The Little Garden campaign from Checkers teaches kids to cultivate their own vegetable garden. The only drawback is the tool kits are plastic, an environmental scourge.
Ask Georgie gives Checkers' Little Garden campaign the thumbs up for being more environmentally friendly and encouraging children to get their hands dirty.

In the battle for shopper freebies, it seems Checkers is way ahead of the pack. Last week, the retailer launched its latest collectable campaign and it’s likely to be its biggest success yet.

With the Little Shop, Stikeez, Super Animals and Angry Birds promotions, Checkers has once again shrewdly beaten the competition with the launch of its Little Garden campaign.

Unlike past campaigns, this one’s more environmentally friendly (although the “Boys and Girls Toolsets” are plastic), encouraging children to get their hands dirty and grow their own food garden.

With plastic pollution in the spotlight, consumers will be concerned about adding more pollution to the waste stream. This as the theme of this year’s Earth Day was “End Plastic Pollution”, record levels of plastic discovered in Arctic sea ice, and reports that the Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly growing and dwarfing France, Spain and Germany - combined.

Each seedling kit includes a biodegradable pot, a soil pod, seed paper and a pop-out name tag. The materials are all compostable or recyclable: the biodegradable pots are made of wood pulp and peat; and the soil pods are made of coconut husk. Checkers is also selling associated products, which include a collector’s case and a set of small gardening tools - some in pink.

The promotion lasts until June 3, with R5 000 Checkers vouchers up for grabs. There’s a school choir prize as well as a tour to Italy worth R100 000 up for grabs.

Once again, the promotion sees shoppers “rewarded” with a collectable for every R150 spent, which is certain to drive a vast amount of additional business Checkers’s way.

Concern has been raised though about its environmental impact and the fact local suppliers weren’t used. In a post on Facebook, renowned gardening guru Jane Griffiths, the author of Jane’s Delicious Garden, called the retailer out.

“Shame on you Checkers. These ‘gardens’ are imported from Poland when they could have been manufactured by our local Reel Gardening, providing jobs for South Africans. Plus, they would have used locally-sourced heirloom seeds. Even worse, there is no understanding of gardening or seasons - they are recommending germinating tomato seeds NOW to transplant in June!

They obviously don’t care about teaching children anything about gardening, it’s just a money-making exercise.”

In an update, Griffiths said: “This post has provoked quite a response. I would like to add that I think any initiative that teaches kids to grow is fantastic. And this is SO much better than their plastic-generating campaigns. I just think that an opportunity to support local growers was lost. Checkers has contacted me and have said they will contact Reel Gardening. Hopefully this means this campaign will now have local involvement too.”

I asked Checkers why they didn’t support local suppliers.

Spokesperson Adele Kruger Taljaard said the Little Garden package was sourced from abroad, because local suppliers were unable to meet the stringent requirements the promotion, both logistically and from a volume perspective.

“UNGA is the fulfilment agency we have partnered with before on Little Shop and they have successfully executed versions of Little Garden for other international retailers, from there our choice to also entrust them with Little Garden.”

She said UNGA had contacted Reel Gardening about supplying the soil pods and seed paper for future campaigns, but they did not believe it was feasible to pursue this.

“Unfortunately, Checkers was not made aware of this. We have subsequently reached out to Reel Gardening and are currently exploring ways of working together.”

Kruger Taljaard noted that in researching Little Garden, Checkers needed to ensure the seedlings were suited to the South African environment and climate. “As such, we acquired the necessary import licences from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and worked with Food & Trees for Africa, who has planted thousands of food gardens over the past 25 years, to establish the suitability of the seedlings to the South African environment.

“When we planned the April launch date, they advised that (our) climate is surprisingly forgiving and that the majority of the seedlings can be grown in colder months. We were therefore confident that, with the right care, our consumers’ Little Gardens should flourish.”

She said both Little Shop campaigns were “hugely successful”, exceeding expectations. “Even though feedback suggests that our mini collectibles have a much longer lifespan as they are still being used as educational aides in classrooms and other therapies, we took cognisance of consumer feedback regarding plastic waste.”

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected] Follow Ask Georgie on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ConsumerAgonyAunt/ and on Twitter @georginacrouth