by Tina Manzer
New York’s Toy Fair 2019 in February was the largest in the show’s 116-year history. The annual event at the Javits Center filled 447,000 square feet – a total sellout of exhibit space equivalent to eight football fields – and hosted 26,000 toy professionals and media from 98 countries. Nearly 200 first-time exhibitors were in the Launch Pad (Hall 1E), a favorite haunt of specialty toy retailers hunting for unique, never-seen-before products.
Trends Briefing offers few surprises
Echoing “Sensational!” Sandy Ruben’s toy-theme spotlight in edplay’s January/February issue, The Toy Association listed slime, kinetic sand, dough and putty in a trending theme called “Compound Crazy” at its annual Toy Trends Briefing.
Sandy’s article highlighted compounds as part of a larger theme – tactile and sensory products. He asked a team of retailers to vote on their favorites, and Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, Mad Mattr, Play Foam, Floof, and Pay Dirt topped their list.
The Toy Association has its own trend team. By the time their briefing occurs at Toy Fair each year, they have already met with hundreds of global toy companies to develop a short list of trends (six for 2019). Then at the show, they scour the exhibits for good examples to present.
“Activities that are compound-based are a good way to get kids to tap into their creative side, allowing them to familiarize themselves with different textures and styles of design and construction,” they said. “Creative and reusable compounds are popular not only on their own, but also within the ‘Unboxing’ trend. Compounds are another layer kids have to ‘dig through’ to get to the prize – adding even more suspense to the toy.”
Kids have always loved the surprise element of unwrapping a toy, as well as the hunt for rare or limited-edition versions of it. But in 2019, “Unboxing 2.0” goes to a whole new level, says the Toy Association. “Added play patterns and features extend the elements of surprise by encouraging new ways to play with the toy,” they said. “Features such as a secret decoder or unique packaging that transforms into storage or playsets help to make this trend more than just unwrapping and collecting. Instead, unboxing play becomes ‘part of the story.’”
The “Throwback Toy” trend, including low-tech playthings like the classic Duncan yo-yo, will ignite a wave of nostalgia among parents and grandparents. They want to share the toys and characters that played a big part of their childhoods with today’s children.
Whether they’re from farmers’ markets or food trucks, food and drink items have made their way into the toy aisle in many creative ways. According to the Toy Association team, the “FoodieFun” trend is a reflection of health conscious millennial parents who place a strong priority on where their food is sourced. “Both girls and boys are equally interested in toys and games that reflect the foodie culture,” the Toy Association team noted.
“Foodie Fun” also encompasses scented toys, which have become must-haves for kids. “From fruity to spicy and even off-putting or gross-out smells, kids find it fun to pick a scent that appeals to them, and to collect characters, toys, backpack charms, and other playthings that feature that favorite smell.
Toys, games, and activities that can help prepare and inspire kids for the future represent a trend toward “Inspirational and Aspirational Play.” This theme encompasses playthings that use innovative technology, nurture a child’s natural curiosity, and motivate them to explore skills and interests. According to The Toy Association’s “Decoding STEM/STEAM” report, toys play a crucial role in teaching STEAM concepts and developing the necessary skills and competencies through play. In addition, toys can motivate kids to get excited about new areas, make mistakes without fear, and help facilitate collaboration among peers.
“In 2019, the entertainment industry has a number of family-friendly movies sure to delight the kid in all of us,” noted the Toy Association, describing the “Explosive Entertainment” trend. “From live-action remakes such as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin,” to “Toy Story 4” and the next Star Wars and Avengers installments, it should be a busy year for licensed toys and games.
“The hugely popular “Frozen” is finally getting a sequel in 2019!” they added, explaining that licensing continues to be a huge part of the toy business, representing about 30 percent of all U.S. toy sales. “Popular licensed properties continue to infuse all types of unique products from plush to playsets to tech toys.
In 2020, the Toy Fair will be held later in February, from Saturday, February 22 through Tuesday, February 25, at the Javits Center.
The Original Spin Doctor
2019 marks milestone anniversaries for some of the toy industry’s most beloved characters, toys, games, and brands. The Little Mermaid turns 30, Space Invaders turns 40, Sesame Street is 50, Barbie is 60, Batman is 80, and Duncan yo-yos are 90. Even edplay magazine celebrates a significant 25th birthday.
Duncan’s yo-yos were first demonstrated in California in 1929 by a team of Filipinos who carved them out of wood. In 1945, the company moved to Luck, Wisconsin, where its factory could produce 3,600 wooden yo-yos per hour. Duncan’s first plastic yo-yos appeared in 1968, and the company was acquired by Flambeau Inc. soon after. It owns the company to this day.
In 1979, Duncan moved to its current location in Middlefield, Ohio.
There have been many “ups and downs” in the yo-yo business over the last nine decades, but Duncan’s classic Imperial and Butterfly yo-yos have become household names. Over the years, its product lines have expanded to include an entire range of skill and activity-based toys, from boomerangs, balls and brain games to USB-charged fighter planes and basketball sets.
To celebrate its anniversary this year, the company plans monthly launches of limited-edition yo-yo models. What’s more, the largest gathering of competitive yo-yo players and fans on Earth – The World Yo-Yo Contest – will be held in Cleveland this summer; practically in Duncan’s backyard.