars in 1977 and immediately became desperate for any merchandise from the movie.
He saved everything from glossy pole wrappers and the sides of cereal boxes to toy wrappers and posters, before he started collecting old cardboard milk bar advertisements.
In 1999 eBay came to Australia and Will immediately joined to dive into a global market for old goods.
The hobby, while bizarre to some, is the only way to preserve many of the cultural treasures Australians grew up with.
Will owns several pieces that are the only ones of their kind, and has even more photos of items that have only appeared on the internet once in all his decades of collecting.
He said the rarest items are often held in private collections, with several thousand dollars needed to make them available to the public.
When I sent a desperate message about a frozen toucan, he got to work.
“When you said Toucan, something rang like a bell,” he said.
Will dug into his own personal digital archive of photos dating back to 1999 to try and find it and, buried in his treasure trove of past and present ice cream merchandise, he found this.
“It took about five minutes scrolling through stuff to find it, which is really weird because I could have spent two hours and found nothing,” he said.
Will has his own white whale. Although he searched online for almost 23 years and helped sabers like me find our own mythical ice poles, he was never able to locate the object of his dreams.
“The biggest white whale is the milk bar sign for the Empire Strikes Back iced posts, which I have the box and packaging for,” he said.
“But I’ve never seen a picture, even of the sign. If anyone has the Empire Strikes Back icy pole sign, I’m your buyer.”
If you or anyone you know has any information about the Toucan Ice Pole, please contact me at [email protected].