Kinder Surprise Eggs—those popular milk chocolate shells that encase tiny, whimsical toys—have had a surprisingly controversial history around the world.
In the United States, the Kinder egg could not be imported legally, both because it contained a “non-nutritive component” (i.e., a toy), and because that toy could be a choking hazard, although people have been known to smuggle them in to the country, anyway. The inclusion of a toy has also gotten the candy banned in Chile, where a food labeling law has banned packaging intended for children in an attempt to curb obesity. And as recently as 2016, a child in France died after choking on the toy inside.
As a result of all this, last year, Kinder debuted a new, FDA-approved version called Kinder Joy, in which the toy and the chocolate stay in separate halves inside egg-like plastic packaging—which likely explains the resurgence of Kinder eggs next to the register at grocery stores and bodegas near you.
That’s all to say that perhaps while Kinder has been busy sorting out distribution and choking issues and tinkering with R&D, quality control of the toys may have fallen by the wayside.As reported by Yahoo! News Australia, people have been finding toys inside Kinder eggs that aren’t reading as… quite so fun in the United States. The particular toy in question is shaped like an anthropomorphic Kinder egg holding three balloons, each with a bold white k for Kinder. Unfortunately, in the United States, that also reads as a smiley plastic egg man holding a KKK bouquet.
Sure, probably most of the children receiving these toys are too young to understand the connotations of that. But parents do, and a Ku Klux Klan-referencing surprise is not what most people expect from their chocolates, or what they might want to see in their child’s toy box.
Ferrero hasn’t yet responded to MUNCHIES’ request for comment, but a spokesperson on Kinder’s behalf told Yahoo that the KKK statement was (unsurprisingly) unintentional. The egg man was supposed to hold one balloon with a k, but two more seemed to add “more robust structure.”
As far back as October, Twitter users have repeatedly tweeted pictures of the toy at Ferrero, who manufactures Kinder. According to Yahoo’s report, one woman wrote on Facebook, “what on earth Kinder?” after her mixed-race niece found the toy. “This is not ok even if you try and say it was a mistake,” wrote another woman in late December on the company’s Facebook page. “As a global company you have a responsibility not to issue racist and anti-semetic [sic] propaganda.” (MUNCHIES has reached out to some of these users for comment; we have not yet heard back.)
“We sincerely apologise for any offense caused due to the inference of how the three Ks read together on this toy,” she told Yahoo. “We had absolutely no intention to make associations with the Ku Klux Klan and we truly apologise to our consumers for any unintentional offense caused. We do not support this organisation in any way.”
She added that the company will be destroying the remaining stock from the toy range, “revisiting [their] internal processes,” and providing replacement toys for affected consumers.
While “KKK” is synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan and hate crimes in the United States, the term might not be recognized in the same way worldwide.
Still, when you’re making a product sold worldwide, quality control should probably be stringent enough to consider cultural differences. Things don’t have the same meaning everywhere, after all.