Why I'm saying no to Coles Little Shop collectibles

Coles will give out Little Shop collectibles with grocery purchases until the end of August.
Coles will give out Little Shop collectibles with grocery purchases until the end of August. Photo: Coles

What do you get when you cross two small children, one bedroom, a few years, numerous extended relatives who have a tendency to try and buy love, and a bunch of grocery store and fast-food chain promotional campaigns?

Five rubbish bags stuffed full to the brim. Full of cheap plastic crap.

It took me an entire Saturday, but I finally decluttered my kids' bedroom. One by one, the rubbish bags piled up, surprising even my seven-year-old son.

"Wow, mummy. That's a lot of rubbish," he said.

For a while there, I surveyed the extent of our family's crimes against the environment and felt extremely guilty about our contribution to landfill.

But, now that I've cleared it all up and away, I'm tempering my guilt with relief that it's all gone and a clear personal commitment not to let that stuff back in my house.

Which is why I'm dreading going near a Coles store between now and the end of August.

It's very hard to stick to a commitment to stem the tide of free, collectible toys that you know will only fascinate your smalls for a few days before being discarded when giant companies like Coles lure your children with them.

Yes, for every $30 you spend, Coles will give your child a small, branded, plastic, collectible toy. All in good fun, they assure us.

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Fun? Is that what you call it?

What's fun about giving kids mini versions of sugary, processed, salty foods when there is a clear link between advertising junk food and the consumption of unhealthy foods by kids? 

What's fun about material designed to lure kids in, creating lifelong habits in small children before they have a chance to interpret the material and analyse the messages they're being sent?

What's fun about the creation of a dynamic in a family whereby parents are put in the unenviable position of being the bad guy who gives into junk food advertising, or of being the bad guy who won't let kids play with the tools of junk food advertising?

Because this is exactly what the Coles Australia Little Shop promotion will do. Get parents to spend money at Coles stores, by promoting junk food and branded products to young minds.

Despite the fact many shoppers have voiced concerns about the collectibles, the supermarket giant reports the promotion has been overwhelmingly successful. 

They have responded to criticism on social media by saying the collectibles have been created for the whole family to enjoy.    

"We know many of our customers love collectibles and we have designed them together with our suppliers to be miniature replicas of some of the most popular products on our supermarket shelves. The idea behind Little Shop is that customers can keep and collect them rather than throw them out. 

"When customers are at the supermarket they have a choice as to whether they would like to receive a mini collectible or not."

But anyone who has every shopped with a young child knows that "choice" is not really a free one thanks to the existence of pester power.

I should feel guilt about the five bags of garbage I pulled out of my kids' bedrooms. There is plenty of personal fault stuffed in with all that rubbish. But there's also a bunch of fault that should be borne by many, many others.

Namely, the big corporations whose bits of cheap plastic and sheets of coloured paper card filled a sizeable portion of the garbage that once sat abandoned under the beds and behind the bookcase.

This time, though, I'm standing strong. No more marketing to my kids, Coles. No more.

Alys Gagnon is the Executive Director of parents' lobby group, The Parenthood. You can join the campaign asking Coles to cancel the Little Shop promotion here. http://www.theparenthood.org.au/coles