It is 6:30 pm on a Saturday night, and I’m on my way to the house of a woman I have never met to trade my miniature crackers and eggs for her miniature dog food and orange juice. I have no idea why I care so much about these tiny, plastic groceries, but for some reason I have been swept up in the craze.
Coles Little Shop launched in July and has truly taken over Australia. For every $30 spent at Coles supermarkets, customers will receive a miniature version of Coles groceries, ranging from Nutella and Milo to nappies and cleaning products. A spokesperson for Coles said they have been “overwhelmed by customer response to Little Shop”, as Australians of all ages have rushed to their local Coles and participated in trades in an attempt to complete the whole collection, made up of 30 miniature collectables.
The campaign has gained so much attention, that Coles has even set up ‘trade days’ in 35 of their stores, in which customers will be able to head into participating stores and swap collectables with other customers. However, some customers are unwilling to wait for the right trades to come along and have taken to eBay to complete their collections – with full sets of the collectables selling for as much as $500.
However, the response to Coles Little Shop has not been all smooth sailing. A number of environmental groups and eco-living experts have been left outraged at the fact that these collectables are made from a non-recyclable materials, including “paper, cardboard, plastic and foam,” According to Laura Trotta, a leading home sustainability expert the toys are not as cost-free as they seem, as she explains that, “While the toy is free now, at some stage our society will pay the environmental and health cost of the initiative.”
The criticism has also focused on how the collectables are packaged – in individual plastic bags – at the same time the supermarket has promised to eliminate plastic bags, before a backflip on this decision saw Coles promise to continue providing free plastic bags to its customers. While these plastic bags are recyclable in REDcycle bins featured in store at Coles, the collectables are not able to be recycled. A Coles spokesperson has responded to the idea that these collectables will be damaging for the environment stating that, “whilst the mini collectables and accessories are not made from recyclable materials, our customers and enjoying and keeping them for the future which means they aren’t heading to landfill.”
Despite the negative press, the Little Shop campaign has been incredibly popular, as seen by the crowds seen at swap days and the hundreds of posts online about swapping the collectables. Social media has been buzzing with feedback, with people tweeting about how much they are enjoying the campaign, tweeting about being initially resistant to the toys, but now being completely obsessed.
I can say first hand that this promotion also has a powerful ability to bring people together. I’ve met more people living in my surrounding streets since this campaign launched than I have in my entire life. There is something incredibly uniting about the number of people coming together to swap with one another in order to help each other out in achieving the number one feat – a full collection of Coles Little Shop. I’ve heard of people collecting for their younger siblings, grandchildren, children, nieces and nephews and the excitement in people’s faces when they finally get their hands on the collectable they’ve been searching for is priceless.
I have a full collection now, and I can safely say – I won’t be throwing out my collector’s case anytime soon.