Predicting trends in the toy market is difficult at the best of times. And this year’s anticipated hot-ticket items quickly lost momentum in the face of the pandemic.
Cast your mind back to New York Toy Fair in February, when several trends started to emerge. Products inspired by K-Pop bands, like Jazwares’ range of toys based on South Korean girl group Blackpink, looked to be poised to do well. And critters like koalas and kangaroos were everywhere at the trade show after Australia was hit with massive bushfires. Hasbro’s Furreal Mama Josie the kangaroo, for example, featured three baby joeys and responded to touch with more than 70 reactions.
It also seemed like all things icky were crawling back into the spotlight at NYTF, with gross-out toys targeting girls set to hit shelves throughout 2020. As one example, Moose Toys’ Little Live Pets range unveiled the Gotta Go Flamingo with a miniature toilet and neon poop.
But whatever industry experts expected to be popular this year, COVID-19 completely changed the landscape when playtime was relegated to the home. Suddenly, classic play patterns that encouraged quality time or physical activity were flying off shelves.
According to market research firm The NPD Group, the puzzle super-category had posted 42% growth year-to-date in September in the US. In the week ending March 21 alone, US sales for the games and puzzle category jumped by 228%.
To take advantage of these sales spikes across North America, puzzlemaker Ravensburger launched a new division in Canada, with offices in Montreal and Toronto. The company also reached a new milestone of 500 million sales in early 2020, as the first quarter saw games and puzzle sales increase by 55% in the US, according to NPD.
Like puzzles, board games proved to be a popular activity for families during lockdown. According to data from research firm Technavio, the board games market is expected to grow by US$5.81 billion by 2024. Spin Master, for one, took advantage of the spike in sales by bolstering its gaming efforts. The Toronto-based toy and entertainment company entered an agreement to acquire London-based Rubik’s Brand—owner of the Rubik’s Cube.
Spin Master’s activities, games, puzzles and plush category grew 13.2% to US$172.5 million in Q3 2020. The category also posted increases in Q1 (up 24% to US$78.1 million) and Q2 (up 19.2% to US$95.5 million).
NPD data found the outdoor and sports toys super-category had posted 31% growth year-to-date in September in the US. The segment represented 36% of all dollar gains for the first nine months of the year, reporting nearly US$3.5 billion in sales.
In addition to jumping on the bandwagon with consumer products, companies are also looking to popular outdoor toys to inspire new content as kids stuck at home watch more movies and TV than ever before. Toymaker Wham-O partnered with nonfiction prodco Critical Content to develop TV content inspired by brands like Slip ‘N Slide and Hula Hoop. (According to the companies, sales for Slip ‘N Slide climbed more than 180% during the pandemic.)