Plush Toys

In Case You Missed It: 2021 in consumer products news

From the supply chain to NFTs, an in-depth look at some of this year’s biggest consumer products stories.
December 20, 2021

It’s been another wild year, to say the least. New content and consumer products trends emerged as families continued to try and cope with pandemic life, and the kids industry got even more creative on the problem-solving front. In this new three-part series, Kidscreen is exploring some of the biggest stories of the year, just in case you missed them the first time around. Kicking things off, we look at 2021′s most significant news in consumer products. 

Chain, Interrupted 

Some of the biggest challenges brand owners, toymakers and retailers faced in 2021 stemmed from the ongoing disruption of the supply chain. Border restrictions, lack of space on ships, logjams at ports worldwide and labor shortages led to massive delays and significant price increases.

According to Mark Szakonyi, shippers previously paid around US$4,000 per FEU. (The forty-foot equivalent unit, or FEU, is a measurement of volume for a 40-foot-long shipping container.) But in 2021, that rate jumped to US$27,000 per FEU— a whopping 575% increase.

And these delays won’t end with the holiday season. Disruptions are expected to continue into 2022, and elevated import volumes are being forecast throughout the coming year.

Going Soft

With kids experiencing so much chaos in 2021, it’s no surprise they turned to the comfort of soft and sweet plush toys. In particular, the past year has been a huge one for Jazwares’ Squishmallows brand.

First, entertainment and sports agency CAA signed on to represent Squishmallows in entertainment categories such as film, TV, video games, publishing and live touring. Then Jazwares inked a raft of licensing deals for the range in categories including apparel, bedding and stationery.

According to data from market research firm The NPD Group, US toy sales increased by 11% in Q3 2021, thanks in large part to plush. The super-category was up 39% on the strength of brands like Squishmallows, CoComelon and Care Bears.

Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fungible 

If you’d never heard of an NFT before this year, you’re not alone. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique pieces of virtual content—like artwork or music—with ownership details stored on a digital ledger (blockchain). The market value of NFTs tripled to US$250 million in 2020, and a raft of IP owners jumped on the bandwagon this year, bringing the fledgling category all the way into the mainstream.

Warner Bros. bowed a limited collection of Space Jam NFTs ahead of the premiere of Space Jam: A New Legacy, Mattel launched three exclusive Hot Wheels NFTs in June, and Funko jumped into the market in April when it acquired TokenWave (the company that developed TokenHead, an app for tracking and displaying NFTs).

Then in November, TIME Studios announced it would turn original NFTs from artist Pablo Stanley into a new animated kids series. With NFTs now inspiring content, rather than simply expanding the consumer products programs of existing brands, it’s likely even more kidcos will get into the game in the year ahead.

Tik, Tik… Boom 

TikTok may have started out as a place where tweens could lip sync, but this year the social media platform became a bonafide entertainment juggernaut. According to April 2021 data from market research firm The NPD Group, the young adult fiction category in publishing grew by 68%, and that increase was attributed almost entirely to TikTok.

Creators on the platform share reviews and reading lists with millions of followers. The two bestselling titles from January through May 2021 were novels They Both Die at the End (2017) and We Were Liars (2014), both of which went viral on TikTok. In fact, a January 2021 TikTok about We Were Liars triggered a one-week sales spike of 17,000 units, according to NPD data.

And that influence isn’t going anywhere soon. In recent data from Childwise, kids named TikTok as their favorite social media platform, and the platform reported in September that it had hit one billion active users globally.

The Green Machine  

Sustainability has been a major focus for the consumer products industry for several years, but 2021 saw toymakers launching some of their most creative eco-friendly initiatives yet.

For its part, Mattel rolled out a Barbie Loves the Ocean line that includes three dolls whose bodies are made from 90% recycled ocean-bound plastic parts. The LEGO Group, meanwhile, announced a new brick prototype that uses PET plastic from discarded bottles (on average, a one-liter plastic PET bottle provides enough raw material for 10 standard 2×4 LEGO bricks). And Hasbro announced a new global purpose organization, led by Kathrin Belliveau, focused on ethical sourcing, social impact and sustainability.

And with toycos like Mattel pledging to achieve zero manufacturing waste by 2030, next year will likely see the industry innovate even more in this area.

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