Many adults have fond memories of collecting cards from cereal packets, but cards were just the beginning of collecting.
In the 1950s supermarkets were using ‘premiums’ to sell breakfast cereal.
A premium was a small reward placed in the cereal box, as incentive to buy the product. The idea proved popular for both retailer and consumer.
In 1955, the first ‘in box’ cereal premium was simply a balloon.
The following year Kellogg’s Cornflakes added three glass marbles in a plastic bag and in 1957 small tinplate pictures were found in Weeties boxes.
From the late 1950s plastic was used to make ‘cereal toys’.
First designs were basic animals and vehicles, but over the next two decades imagination and innovation governed these little plastic toys.
The ‘Deep Sea Band’ series, released in 1969, was modeled on sea creatures playing musical instruments.
Octopussy Hep Cat, Saxy Salmon and Frantic Fanny Fantail were the names
of a few.
‘Tooly Birds’ (1970) was inspired by common shed tools fashioned into ‘birds’, with names such as Harry Hammer and Muggsie Mallet.
‘Metric Monsters’ (1975) were designed to clip onto a pencil.
Names such as Litre Licker, Julius Celcius and Hairy Hectare were used while Australians were adapting to the new metric system.
“Totem Poles” (1971), ‘Secret Stencils’ (1972) and Whirligigs [bike spoke decorations] (1973) were other popular one piece cereal toys.
The Kellogg series ‘Crater Critters’(1968) was modeled on alien space creatures, influenced by 1960s space exploration – walking on the moon was still a year away. The series was so popular it was re-released in 1972.
Some plastic cereal toys were complex. A framework of small parts had to be separated, and then carefully snapped together to form all manner of weird and whacky play things.
‘Walking Farmyard Friends’ (1964) was a popular series. An animal, such as a horse, was attached by cotton thread to a weight.
The weight hung over the edge of a level surface, pulling the horse along and making it ‘walk’.
Other ‘constructed’ toys included ‘Noodle Nodders’ (1969), ‘Zoo Choo Train’ (1970) and Dragsters (1973).
The 1960s ‘Wiggle Ring’ or ‘Flicker Ring’ series used lenticular picture inserts, whereby the image changed or moved when viewed from a different angle – a skipping girl, an Indian shooting arrows, etc.
Rivalry between companies such as Kellogg, Sanitarium and Nabisco, led to the regular release of new cereal toys.
Almost all design and production of plastic toys was by the Melbourne plastic moulding firm, Rosenhain & Lipmann (R & L). Their production of Crater Critters in 1969 produced five million pieces.
The introduction of colour television to Australia in 1975 meant cereal products could be promoted by TV adverts in colour.
This was effective but also expensive, in part leading to the demise of cereal toy premiums.
These brightly coloured little plastic toys can still be found 40 to 60 years after their cereal boxes were opened, serving as childhood mementos.