‘Play and learn’: Australian surprise-inside chocolate brings animal education treats to US

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

Once a children's book series in Australia, Yowie champions conservation and endangered animals through its surprise-inside chocolates and online games. Pic: Yowie Group
Once a children's book series in Australia, Yowie champions conservation and endangered animals through its surprise-inside chocolates and online games. Pic: Yowie Group

Related tags Chocolate Kinder surprise Children Product development Packaging Australia New product

The newest addition to Yowie, which aims to educate children about the animal kingdom and the environment, combines two bite-sized chocolates with a collectible animal toy and a puzzle piece that eventually creates a small world map.

Marketed as Yowie Bites, the 0.3oz chocolates – certified by the Rainforest Alliance – are wrapped in foil, packaged inside a playing card-sized box that holds the toy and corresponding puzzle piece. The box also includes a miniature leaflet with a few facts about the animal depicted in the tiny toy.

Yowie works with a US manufacturer to produce the chocolates.

This latest round of treats includes 20 of the most popular animals on land and sea, Yowie said, including the great white shark, killer whale and dolphin, plus the kangaroo, koala, polar bear and bald eagle.  

Yowie began in the 1990s as a series of children’s books in Australia, developed by educators who wanted to help kids explore environmental and conversation themes, according to global CEO Mark Schuessler. The book’s main characters – native Australian animals known here as ‘protectors of the planet’ – also feature prominently in the chocolate versions of Yowie.

Yowie's 'protectors of the planet'

“When Yowie kicked off, it was so different than anything out there,”​ said Schuessler. “Yowie is kind of like our Sasquatch of our Bigfoot,”​ he added, referring to Australia. “People still have the collections.”

The Australian team collaborated with Cadbury to create chocolate eggs with capsules containing collectible toy versions of endangered species, selling 65m united a year, Schuessler told ConfectioneryNews.

The chocolates eventually fell to the wayside as Cadbury changed course, Schuessler said. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2014 that the UK-based Cadbury ‘sat’ on the brand because it did not own the intellectual property but retained distribution rights. Yowie Group, led at the time by executive chairman Wayne Loxton, bought back global distribution rights and trademarks (then with US-based Kraft Foods) in 2012.

Yowie chocolates re-launched in Australia in 2017.

Play and learn

The Bites (RRP $1.75 to $2.25) mark Yowie’s fifth US series, which typically include 22 to 26 animals. In the case of the Bites, the puzzle piece adds an extra element to the collectible nature of the product, as do the brand’s digital assets.

The educational leaflet included in Yowie Bites

Kids can further explore the Yowie characters’ world of animals through online games and a mobile app.

“Play and learn is a really big deal for us,”​ said Schuessler, noting that parents appreciate the concept because the toy is not merely a throwaway – where most of the surprise-inside market lies, he said.

“This isn’t just about a chocolate egg with a capsule. It is about teaching kids about the environment – and connecting parents and kids.”

In addition to the Rainforest Alliance, Yowie also partners with the Wildlife Conservation Society to promote the deeper mission of education.

Bringing consumers to the category

Keybridge Capital, an Australian investment firm that holds a small stake in the Yowie brand, offered to buy the company for $20m in March but withdrew the offer in early May. Schuessler told ConfectioneryNews that the rescinded offer has 'no effect' on the US business or brand.

According to Yowie's annual investor presentation in November in 2017, sales of Yowie chocolate started at a humble $2m in 2015, rising to nearly $13m in 2016. Sales doubled the next year to $19.5m, and Yowie expected sales to reach $30m last year.

The brand has been able to achieve these numbers through solid distribution across the US, including at major retailers like Walmart, Target, Walgreens and 7-Eleven.

Schuessler sees the growth in the surprise-inside category as key to the brand’s success now and in the future.

“There’s a lot of players in surprise-inside right now. There’s a lot of investment, but we’re certainly ok with that because it has now brought consumers to the category. That’s good for us,”​ he said.

A polar bear toy from Yowie Bites

Yowie had to overcome US stipulations that prohibit putting non-food items inside food products, which previously hindered popular European brands like Kinder from making headway in the US.

Brands now get around those regulations by packaging the toy separately from the actual chocolate. Kinder Joy, for instance, puts the toy in one half of the egg-shaped treat and the chocolate wafer in the other.

“What can we bring differently to the consumer?”​ asked Schuessler, adding that the educational element of a brand like Yowie provides an opportunity for parents to experience with their kids.

Getting consumers to try it once is the first and most important part of the battle, he said. Yowie has partnered with the Dallas Zoo, for example, to introduce the characters to kids and explain the educational aspect to parents.

“This ability for people to get their mitts on it is critical for us. When they get it, they become repeat customers.”

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