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The Smart Egg
October 15, 2004, by Bill Cawthon
Even though it's closer to Halloween than Easter, I've been thinking about eggs this month. Last time, I wrote about the BMW egg; this time the topic is the Ferrero egg.
Those of us living in the United States know Ferrero for Mon Cheri and Rocher chocolates, Nutella spread and Tic Tac mints, but almost all of the rest of the world also knows Ferrero for Kinder (pronounced like "kindergarten") chocolates, especially the Kinder Überraschungsei, or Children's Surprise Egg.
Ferrero got its start almost sixty years ago in Alba, a small town in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. After World War II, sweets were in short supply in the ex-Axis nations. Pietro Ferrero, a master confectioner from Alba, developed a process to make large batches of the Piedmont region's sweet Gianduja chocolate at a moderate cost.
Working with his brother, Giovanni, Pietro Ferrero went into business. The new Ferrero enterprise had its first commercial success not with candy, but with a chocolate-hazelnut spread initially called Pasta Gianduja. The product was later renamed Nutella. It may come as a surprise to those of us in the U.S., who would think first of peanut butter, but Nutella is the best-selling brand of sweet spread in the world.
The Ferrero brothers had given the company its start, but its real growth came after their deaths in the 1950s. Michele Ferrero, Pietro's son, expanded the company by opening offices and production facilities in Germany in 1956 and France in 1958. Over the course of the next twenty years, Ferrero established operations in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, Brazil, Japan and Puerto Rico. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Ferrero expanded into Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. There are even offices in Russia.
Ferrero, which today is one of the world's largest confectionary companies, is still a family-owned business and, though the company now has its headquarters in Liechtenstein, instead of Italy, still regards Alba as its home.
In 1972, Ferrero introduced one of its most successful products, the Kinder Surprise Egg. If you are not familiar with it, a Kinder Egg is about the size of a hen's egg and consists of a layer of milk chocolate, a layer of white chocolate and a yellow plastic capsule containing the surprise, which is usually a small toy.
The toy is the reason Ferrero sells hundreds of millions of eggs every year. Cracker Jack would be even more popular if it had prizes like the Kinder Surprise Egg. In the past, the Kinder toy selection has included things like a working microscope, a cuckoo clock with a bird that pops out when its weights are pulled, a weather station with figures that move as the barometric pressure changes, and hand-painted Egyptian pharaohs that now can fetch up to $700 from collectors. Cracker Jack may claim to be the world's largest distributor of toys, but the Kinder prizes are better than anything I have ever seen come out of Cracker Jack (and I'm old enough to remember when they had actual prizes in those boxes).
The toys in Kinder Surprise Eggs can be almost anything, but there are certain ones that are particularly desirable. Among those are figure sets like the Smurfs, Asterix the Gaul, or characters from "The Lord of the Rings." These special toys are inserted in every seventh egg and collectors will go to great lengths to find those eggs, shaking them or weighing them to see if they can beat the odds.
Each year, Ferrero releases about 150 new toys. The company has its own team of engineers and industrial technicians who work with comic artists and modelmakers to develop new concepts. It takes about two years for most designs to make it from concept to egg. Each toy is tested for compliance with applicable consumer safety standards, though Kinder Eggs are not recommended for children under three.
Every year, the new toys are introduced in September, as children go back to school. This fall, there are some special new toys: Very nice injection-molded plastic scale models of almost the entire line of Smart cars.
The models are the result of a cross-promotion campaign involving both Ferrero and DaimlerChrysler's Smart GmbH. The program began in August and will run for two years. During its course, 40 million miniature Smart Fortwos, Crossblades, Roadster Coupes and Forfours will be placed inside Kinder Eggs.
"We are initiating long-term cooperation with Ferrero because it supports our goal of using unusual and innovative marketing channels for Smart," said Philipp Schiemer, vice president of marketing and sales at Smart. He went on to say, "Ferrero is an ideal partner for us because the products of this brand have an extremely positive image and express a great deal of joie de vivre, just like the cars we have at Smart."
He didn't mention that a lot of Kinder Eggs are purchased by adults who might consider a full-size version to go with their little surprise.
While they are not as highly detailed as a typical Herpa scale model, Ferrero's Smart cars are incredibly nice for something that comes packed in a chocolate egg usually retailing for less than a dollar (plus you get the chocolate!). All the models are faithful miniature reproductions of the full-size cars and have complete interiors and accurate wheels. Most have transparent headlight inserts and all have painted details like Smart logos and taillights.
The Fortwo and Crossblade are small enough to fit in the Kinder Egg's traditional yellow capsule, but the Roadster Coupe and Forfour are too large. So the Roadster Coupe comes in two sections while the Forfour has four pieces to be assembled. The parts simply snap together and Ferrero provides an instruction sheet.
The Surprise Egg Smarts are slightly larger than 1:87 scale. Based on comparisons with manufacturer's data for the real cars, the Fortwo and Crossblade are roughly 1:70 scale; the Roadster Coupe and Forfour are about 1:74 scale. With that in mind, I decided to see which 1:87 scale models would fit inside the capsule, which is just under 49 mm long by a bit over 32 mm in diameter. Herpa's Mini Cooper fits fine, but the largest model I was able to fit while still being able to get the capsule snapped closed was a Volkswagen Polo and it was a tight fit.
Smart is not the first car brand to make an appearance in a Kinder Surprise Egg. Herpa created a model of the latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class station wagon that would fit inside the capsule. DaimlerChrysler commissioned 11,000 models for the real car's March 2003 introduction. Most of the five-piece models were blue, but every seventh car was red, in keeping with Ferrero's custom. Though Herpa said the model was 1/87 scale, comparison to a conventional model of the E-Class wagon shows the Herpa Benz is probably closer to 1/90 scale or perhaps a bit smaller.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Kinder chocolate isn't widely known in the United States. In fact, I believe the U.S. will get its first real taste of Kinder chocolate during the 2004 holiday season. Ferrero USA will be selling the Kinder line of hollow chocolate Santas this year.
So what about these nifty eggs? Sorry, but Kinder Surprise Eggs cannot legally be sold in the United States. For one thing, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says the toys present a choking hazard for small children, especially those whose parents don't have enough snap to read the warning on the wrapper. There is some merit to that concern: in spite of Ferrero's efforts to inform consumers about the suitability of their products, there have been a couple of reported child fatalities linked to Kinder toys in other countries.
However, the real culprit is the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which prohibits the embedding of non-food items inside food, unless the non-edible part has a functional value like a popsicle or lollipop stick. The original purpose of the act was to prevent the addition of hazardous items or adulterants to processed food and it has never been changed. Several years ago, Nestlé introduced their Magic Eggs, a hollow chocolate ball that was designed to contain a small figure based on characters from popular Disney feature films. The Nestlé figures had passed muster with the CPSC, and the Food and Drug Administration initially approved them. However, Connecticut and some other states, still concerned about consumer safety, successfully sued the FDA, saying the agency did not have the authority to issue a ruling that went against Congress' intent in the 1938 law. Nestlé had to replace the toys with small candies and the door was closed to legal importation of Kinder Surprise Eggs.
This has given rise to a thriving black market in the Kinder Eggs. Americans returning from countries where the eggs are sold have often brought small quantities for their own use or to give to family and friends. Some businesses, like specialty food stores, would import larger numbers of Kinder Eggs for resale, prompting occasional visits from federal agents. However, the rise of e-commerce has created a whole new marketplace and a quick Google search will provide dozens of vendors, often based in Canada, selling the eggs for two to three times their suggested retail price.
By the way, even if you live in Canada, don't run out and buy dozens of Surprise Eggs hoping to find a miniature Smart inside one. The Smart models will only be found in the German Kinder Überraschungseier, produced solely for the home market. The Kinder Surprise Eggs sold in Canada are made in Argentina and contain different toys. On the other hand, I went through the 2005 catalog of Kinder Surprise Egg toys and there are some other pretty nifty items, so an egg or two might be in order.
It's kind of a shame that Canada got left out. The first shipments of full-size Smart Fortwos for North American sale have just arrived in Canada, so you'd think Smart would have wanted at least the Fortwo model in the Canadian eggs. Of course, almost all Smart car lines are sold in Mexico, another place the Kinder Eggs are legal, so it would make sense to have the models there, too. (Plus both Canada and Mexico are closer to Texas than Germany.)
I want to thank Ferrero OHGmbH, especially Dunja Brandt, product manager, and Kristina Brehm, who handles public relations, for their assistance in providing the information about the Ferrero Kinder Überraschungseier, Smart GmbH for the specific information about the cooperative promotions program and 87thscale.info for permission to use Albert Prats' photos of the special Herpa Mercedes model. All Ferrero images are copyright © 2004 Ferrero OHGmbh. All Smart images are copyright © 2004 Smart GmbH. The Albert Prats photos are copyright © 2004 by Albert Prats and 87thScale.info.
While you're here, check out the new Promotex 1:87 scale 48-foot cattle trailers. They will be offered by themselves or in combination with one of the Promotex tractors. They're good-looking models and the price is definitely right…
Delivery is scheduled for November, so reserve yours now!
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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