Intro to Kinder Surprise
(Last Updated: 15 January 2016)
Kinder Surprise toys have been around since 1972, when they were invented by a Swiss-born industrial designer called Heiri Roth. It was he who masterminded the idea of creating a toy that could be fitted inside a chocolate egg and yet be put together to create a toy that could end up bigger than the capsule it came out of. Roth has been the brains behind many Kinder Surprise toys, especially the earlier ones.
The chocolate eggs are made by Ferrero, who gained the patent for Kinder Surprise toys. The chocolate itself is, as any Kinder Surprise collector worth their salt will know, brown on the exterior side and white on the interior. Inside each egg is a capsule with a surprise toy. This will generally be orange or yellow (or sometimes a mixture).
A key to the success and huge popularity of Kinder Surprises is the wide variety of toys made. There is something to please - and displease - everyone. While 90% of the toys produced are plastic, there are a few which are metal and even some wooden ones. Something else Kinder Surprises are famous for is snap-together character figurines, based on popular cartoon series. Some of the characters to appear in Kinder Surprise over the years have included The Flintstones, The Pink Panther, Popeye and Friends, Bugs Bunny and Friends, Disney characters and The Smurfs, just to name a few. Because of the immense variety of toy types, many people specialise in collecting only certain types of toys (e.g. brass soldiers). Others, including yours truly, like collecting all toys that are available.
These days, collecting Kinder Surprises is more complex than it used to be. There are two main periods: pre-2004 and 2004 onwards. Prior to 2004, Kinders could be divided into three main groups:
German – Sold in Germany alone before 1997, and in Germany and Austria after 1997, this line uses a six-digit numbering system (which has no real rhyme or reason, so don’t bother trying to work it out!) and often features some very sophisticated, high-quality toys. The papers usually contain the series name and often the toy name in German. One little thing to look out for is that a toy variation will often have a different number on the paper.
Italian/European – Once upon a time, this line was sold pretty much everywhere except Germany and Austria, and of course countries that never get Kinder Surprise eggs. But in the first two or three years of the 21st Century, it was restricted to Western Europe and Asian countries like Japan. In early 2003 however, the Italian/European K03 series started being sold in Queensland, and in mid-2003 New Zealand (and possibly the rest of Australia) followed. (The K03 series was replaced by the Argentine K02 series here in April 2004.) The Italian/European line contains the main K toys, so called because they use a numbering system that starts with a K, e.g. K98 No. 40. The 98 means it was available in the 1998 series. They were usually first released in Italy, quickly followed by other European countries. The toys are generally less sophisticated than their German counterparts, but there are still some nice ones. The papers are also much more basic, and almost never have any writing on them to give the series or toy a name. (I guess it was considered too complicated and costly to produce specific papers for many different countries, although that is changing now – see below.) They generally show the series on one side and the assembly instructions for the specific toy on the other.
Argentine – This line came about as the result of Ferrero Argentina becoming a much bigger player in the Kinder Surprise world since the year 2000. Countries that received the Argentine line included Canada, Mexico, Brazil and most other South American countries. (Brazil got their own papers however that were yellow on the reverse side rather than white.) Australia and New Zealand mostly received Argentine series from 2001 until 2004. However, there was a period when the Antipodes had the European K03 series. The Argentine line included the infamous recast toys that became a most unwelcome feature for a while, but the K01 series is where things get really interesting. Many (although not all) of the toys and papers in this series were redesigned in the Argentine line. The papers showed the toy series and assembly instructions on the same side, with a standard safety warning on the other side. (In the Italian/European line, safety warnings are on a separate sheet of paper.) The Argentine papers were less individualised than the Italian/European ones (especially in the K01 series), and frequently the same paper has been used for two, three or even four different toys at once. In many ways, the Argentine line is a rather poor cousin to the Italian/European line. Nonetheless, for collectors who like to get as many variations as possible, it has added a new dimension to Kinder Surprise collecting. The Argentine K02 series had far fewer generic papers, however, and the papers were also a little thicker so they didn’t rip as easily. The K03 and K04 series also got the Argentine treatment. Early MPG toys (see next paragraph) also appeared with Argentine variations, but the papers were made over and were much nicer. With the TT series however, the Argentine line stopped entirely, and all three lines have now been fully integrated into just one.
From August 2004, the German and Italian/European lines historically merged into what I have termed the “MPG” line. This line features a new numbering system that comprises a letter and two or three numbers (e.g. C-01, S-100 etc.). MPG stands for Magic Production Group, and this Luxembourg-based group runs the Magic Kinder Web site. Since this changeover, Kinder toys now have “MPG” stamped on them, instead of “Ferrero” or a K number. The papers are larger and more sophisticated, and feature a prominent Magic Kinder logo (although this logo is absent from papers issued in Eastern Europe). Papers for certain sets, especially limited-edition ones were also in different languages for various European countries, which creates a serious headache for paper variation collectors! The MPG toys are sold right across Europe; there is no longer an East-West divide (other than with papers) or a split between Germany and Austria and the rest of the continent (but again, papers are sometimes the exception here). From the 2007/08 season, papers were also streamlined, with no regional differences except for a few hand-painted sets.
In addition to the standard toys, there is also a special series of large toys, the Maxi line. This is sold in extra-large eggs, and often features plush toys based on cartoon and hand-painted figurines from the regular-sized series. But there are many other very nice toys as well, with the Maxi format enabling extra details. I don’t know as much about the Maxi line, but in recent years it has turned up occasionally in New Zealand, usually around Easter time. This has been the case for three or four years now.
Kinder Merendero/Joy toys should not be forgotten here. During the summer months in Europe, it is often too hot to sell regular Kinder Surprise eggs, because the chocolate melts. So a substitute line called Kinder Merendero in Italy and Kinder Joy in most other countries is sold during the hottest part of the year. These eggs, which have hazelnuts in the middle to make the chocolate more robust, often contain special series, including hand-painted figurines. An example of a Kinder Merendero/Kinder Joy series is “The Looney Tunes in Ancient Greece”, which features 10 Looney Tunes figurines participating in various Olympic sports. There are also nice puzzles that accompany this set. Curiously, Kinder Joy papers have sometimes accompanied some of the MPG toys issued in the Argentine line.
One question new collectors of Kinder Surprises may be asking is: how do I spot one? Of course, it's easy to find them in shops. They're egg-shaped and have the words "Kinder SURPRISE" on them. However, if you're at a school fair or second hand shop, you're not going to get the full egg, just a toy, and probably without its paper which would give it away immediately.
The vast majority of Kinder Surprise toys are dead easy to spot. Just look for a mark like "K00 N1", which should appear somewhere on the toy. If you find one like that, you're holding a Kinder Surprise toy. A few are unmarked. Wooden toys in particular don't have the usual markings. However, they usually have some plastic on them. The wooden engines from the K96 and K97 series have red plastic wheels. So if you see a wooden engine like that, especially a little one about the size of a Matchbox toy, it's very likely to be a Kinder toy. Beware of recasts, however, which often have no number or only part of a number (e.g. N60, with the “K94” scratched). Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re older toys. They may LOOK a lot like older toys, but if they don’t have the K number, they’re not. (However, some recasts have the K number but a different colour scheme to the original!) Hand-painted figurines don’t have K numbers, but usually have “FERRERO” or “Ferrero” stamped somewhere on them. The same applies to German toys.
MPG toys can be identified by the letters “MPG” plus a number like “C-30”. So mostly you should be able to recognise a Kinder Surprise toy if you find one. But if you're absolutely stuck, try an Internet site. There are quite a number of Kinder Surprise sites on the Internet. You can find some of the more informative ones on my links page.
Before I close, a quick history of Kinder Surprise eggs in New Zealand. I’m not exactly certain when they first came here, but I think it was the early 1990s, maybe around 1993 or 1994. When I first started collecting them in mid-1995, the K95 series was just appearing, but it was also possible to get toys going as far back as the K92 series. The K95 series lasted until around early 1997, when the K96 series came out. New Zealand got the K97 series in early 1998. That lasted until around May 1999, when we jumped ahead to the K99 series. Save for three or four toys, the K98 series was never issued here. The K00 series came out in March 2000, and incredibly, we had it until January 2003! During the period that we had the K00 series, the K99 series made a comeback (from about October 2001 to June 2002), and there was also a plethora of recasts, which made a lot of collectors pretty unhappy. 2003 was, however, a vintage year for New Zealand Kinder Surprise collectors, with the Argentine K01 series being available from January to July, and the K03 series with Magicodes and European papers out from July right through until April 2004. From April 2004, we got the K02 toys with Argentine papers and some Argentine-specific features like eye stickers or different colouring, along with German recasts that were also accompanied by Argentine papers. Magicodes also accompanied this series. In January 2005, we began getting the K03 series again, but this time with Argentine papers, and mixed in with this new series are some K02 toys that were not previously issued with Argentine papers. But it was not until April 2005 that the previous Argentine K02 series finally departed. In September 2005, the Argentine K04 series, including some K03 toys not previously issued with Argentine papers, was issued. In March 2006, we began getting the MPG “C” series with a mix of Kinder Joy and Argentine papers, and including some older “K” series toys with new-style Argentine papers as well as Argentine-exclusive jigsaws. In August 2006, the Monster Hotel series was added to our MPG line. The following year, we got the S series for ever so long, but from mid-2008, began to get the 2S series along with a couple of TT sets. The S series still persisted here and there, but finally disappeared for good in 2010. The 2S series finally followed it in 2011, and the toys were predominantly from the TT and NV series. In 2012, we got toys from the DE and UN series. I have not kept up with the exact ebb and flow of Kinder series in more recent years, but as of early 2016, the main series available seem to be the FT and FF ones.
Hand painted series that have appeared in New Zealand are as follows:
- “Zunft der Zwerge” Gnomes (8 in set, paper just has letters under gnomes, available 1995-1996 with the K95 series)
- The Great Leoventuras (10 in set, English/Finnish/Swedish paper, available 1995)
- Sharkybaba (10 in set, Australian paper – slightly different to UK paper – available November 1998-February 1999)
- “Mit den Blumentopfzwergen dur die Jahrezeiten” Gnomes (12 in set, paper has no writing and is blank on the back, issued 1999-2000 with the K99 series)
- Pyramiao (10 in set, UK paper, available November 1999-March 2000)
- Galacteenies (8 in set, UK paper, available in the first third of 2001)
- Top Ten Teddies (9 in set, reissue of 1995 German series, two different papers, available November-December 2002; very limited run)
- Cybertops (12 in set, an Australian/New Zealand paper for each individual figurine, available from around August 2005 to March 2006, although from April 2006 a few could be found here with Canadian papers)
- Doraemon (8 in set, an Australian/New Zealand paper for each individual figurine, available from April 2006)
- Monster Hotel (9 in set, issued with Kinder Joy papers, available from September 2006 until about April 2007)
- Spongebob Squarepants (7 in set, came with the same papers that had been issued with the set in the Netherlands, and our set had a couple of variations in common with the Netherlands also. Available from approximately April-August 2007.)
- Mole Mission 2 (11 in set, came with a mixture of West European and Brazilian papers. Available from September 2007 until around June or July 2008)
- The Simpsons (10 in set, came with Mexican/Benelux papers. Available as from July or August 2008 until about October)
- Ice Age 3 (10 in set, came with probable Mexican/Benelux papers. Available in late 2009)
- Magic Sport 2 (10 in set, came with generic European papers. Available in September 2010, and probably a bit before and after that month as well)
- Smurfs (8 in set, came with French/Italian papers. Available mainly in September and October 2011)
- Happy Feet 2 (8 in set, came with generic European papers. Available in March and April 2012)
- Madagascar 3 (8 in set I think, came with generic European papers. Available in March and April 2013)
- Smurfs 2013 (9 in set, based on 50th anniversary set released in 2008, but has “2013” on the figurine bases, came with generic European papers. Available in August and September 2013)
- Transformers (8 in set, and available in 2014)
- Hot Wheels (8 in set, and available in late 2015)
- Barbie (8 in set, and available in late 2015)
I have also found a Glowing Ghostie and someone else once found a Chinese Beaver in NZ Kinder Surprise eggs, but those series were never officially released in this country.