Is it game over for the toy industry?

With the toy industry flagging in 2018, the category saw a further slump at the end of last year, with sales dropping by 6% for the second year in a row.  Even the December release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 failed to turn a disappointing year around.

According to industry experts, the general election and uncertainty over Brexit affected consumer confidence last year and led parents to be more cautious with their spend and less spontaneous when it comes to toy purchase, two key contributors to the industry’s less than satisfactory performance.

The figures were announced at the 2020 Toy Fair, held in London’s Kensington Olympia, where hundreds of manufacturers gather to showcase their toys and launch new products.  This is always a well anticipated event for us at Relish, but this year we were particularly keen to see what the UK’s biggest toy brands had to offer in a bid to buck the downward spiral of 2019.

Though the event seems to be becoming increasingly secretive, with more and more brands operating ‘closed’ stalls, we still enjoyed our time perusing the event, and managed to pick up on a couple of emerging trends while we were at it…

1. Back to basics: board games make a heroic comeback

This year’s show demonstrated that in an increasingly digital, tech-driven world where family time has been stripped back, a desire for products that embrace ‘togetherness’ is on the up. Board games were rife at the Toy Fair this year, with classics such as Monopoly and Top Trumps holding their own, alongside newcomers such as The Cyanide and Happiness Card Game.

And the role of these games isn’t just limited to the fun factor.  According to Kids Insight, over a third of kids aged 6-9 now play with classic boardgames such as Monopoly, Guess Who and Jenga on a monthly basis. Interestingly, their data also suggests a link between playing boardgames and positive wellbeing; tweens who play boardgames frequently feel happy 51% more than average, and are also less likely to experience anxiety.

With such positive benefits attributed to the category, there’s little surprise that the trend is predicted to rise in coming years, with Grand View Research suggesting the category will reach a market size of $21,56 billion by 2025, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 8.7 percent during the forecast period.

2. Wooden toys dominate the pre-school play arena

There were more wooden products at the Toy Fair this year than you could shake a stick at. Every other stall seemed to be offering some form of wooden toy, whether it be traditional wooden skittles, a Peter Rabbit wooden walker or even a tech-integrated wooden piano (courtesy of Baby Einstein). This apparent rise in wooden toys reflects the above-mentioned desire for going back to basics, as well as the wider paradigm shift we’re seeing across the globe for more sustainable, environmentally friendly products.

Our pre-school mums here at Relish can relate to this trend, opting for wooden toys not only for their eco-friendly credentials but for the nostalgic feeling they generate, as well as their durability…

“To me, there’s something quite nostalgic about wooden toys. Back in the 80’s, I grew up with wooden blocks, jigsaws and dolls houses (which were later passed down to a line of cousins!).  I love watching my daughter create similar memories” (Kajel, mum to Jaiya, aged 2)

So, is play time really over for UK toy brands?

We think not.  But there does seem to be a clear need for more traditional, paired back toys in the industry that enhance family time, and I for one am pleased to see this shift. Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact the industry has.

While it’s unclear just how much the toy industry contributes to the world’s growing plastic crisis, cutting back on plastic toys and reverting back to more sustainable options can only be a good thing. Positively, we’re starting to see more and more brands attempting to reduce their environmental impact.  LEGO is pioneering the way with sustainable bricks and other brands such as Playmobile are using only cardboard packaging in their new lines.

Essentially, it would appear that in order to stay relevant and in-the-game, toy manufacturers need to seriously consider their impact and start producing long-lasting, environmentally-friendly products that manage to engage as well as inspire ‘togetherness’.

So, watch this space for a more sustainable and durable industry that generates much-needed family time in this highly disposable, fast-paced era that we live in.



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