Showbags and their contents on display at Queensland's Ekka in 2013
Showbags and their contents on display at Queensland's Ekka in 2013

A showbag is a themed bag of commercial products, novelty items and promotional merchandise, usually made available for purchase. It is a distinctive feature of Australian agricultural shows (the Australian equivalent of state fairs or travelling carnivals), where they are sold from stalls; they can also be found at exhibitions, festivals and fundraising events. Showbags are unique to Australia.[1]

Overview

History

Showbags were once known as "sample bags" as they originally contained product samples of household goods such as soap or canned foods, produced by a single vendor or a group of vendors.[1][2] Such sample bags were originally given away free of charge or carried only a nominal price in order to promote brand awareness.[1]

The first "showbag", a bag of coal, was given away for free to all visitors at the inaugural Brisbane Ekka in 1876; however only from 1902 were stall holders allowed to start giving out samples.[3][4] An IXL sample bag from 1933 contained tomato sauce, canned fruits, baked beans or spaghetti in a can and a ruler, all for 9 pence ($3.90 in 2020);[5] this allowed families during the Great Depression to fill up their pantries for very little.[1] Visitors at the 1954 Sydney Royal Easter Show could buy a Planters sample bag containing potato chips, potato straws, peanuts, toffee, honeycomb and a lollipop for 3 shillings ($5.36 in 2020).[4] Toys would sometimes be included in the sample bags but often they would be secondary to the product samples.[6]

By the 1970s the sample bag had evolved into the confectionary and merchandise-filled showbags known today.[1]

Pricing and contents

Compared to the practice of giving away sample bags for free or at very low cost in the past, showbags in the late-2010s were commonly priced in the $5 to $30 range, up from a typical maximum of $20 during the previous decade.[4] A showbag containing premium products can cost a hundred dollars or more,[7][8] while the classic Bertie Beetle showbag has been sold for $2 for more than three decades.[9] In 2008, a $10,000 "showbag" containing a freezer of beef and a fridge with 100 bottles of beer was offered at the Royal Melbourne Show.[10] The rising cost of showbags is often identified as a major negative aspect of shows.[11][12] Despite this, it is generally assumed that the total retail value of the individual contents of a showbag will exceed the price charged for the package.

Most showbags are marketed towards children, containing toys, sweets and chocolate. Other common showbag items include clothing such as hats, socks and T-shirts, backpacks, drinking cups and mugs, posters and stationery. Comic books were frequently included in showbags in the 1970s and 1980s, but the practice has declined since. A number of showbags are marketed to the adult consumer, with themes including cosmetics, fashion, fitness and health, premium confectionery and gourmet food, and even adult toys.[13] Showbags themed around movies such as Ghostbusters, Top Gun, or Back to the Future, or television shows such as The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, Friends or The Office are generally targeted at adult fans of those properties.[14] An adult marketed showbag may also include discount vouchers that can be redeemed at the vendor's business at a later date.[7] Showbags often contain exclusive merchandise and items; Nestlé's Bertie Beetle chocolate bar was generally only available to the public in a showbag from the 1970s to 2018.[15][9][16][17]

Common themes for showbags include confectionery brands such as Cadbury or Chupa Chups, children's toy brands such as Barbie or Hot Wheels, and licensed properties such as Disney, Star Wars, Pokémon, Harry Potter, or DC and Marvel Comics superheroes. Broad areas of children's play interest such as fairies, dinosaurs or pirates are also common subjects for showbag themes, as well as international and domestic sporting teams. Showbags may also be created to cash in on current fads and trends, as well as to promote recently released movies or television series. Others take on vague generic themes such as extreme sports, teen culture or practical jokes. The 2008 Royal Melbourne Show had a David Hasselhoff-themed showbag offered for sale.[10]

The physical showbag itself is similar to a shopping bag and is usually made from plastic or heavy paper, and is printed with graphics promoting the theme or brand. Sometimes a backpack or tote bag may be used to hold the items instead, especially if such a bag is part of the showbag's contents.

Distribution and sales

Major showbag companies operating today include Hunter Leisure, Bensons Trading and Chicane Marketing, as well as other smaller companies.[18][17] Modern showbag companies seek out or are approached by established brands or vendors to create a branded showbag, or come up with a generic theme independently. The company then sources the contents of the showbag on their own, sometimes designing the included merchandise themselves.[19] Assembly of the showbag is often done by a third-party before final distribution to the show or event, where they are usually sold direct to the consumer by the showbag company.[13][9] Before sale to the public, the contents of a showbag comes under the scrutiny of state government product safety inspectors, who review the contents of the bag and remove potentially dangerous items such as those that could cause eye injury or have small parts that could pose a choking hazard to children.[10][20]

In 1971 the Sydney Royal Easter Show offered a selection of only around 30 different showbags; in 2012 there were 342 varieties for sale.[1] A major showbag company could expect to sell up to 500,000 showbags each year at the Royal Melbourne Show alone.[18] At the 2017 Brisbane Ekka, more than 250,000 Bertie Beetle showbags were sold.[15] Showbags were typically only available to people attending the shows, which in most places were only held once a year; however in the late-2010s showbags began to be sold online by showbag companies throughout the year and are able to be delivered direct to a customer's home, even internationally.[18]

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling many agricultural shows in Australia during 2020 and 2021, online retailers of showbags have reported a boom in trade, though online sales of showbags still lagged far behind of those sold at shows in previous years.[18] Atypically, showbags were also sold in supermarkets and other brick and mortar stores after the cancellation of major shows in order to deal with the large surplus of stock.[21][22] The pandemic also forced smaller showbag sellers in regional areas to tour country towns independently in order to continue trading.[23][24]

After children aged 5 to 11 became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in January 2022, state vaccination hubs in Victoria gave out showbags to children receiving their COVID-19 vaccination.[25][26]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f McNeilage, Amy (2012-04-05). "Showbaganomics: from free to big business". Farm Online National. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  2. ^ Moloney, John-Paul (2013-02-19). "Nostalgia keeps Bertie Beetle bags alive". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  3. ^ "Ekka's history". Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  4. ^ a b c Bochenski, Natalie (2015-08-06). "From free to Frozen: a potted history of Ekka showbags". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  5. ^ Millimaci, Grace (2014-09-27). "Bag samples now rich pickings". The West Australian. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  6. ^ "The evolution of the Ekka's show bags, which originally contained coal and condiments". ABC News. 2022-08-06. Retrieved 2022-08-08.
  7. ^ a b "$280 buys most expensive show bag in Oz". WAToday. 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  8. ^ Cowie, Tom (2017-08-30). "Royal Melbourne Show: What we learnt about this year's showbags". The Age. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  9. ^ a b c Wilson, Roxanne (2016-08-26). "Show staple — The Advertiser finds out more about the iconic showbag". AdelaideNow. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  10. ^ a b c Cooper, Mex (2008-08-26). "$10k for beer and beef showbag". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  11. ^ Dubecki, Larissa; et al. (2002-09-26). "Either way your wallet's a loser". The Age, Melbourne. Retrieved 2007-02-01.
  12. ^ Swift, Tyronne (2004-07-07). "Been there, done that but show's still a hoot". Alice Springs News. Retrieved 2007-02-01.
  13. ^ a b Haskins Hawthorne, Anna (2018-09-07). "'Packing sex toys, mystery shopping': How to make a living as an Airtasker in Melbourne". The Age. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  14. ^ Jenke, Brittany (2020-04-29). "Gear up for 'the one with the Showbags' as Woolies is slinging 'Friends' filled goody bags". The Brag. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
  15. ^ a b "1963 Bertie Beetle launched by Hoadley's". Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  16. ^ Mattson, Diana (2018-03-04). "Bertie Beetles now sold all year round in Adelaide and not just in showbags". AdelaideNow. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  17. ^ a b Lyons, Erin (2021-04-08). "Bertie Beetle: Strange fact about famous Australian chocolate treat". News.com.au. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  18. ^ a b c d Webb, Carolyn (2020-08-12). "The Show's a no-show, but you can still grab a bag". The Age. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  19. ^ "Branded showbags and gift bags". Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  20. ^ Cosenza, Emily (2019-08-31). "Unsafe items removed from Perth showbags". 7news. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  21. ^ Heinke, Alexander (2020-06-30). "Ekka might be cancelled this year but showbags are still available in time for school holidays". 9news. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  22. ^ Olle, Emily (2020-08-17). "OTR to sell showbags after Royal Adelaide Show cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic". 7news. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  23. ^ "Show bag family's business goes on the road inspiring lolly hoarding across regional Victoria". ABC News. 2020-10-28. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  24. ^ Cassidy, Caitlin (2020-11-01). "Travelling showbags arriving in Shepparton". Shepparton News. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  25. ^ Howe, Courtney (2022-01-10). "Vaccinations for children begin in regional Victoria as staffing, supply issues impact services". ABC News. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  26. ^ "As some parents face cancelled vaccine appointments, these kids were luckier". ABC News. 2022-01-12. Retrieved 2022-01-12.