Caramello Koala is one of the most-loved Australian sweets, up there with Cherry Ripe and Freddo Frog. But it arrived on the scene decades later than those traditional favourites. And it has been through some changes over the years, including a change of name. According to Wikipedia, the Caramello Koala first appeared in 1966 under the name of Caramello Bear. Other websites have taken this as gospel, quoting the same date. However, I have so far been unable to find any confirmation of this. In fact, the earliest reference I can find to the Caramello Bear is in 1974, when it began to appear in retail advertisements.
Caramello itself has a longer history. The Cadbury Caramello chocolate block was launched in the United Kingdom in 1936 and was being advertised in Australia by 1940. It was one of a range of “filled blocks”, the other varieties being Turkish Delight and Marzipan. A Caramello Deluxe filling joined the Milk Tray range of chocolates in 1963.
There’s no evidence that Caramello Koala was ever produced in Tasmania, where Cadbury’s original Australian factory was located. My guess is that the earliest date is more likely to be 1967. That’s when Cadbury opened its factory in Ringwood, Melbourne, where the product is now made. The same year, Cadbury took over the MacRobertson confectionery business, acquiring popular products like the Freddo Frog, and Caramello Koala has since evolved alongside its froggy cousin.
The caramel-filled chocolate koala continued to be known as a Caramello Bear until the 1980s, with the Caramello Koala trademark not registered until 1982. Right through the 1980s, we still find references to the character as a Bear. (Of course, koalas are not bears, despite their teddy-like appearance.)
As with the Freddo Frog, the shape of the Caramello Koala has also changed over the years. A promotional sign in the Museums Victoria collection shows a fairly realistic-looking koala clinging to a branch. Could this have been the shape of the original product?
However, by the time the Caramello Bear was being advertised, it had assumed a more upright, anthropomorphic shape. Later still, Caramello’s Koala’s facial features were changed to the clown-like grin we see today. The ears have shrunk to the point of being non-existent.
Caramello Koala has long been a feature of showbags at the various Royal Shows around Australia. In 1984 it was included in the Cadbury showbag and in 1987 played a supporting role in the Freddo showbag. Now there’s a popular Caramello Koala showbag.
The chocolate koala is one of the most iconic Australian sweets and has even made it to the USA. In 1985, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, reported that…
An Australiana shop ambitiously called Everything Australian offers sweatshirts and toy koalas, bush hats and sheepskins, opals and Vegemite, and, most important of all, chocolate sweets from home, Cherry Ripes and Caramello Koalas.
The Caramello Koala was later sold in America under the name Aussie Bear.
In 2010, ownership of the Caramello brand passed to Kraft Foods, when the company acquired Cadbury. The snack foods division of Kraft Foods later became Modelez International. It’s based in America. Like so many products dear to Australian hearts, this little Aussie isn’t really an Aussie at all.