One of the most distinctive and sought-after Christmas candies along the Wasatch Front this month has been a chocolate-toy hybrid from Europe that for nearly 80 years has been banned in the U.S.
Kinder Joy — an egg-shaped treat made by Ferrero International, the Italian company that makes Nutella — started selling at Walmart stores in the U.S. on Black Friday. Since then, its availability has expanded to other retailers, including specialty shops like The Old Dutch Store in Salt Lake City and Pirate O’s in Draper.
“Everyone is excited that we’re finally selling them,” said Lindsay Taylor, the assistant manager at the Dutch Store. “It’s been hard to keep them in stock.”
When unwrapped, the candy egg separates in half; one side is a creamy confection with crunchy wafer balls, the other contains a toy. They cost $1.50 to $3.50, depending on the store.
Taylor said the new American offering is different from the European version, known as the Kinder Surprise.
In that version, which is sold across the globe, the toy (enclosed in a plastic case) is hidden inside a hollow chocolate egg. The candies were a problem for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which in 1938 banned such items, saying “inedible objects” in food posed a choking hazard to young children.
Many parents who have bought them, however, say they’ve never worried about their child’s safety.
Despite the ban, many Americans regularly stash the eggs into their bags when returning home. The few who are caught usually have their candy confiscated and sometimes are fined.
The illegal nature of the candy has made Kinder eggs a cultural phenomenon. There have been Kinder egg memes, a White House petition to “Free the Egg” and popular YouTube personalities singing their praises.
Several years ago, the candy even got political, used in a gun-safety campaign to show that it was easier to access an assault weapon than a piece of European candy.
For most people, though, the candies bring back good memories, said Taylor. “They are really nostalgic for people, especially grandparents who had them as kids.”
Originally created as an Easter candy — thus the egg shape — the Kinder Surprise has become a year-round treat in many countries, Paul Chibe, CEO of Ferrero North America, said in a news release announcing the candy’s arrival in the U.S.
He said the company offers dozens of toys to uncover, from crayons and balls to racing cars that need to be assembled and holiday-themed items. New playthings are added regularly. And there are entire themed sets — think Disney princesses, Smurfs, Minions and Hello Kitty — where kids (and adults) try to get all the pieces for their collection.
Toys, of course, are an age-old marketing tool for children’s products. They have been included in everything from Cracker Jacks and cereal boxes to fast-food Happy Meals from McDonald’s.
“They’re not in it for the chocolate,” admits Arainna Forth of Bountiful. “It’s the toy they want.”
Forth and her family have traveled several times to Europe, stashing Kinder Eggs in a suitcase when they return home. “We’ve never had them taken at customs,” she said, but she also is careful to only declare “candy” in her bag and not get too specific on the brand.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” she joked.
Last month, the Bountiful family brought more than three dozen eggs from a Thanksgiving trip to England. It was an attempt by Forth’s four daughters to collect all eight Hello Kitty figurines as well as the set’s oragami-style home that includes a living room (with a sofa) and a bathroom (with a tub).
“We went to multiple grocery stores to find the Hello Kitty eggs, because they weren’t available at every store,” Forth said. While the girls didn’t complete the set, they did get a large enough variety to set up a nice display in their bedroom.
Forth said she’s not sure if the new American version of the Kinder egg will be as exciting for her children. “The whole point is breaking open the egg and pulling out the toy.”
But now that they are available in Utah, she plans to buy some. “We’ll have to compare the two versions to see if we’re getting cheated.”