Trends at the recent New York International Toy Fair, February 18-21, 2017, were many and varied. The list included Shopkins-like characters depicting cute foods and other household items, lots of mini collectibles, Hatchimals-inspired egg-encased toys, sculptable “sand” and “foam” and so much more.
Project Partners Network, one of the country’s premier licensing consultancies, reveals a baker’s dozen of the best new Toy Fair trends for Members of The Trend Curve‘s subscriber family.
- Sweet treats. The popularity of toy lines (and other licensed merchandise) centered on cute characters, inspired by products found in a grocery or department store—notably Moose Toys’ Shopkins, and more recently, MGA’s food-based Num Noms—has led to a burst of lookalike pink-and-pastel toys, like Disney’s De-lectibles, from Imperial Toys. The strawberry, ice cream cone and shoe characters are on collectible figures, plush, accessories, and more, typically appealing to girls aged 3-10, with a sweet spot coming in around age 7.
- Miniature merchandise. The big trend in the still-hot collectibles sector is miniaturization, with ranges of tiny “minis” being added to dozens of collectible figurine assortments. No age group is immune: Minis shown at Mattel cover brands from Thomas & Friends to The Fast & the Furious. Meanwhile, toy lines of all sorts are launching or expanding their basic collectibles assortments, as Wicked Cool has done with its Cabbage Patch Kids-inspired Little Sprouts line, to name just one.
- Eggs over easy. Eggs, particularly used to encase collectibles, were a big theme at Toy Fair, thanks in large part to the popularity of Spin Master’s Hatchimals during the fourth-quarter Holiday season last year. Hatchimals itself is expanding into other toy categories, such as matching games and “Colleggtibles.” Meanwhile, new products like Terrier Worldwide’s Smiley Egg-mojis, distributed by Fantasma, and Wicked Cool’s Egg Babies are taking the surprise-egg and egg-based nurturing trends to new heights.
- Compound interest. Nontoxic, sand- and foam-inspired compounds were all the rage as a no-mess (or at least less-mess) option for molding and sculpting. From Relevant Play’s Kinetic Sand and Shape It! brands to Play Visions’ Floof and Sands Alive!, the compound trend, which emerged last year, was one of the most prominent on the show floor.
- Catching the wave. The ocean is a key content trend in TV and film properties, as well as their associated toys. Examples ranged from Paw Patrol’s Sea Patrol theme to Pirates of the Caribbean toys from Spin Master (based on the next movie in the Disney franchise), to the Seaquestria environments featured in My Little Pony: The Movie, with playsets and figures from Hasbro.
- Fan integration. Fan-created content has been growing as a source for storytelling or imagery in products such as books and t-shirts for some time. It has also started driving toy-industry product development. At this year’s Toy Fair, Jazwares’ Roblox line, based on a video game platform featuring user-generated games, included fan-created characters in the form of six core figures and 40 collectibles. They were selected from the site’s content for their top rankings as fan favorites and/or for making the most-played list.
- Netflix rises. Streaming properties have gained traction in the last year as license-able properties, with the likes of Netflix’s Spirit Riding Free, licensed by Universal with toy licensees including Breyer, and Word Party, licensed by Jim Henson Productions to Snap Toys, among the many examples. Netflix leads the way, but properties distributed on YouTube, Amazon, Rooster Teeth and other platforms are also in the mix.
- Thinking about gender. Last year’s girl power trend was still in evidence, especially in toy lines tied to TV shows and films such as Nelvana’s Mysticons (debuting on Nickelodeon this year) and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman. This year, one of the big Toy Fair trends emerged on the flip-side: toys for boys that follow what are typically considered girls’ play patterns. Examples included a SKU in Guidecraft’s Better Builders line devoted to emotions, as well as dolls from start-up Boy Story.
- A sense of smell. Many of the food-based products mentioned earlier, including the Num Noms line and Klutz’s similarly themed Super Sweet Scented Sketchbook, feature a variety of smells and are helping propel the ongoing trend for scented items forward. Spotted at various exhibitors’ booths were scented toys, stationery, packaging, and bubbles, to name just a few.
- DIY + STEM. The Maker trend and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math, sometimes with arts and robotics included) both remain strong in the toy industry. In many cases the two are combined, with STEM principles and arts and crafts, particularly related to the fabric arts, being part of the package. Thames & Kosmos’ Geek & Co. crafts and science brand is an example.
- Never-ending emojis. Emoji-embellished products, from balls and balloons to pillows and plush, have become even more ubiquitous than at the last Toy Fair, when the trend first hit as a mainstream product theme. Most examples are in-house-developed or based on the Unicode keyboard versions of emojis, rather than being produced as tie-ins to one of the trademarked emoji brands. That said, the Smiley Egg-moji, mentioned earlier, is an example of an officially licensed item.
- Tech time. Not surprisingly, tech-based toys such as drones and robots continue to proliferate. Meanwhile, technology has become a fact of life for most physical toys, from the integration of virtual reality, to apps taking over from radio control, to added content accessed via connectivity. Examples range from UBTech’s Jimu Robot to KD Interactive’s Aura drone, which is gesture-controlled using a smart glove.
- Franchise films. Most of the highest-profile licensed toy programs were film-based this year, although most are rooted in ongoing franchises. Examples include DC Comics’ and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman (with toys on display at Mattel), Despicable Me 3 (with Minions spotted all over the show floor), Lego Ninjago (with toys produced in-house), and a variety of Marvel films, including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. A variety of toy companies were creating product for the last group, along with items featuring the characters’ classic iterations.