Kids’ obsession with “unboxing” and collecting toys, a revival of nostalgic brands, and toys that teach children to be better global citizens are just a few of 2018’s biggest toy trends announced by The Toy Association at its 115th North American International Toy Fair, held February 17th – 20th at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.
“The toy industry continues to do an incredible job of keeping pace with innovation and trends seen beyond the toy aisle in order to bring kids and families exactly what they are looking for: play that is engaging, enriching, addictive, and fun,” says Adrienne Appell, leading trend specialist at The Toy Association. “The top trends reflect a continued demand for collectibles, family games, creative toys, and tech-infused products that allow kids to create and explore new worlds and build lifelong skills through play.”
The “Big Reveal”
The obsession with “unboxing” a much-anticipated toy on social media is having a real influence on the toy aisle. Now, the act of removing a surprise toy from a blind bag is just as exciting as the toy itself and all part of the fun. The toy industry has capitalized on this social phenomenon and the mounting popularity of collectible toys (sales for collectible playthings grew 14 percent globally in 2017), by introducing a variety of toys across several different categories that focus on the act of unboxing. Some are mini “surprise” collectibles in blind bags, which have the added bonus of being affordable, making them attractive to parents and easy for kids to buy with their own pocket money; others are larger toys that focus on the tactile aspect of opening and putting together the toy as part of the play experience. The one thing these toys all have in common: they get kids excited about opening the box to see what they got, how it feels in their hands, and what the toy can do.
Millennial moms and dads — defined as those born between 1980 and 1996 – make up the majority of young parents in the U.S. today. Though the generation has been defined by its obsession with technology, millennial parents believe it’s important to engage with their kids on an unplugged level in today’s world and are turning to classic toys and retro brands that are the equivalent of “mom’s chicken soup” and harken back to a simpler time. This year we expect to see an influx of toys that are nostalgic and offer tried-and-true play value for a new generation of kids to enjoy with their parents. This trend is supported by the fact that classic toy categories continue to perform very well — in 2017, U.S. plush sales grew 8 percent and doll sales were up 4 percent.
Growing interest in board games over the past few years has led to phenomenal growth in the games & puzzles category, with U.S. sales up 23 percent and an additional 3 percent in 2016 and 2017, respectively. From kids and teens to young adults to grandparents, game play is appealing to all ages and a variety of interests, thanks to niche games, licensed games, cooperative games, quick games, new takes on old classics, and innovative board games. Social media is also giving game sales a boost, as laugh-out-loud, silly, and gross-out games continue to inspire social media sharing by teens and adults, with some videos even going viral. Most importantly, games of all kinds are fostering face-to-face play and getting families excited about playing together.
Playing with pretend pets — whether they are furry plush or interactive digital pets — is a growing trend for children who are eager to care for their own pets, but not yet ready for the responsibility of a real, live animal. Pet toys run the gamut from fantastical creatures like unicorns, dinosaurs, or other made-up animals to cats, dogs, horses, and other pet toys that feature realistic details, grooming and food accessories, and online worlds that bring toy pets to life. Parents love these toys because they prepare kids for the real thing by teaching them how to be empathetic and nurturing. Included in this trend are “anti-virtual pets” that interact with kids in a funny way by being grumpy or gross, and collectible or wearable pets that are fun for kids to trade and display.
There is something to be said for good, old-fashioned imaginative play that inspires children to picture themselves in adult roles or future careers, create new worlds, and explore their talents. According to The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative, studies show that kids who play make-believe games are better able to self-regulate their emotions, develop a problem-solving approach to learning, have better language abilities, and much more. From role play and dress-up items, to open-ended building kits and larger-than-life playsets, to arts & crafts and food play activities, toymakers have been developing imaginative toys for decades and have perfected these playthings for kids today, offering so many options for the creative child and endless opportunities for building lifelong skills through play.
Toys that Teach
“Play with a purpose” is a buzz-phrase among educators and parents. Though STEM/STEAM toys have been a mainstay the past few years, these toys are now engaging kids in several different ways. Today we’re seeing toys that teach toddlers everything, including counting, the alphabet, opposites, and even coding and toys for school-age kids that teach high-level topics once reserved only for the classroom. With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that STEM jobs will increase to more than 9 million by 2022, parents are eager to get their children interested in these topics at a very young age. It’s important to note that this trend also encompasses toys that teach kids how to make the world a better place — by being responsible citizens, kind to their friends, and open-minded about different cultures.
2018 will see the release of Aquaman, A Wrinkle in Time, The Incredibles 2, Wreck-It Ralph 2, Duck Duck Goose, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Madagascar 4, and many more family-friendly blockbusters that will influence the toy aisle, as well as new TV shows that will spawn creative new toy lines. In terms of tech, the team expects to see more affordable and user-friendly virtual and augmented reality toys, interactive and buildable robots with new features, and RC flyers, like drones, that are easier to handle and fly.