I had a million dollar idea once — and this was no “pet rock” or “Snuggie.” My million dollar idea was Milo lids. A really good idea, or so I thought…
One day, when my grammar lesson was tanking at the school where I was an exchange teacher, I asked my Australian year 8 students what their favorite food was or what I should be sure to try while I was in Australia for the next year.
The unanimous answer, of course, was Vegemite, Australia’s favourite concentrated yeast extract spread. Aussie kids are pretty much weaned off the breast and on to Vegemite. I had tried it and wasn’t quite there yet with what tasted like congealed soy sauce paste.
“What else?” I asked.
One student asked if I had tried Milo. I replied that I didn’t know what it was.
“Really? You haven’t had it, Miss?
“Ahh, Miss, you’ll really like Milo.”
According to my students, (and, again, this seemed unanimous) all the mums in Australia give their kids Milo as an afterschool drink/snack/energy booster. It’s sort of chocolaty and little bits float on the top. I was skeptical.
“It’s heaps good, Miss.”
“Yeah, Milo is awesome.”
“Mum gives it to me after school.”
“So does my Mum”
“I have Milo, too.”
“I like it on ice cream.”
“See, Miss, everyone likes Milo.”
“It’s healthy, too, Miss because it’s got vitamins.”
As the responses poured in, it was starting to sound a bit cult-like. However, It seemed clear. I needed to try this drink not only for its cultural significance, but also since I had small kids that need heaps of vitamins. Consequently, I picked up a can of “Miracle Milo” the next time I went grocery shopping at Coles.
It turns out Milo, which has been made by Nestle since 1934, is a malted barley drink (the Aussies really know what to do with their beer byproducts and ingredients…e.g. Vegemite). Classified as an “Energy Food Drink,” Milo is fortified with six vitamins and minerals and is rich in protein (according to Nestle.) It’s marketed as “a source of energy for active bodies.”
However, and this may be one reason for its popularity, it has loads of sugar, which is the third main ingredient. Oh well, it seemed okay in a Nutella sort of way.
Anxious to try this, I called out to Eddie and Kasey when we got home. “We’re going to try this new drink, Milo. It’s very Australian.” They seemed excited, especially since, generally, Kurt and I only let them have water and milk as well as juice at breakfast.
I searched for a can opener since Milo is packaged in an aluminum tin. I cranked the opener and removed the metal top, which I then threw in the rubbish bin.
We mixed up the Milo, and, of course, floating in the milk were some of the barley bits that didn’t quite dissolve. My year 8’s alerted me to this phenomenon, and it was fine.
Both my kids crinkled their noses a bit upon seeing this, but I encouraged them to try the beverage and even suggested the bits were like chocolate sprinkles, which was essentially true.
Reaction. Delicious. The kids ran to Kurt to give him a taste. Excellent. We embraced an Aussie classic. I didn’t feel as much of a failure since, again, I hadn’t yet acquired a taste for Vegemite.
As I cleaned up, I realized that Milo had no lid. Clearly, one was not meant to consume the entire contents like a can of soup. Strange. Why no lid? And it’s marketed as a kid drink. That seems quite impractical. Kids would be the first to tip a tin of this stuff over. Plus, there was a sharp metal spot where I had broken the top off.
It was odd, but then, the Australians are pretty no nonsense and seem to be more resourceful with being “green.” After all, you were required to bring your own bags to the grocery store otherwise you were charged for a bag.
No worries. We just did what I assumed Aussies did and put some plastic wrap over the top and secured a rubber band around the plastic. I placed it on top of the refrigerator as an extra precaution that the kids wouldn’t get at it and spill it.
Milo became somewhat of a staple for us in the winter. We drank it in lieu of hot chocolate. Perfect after watching our local footy team outdoors, hot Milo warmed our insides and gave us that cozy feeling.
Slowly, however, I started to get annoyed with having to wrap the tin in plastic.
“Seriously,” I thought, “What Nestle needs to do is make a plastic lid. What’s so hard about that? Surely, it can’t be that expensive to manufacture and make it out of recycled products, and then that would ease the guilt of the environmentally conscious consumers.”
And what if Milo had different colored lids? How about holiday themed lids? Football team colored lids? That might not go over as well in Australia because, again, they’re not as frivolous as we Americans are. (Really, football team colored lids, complete with mascots, would sell millions in the States.)
The next day, eager to share my idea, I told one of my year 12s while we were in the library. “So, Maddie, I have a million dollar idea.” I sort of whisper-shouted at her. Normally, I wouldn’t really want to confide in Maddie, since she was a bit of a brick. But surely, despite being hard to get through to, Maddie would understand. Plus, she was one of the few students who had shown up that day.
“What is your idea, Miss?” She looked over at me with the same blank look she usually had.
“Milo lids! And different colored Milo lids, too!” I looked over at Maddie, waiting for her eyes to widen and an expression to come to her face.
“Miss,” she started. Man, she was a tough customer since she seemed completely unfazed. She was a brick as I said before.
“Ikea makes colored lids for Milo.”
Damn, Ikea! I should have known. The Swedish company was the master at making anything out of colored plastic. Hmmm. Perhaps the holiday colors would still fly.
“And, really, Miss, why would you want to make lids for Milo since it already comes with a lid.”
“Miss Glaser, Milo has a lid.” Maddie looked at me now like I was a bit dim. Basically, a bit of a brick. “You know, you take a spoon and put it under the curve of the lid and lift it up.” She imitated the motion. “Then you just put it back on when you’re done.“
Stunned. Had I apparently overlooked this? I needed to consult my colleagues at lunch.
“So, I have a million dollar idea, but I think my dream has been crushed.” I said as I entered the staff room and plunked down at the table.
As I told my fellow teachers, they began snickering and howling with laughter. Several of them repeated the steps Maddie had told me.
“So how have you been opening the Milo?” asked my friend Amy.
“With a can opener.” I replied as a few more teachers tuned in to see what was so funny.
“Steph, have you ever opened a tin of paint?” Sean, the year 8 coordinator, asked as he stifled a laugh.
“I guess it’s been a while. Maybe Kurt has always opened the paint cans.”
“Well, what about Nestle Quik,” Amy pursued the topic. “That’s sold in America isn’t it? It has the same kind of lid.”
Slowly a vision from childhood came before me. Yes, the raised round circle…that you used a SPOON to pry open. Oh man. Wow.
Of course, I, too, was laughing at myself. There was no choice. It was pretty big for me to overlook this.
“You know the funny thing is that I sort of thought you guys were a bit behind on this one and kind of slow at realizing that a plastic lid made more sense,” I admitted.
Then, a few teachers shook their heads like… “ahh, the Yank has had an epiphany that the rest of the world is not as inferior as Americans think.”
Of course one of the first things I did after school was to hurry to Coles and check out the Milo section. There it was — a low rising curvy rim that looked like it could be pried open with a spoon.
I also read the directions on the can that stated in tiny print: “store in a cool dry place. Replace lid securely after use.”