Oh for the days of breakfast cereal toys

These days when I push my shopping trolley along the supermarket ‘Cereals’ aisle, I feel a little bit disappointed. Sure, there’s no shortage of choice, but the focus of each breakfast cereal option is very much based on nutrition. Now I’m not saying nutrition isn’t important, but it’s just not very exciting.

On many breakfast cereals of today you’ll see nutritional ‘highlights’ displayed prominently on the front of the pack. ‘Very high in fibre!’, ‘Grain based fibre!’, ‘Multigrain!’ to mention but a few.

Just how healthy or otherwise these breakfast cereals are is a matter of debate, and a whole other story. What disappoints me is what these promotional healthy catch phrases have replaced.

When I was a kid, instead of a big burst on the front of a cereal pack shouting ‘High fibre!’, we’d see something like, ‘Free toy inside! Collect the whole set!’ In my childhood days, that was a far more exciting phrase than, ‘Now with added vitamin B!’ It meant that when you opened a new box of Corn Flakes or Rice Bubbles, a new toy was yours.

The marketing genius here was to have the little plastic toy hidden in amongst the cereal flakes, bubbles or ‘pops’. Before you opened a pack, you had no idea which toy you’d get. In addition to this, each toy design came in a variety of colours. This was heaven for us kids.

The heyday of breakfast cereal toys

If you grew up in Australia in the 1960s and ’70s, you’ll almost certainly know the toys I’m talking about here. Colourful plastic creatures barely an inch (2.5cm) high. Over the years, many different sets of these were produced. Some were truly bizarre. In hindsight they make me wonder what sort of psychedelic drugs the designers may have been taking back then.

Take the ‘Fringies’, for example. It’s very difficult to describe the characters in this little set. Perhaps it’s easier just to show you:

As a kid I’d always thought the name ‘Fringies’ was a hair-related thing. It made sense when looking at the lead character, ‘Fringe’ whose form was basically three layers of fringed hair. But I can see now looking at the other characters in the set that my childhood theory falls flat.

Kellogg’s actually provided the answer on the back panel of the packet: “These mystical little creatures live beyond the fringe of outer space.” Oh, now I get it! The back-of-packet spiel also told us that Fringies “have powers to help those who are always kind to ‘littlies’”. Presumably this was Kelloggs’ way of abating any fears kids may have had when first seeing creatures. I mean let’s face it, these are some creepy looking little things.

They certainly didn’t frighten me, though. Every time a new breakfast cereal pack was opened in our house, I was super excited. And that was pretty much every day or so – I was one of six kids!

The full set of breakfast cereal toys

Collecting the full set of these things was the aim. Once that was achieved, a full set in each colour was the target. ‘Mr Fringe’ (as I called him as a kid) could be orange, green, pink or even purple (see below). In fact, every character was produced in seven different colours. So to get a true full set of Fringies – eight characters times seven colours – you’d need to buy at least 56 packs of breakfast cereal!

A pink and blue plastic figurines

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For a family of six kids, this was not impossible, depending on how long a particular series of toys was available. Dad was the main grocery shopper in our family. Mum didn’t drive. If Corn Flakes were on special, we’d see Dad turn up with a boot full of breakfast cereal boxes in the driveway on a Saturday morning. These were then converted into a cereal box tower next to the fridge.

Each box was full of thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and more, Kellogg’s told us. I didn’t care about that. I wanted to know if the next pack had ‘Twinge’ or ‘Nuttinge’ and what colour they would be.

Kellogg’s was savvy enough to know that kids would (a) tire of the same characters and (b) eventually get the full set. So after a few months, they’d draw production of that set to a close. But not long after, a new set of plastic colourful characters would appear, and we’d start all over again.

Made in Australia

These toys could be found in breakfast cereal packs all over the world. But what many Australians don’t know is that each of these sets were designed and made here in Australia. They were produced in the Melbourne inner suburb of Richmond by a company called R & L – Rosenhain & Lipmann.

From 1958 until the mid-1970s, R & L dominated the breakfast cereal toy scene. The Fringies was just one of many sets of weird and wonderful characters produced by R & L. I can remember Crater Critters and Tooly Birds – avian creatures shaped like tradies’ tools! And then there was Neptune and his Switched-On Seaweeders. These were all bizarrely beautiful.

Being a hoarder, I still have a whole bunch of these creatively crazy critters in storage somewhere. They’re a great reminder of those days. As a kid, I loved the ongoing cycle of a new set of plastic characters showing up every few months.

Times have changed. Promotional breakfast cereal toys generally are no longer commercially viable. What’s more, plastic is a huge environmental problem. I’ve kept a heap of our plastic critters, but most ended up in landfill.

I understand the need for a reduction in plastic waste, and the need to focus on healthier foods. But I still miss the days of the breakfast cereal aisle being the most exciting part of a supermarket.

Do you remember the breakfast cereal toys of your childhood? Do you still have any? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: The haircuts of our youth

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. Never mind the little toys, what about all the collector cards that came with cereals, chocolates etc. I have books of them from WW2 to the 1960’s.
    Not as valuable as “basketball” cards but much more informative.
    My kids will probably chuck them all out when I fall off my perch. I won’t care at all!!!!

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