As we turn the page on the health-obsessed `90s, a decade which saw the creation of fat-free fat (Olestra), it may come as a shock to learn that sugary-sweet, nutritionally challenged candy is more than holding its own. The most recent figures from U.S. trade organization National Confectioners Association found retail sales of the stuff grew by US$1.3 billion in 1997, an increase of 6% over the previous year.
One factor helping to tweak the sweet tooth of America has been the techno-innovations that have come to dominate novelty candies. (According to Chicago-based market research firm Information Resource, which tracks candy sales in mass, grocery and drugstore retail channels, the category enjoyed an 8.5% sales spike in `98, second only to chocolate-covered cookies, in terms of growth). Take lollipops, for instance. They’re not just for sucking anymore, not in the hands of Hasbro subsidiary OddzOn anyway. Its Sound Bites line, first released in September `98, allows consumers to hear sounds vibrate in their mouths as they bite down on a lollipop. Using the same technology, the second item in the line, Back Talk Sound Bites, which came out last March, enables consumers to record a 13-second message and then play it back.
Now, OddzOn and sister company Tiger Electronics, which is handling marketing of the product, are taking the Sound Bites Franchise to a new auditory level. Pop Radio Sound Bites (US$14.99) comes with a radio, replete with Chupa Chups lollipop, and a pull-out antenna, which consumers can tune to their favorite FM station.
The Pop Radio Sound Bites, which is suitable for kids ages six and up, hits retail next month and will be available at all stores that currently carry the SB line, such as Toys `R’ Us, Target and Wal-Mart.
TMA goes high-tech
In response to the increasing preference of high-tech toys with consumers, the Toy Manufacturers of America will create a new exhibit area for Toy Fair 2000 that will be dedicated to showcasing the latest in interactive entertainment products. Technoplay@ToyFair, the name of the new pavilion, will occupy 80,000 square feet at the Javits Center in New York City, and will host a variety of seminars on technology and the toy biz.
The cost to parties planning to exhibit will range from US$22 to US$23 per square foot for a 10 x 10 booth. So far, McCarthy and Associates, the U.S. distributor of Tiger Electronics (Furby), has signed on to show its wares in the new area. TMA director of marketing and shows Laura Greene Goldstein, however, does not anticipate Hasbro’s or Mattel’s attendence, since both companies already maintain their own large showrooms in the city.
In another piece of Toy Fair-related news, which will no doubt please weary-legged attendees from years past, the TMA has decided to condense next year’s Toy Fair into five days, instead of the week-and-a-half marathon that previous shows have run. Next year the Javits Center component will be held concurrently with the rest of Toy Fair during the week of February 13 to 17. The TMA has also decided to increase the space it usually rents out at Javits by 50%, in order to accommodate the requests of a growing number of companies wanting to exhibit.
Couch potatoes no more!
Critics who fault TV for its narcotizing effects on children may have to start biting their collective tongues. Now, instead of just plopping their tots in front of the boob tube for yet another hour of passive entertainment, parents have the option of getting their kids actively engaged with the shows they’re watching with Interactive Learning Group’s new product, Video Buddy. The system is comprised of a special handset-console, which enables kids to interact with the videos by inputting answers to educational exercises contained in the Video Buddy programming.
So far, the Minneapolis-based company has signed four licensing agreements granting it the rights to produce Video Buddy versions for Salty’s Lighthouse (Sony Wonder), The Adventures of Paddington Bear (Time Life Video), Once Upon a Tree (Tremendous Productions) and DinoBabies (Fred Wolf Films). According to ILG executive VP Steve Petersen, Video Buddy has the potential to move across a number of formats, including CD-ROM, DVD, the Internet and broadcast/cable TV.
The Video Buddy system also comes with a 40-minute video with instruction on how to use the handset. Once kids put the VB tapes into the VCR, they have to attach the VB handset to a black dot that appears at the bottom of the TV screen. A sensor on the handset then reads the signal information encoded on the videos.
The licensed VB titles (US$12.95 each) and the Video Buddy system (US$49.95) will both hit retail next month.
With files from Allison Dunfield.