After a historic year that saw U.S. toy sales skyrocket with millions of families stuck at home, The Toy Association unveiled the top toy trends that are expected to drive industry sales in 2021. The announcement was made during The Toy Association’s virtual Toy Trends Briefing, which can now be viewed online.
“This year’s biggest trends underscore the ongoing impact of the pandemic on play; the toy industry’s growing commitment to helping kids become better global citizens; and the many social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of mindful, musical, and ‘kidult’ toys,” said Adrienne Appell, senior vice president of marketing communications at The Toy Association.
“The pandemic did not stop our trends team from virtually previewing hundreds of innovative new products as we set out to determine what will be topping kids’ wish lists between now and the holiday season. We are so excited to share a sneak peek at what kids and adults will be clamoring for as we dive deeper into the impact of COVID-19 on the future of play.”
Normally held at Toy Fair New York (postponed until February 2022), The Toy Association’s Toy Trends Briefing annually attracts media, buyers, and other industry professionals who want to see the latest developments in toys and play. New for this year, the discussion included an overview of the state of the toy industry from The Toy Association’s Steve Pasierb, president & CEO, and an analysis of the U.S. toy market from The NPD Group’s Juli Lennett, senior vice president & industry advisor for toys, who both helped set the stage for what is expected to unfold in 2021.
A summary of the top trends follows:
• REDISCOVERING PLAY
One silver lining of the pandemic is that it has helped families rediscover the joys of spending time together and find value in bringing play into their daily lives. In 2021, families will be seeking new toys that promote togetherness, as well as inclusive playthings that can be enjoyed by kids of varying abilities and interests. This trend includes educational toys and activities that families can use to help their children learn new skills and subjects; family games and puzzles with cross-generational appeal; outdoor and active toys; nostalgic brands; cooking-themed and role play toys; etc.
• NOT JUST FOR KIDS
The growing “kidult” trend was fueled by the pandemic, with more adults than ever turning to toys to bring some joy and levity into their lives. Toys and games have been a means of escapism for adults and offer a way to reconnect with their own inner child. This trend includes games fueled by adult topics, social media trends, and other fads; collectibles and building toys that appeal to hardcore fans; crowd-funded toys; and toys that invite casual fans into the fold across a wide range of fandoms.
• MIXING IN MUSIC
Driven by social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok that have become incubators for viral music and dance crazes, toys that get kids moving and grooving are expected to grow in the toy aisles. This trend includes toys inspired by music-infused social platforms, channels, and programming; innovative new audio players that encourage screen-free play; toys that encourage kids to mix and make their own music; unboxing toys that incorporate music into the reveals; and, of course, classic musical toys.
• ZEN-SATIONAL TOYS
Toys aren’t just for fun – they also serve up a healthy dose of emotional support and wellness in times of stress and uncertainty. According to The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative, families surveyed nationwide said playing together was the best way to help kids process their emotions. This year will see a growing demand for toys that help develop children’s social and emotional learning (SEL) skills; toys that promote mindfulness and self-care; comforting plush toys and dolls; and sensory/fidget toys that offer moments of zen.
• SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS PLAY
As families look for new ways to become better global citizens, toymakers are responding with toys that foster social responsibility and awareness. This trend includes dolls that promote diversity and cultural awareness; eco-friendly designed toys (and packaging) that also teach kids about sustainability; plush that promote the protection of endangered species; toys that give recognition to the essential workers critical to society; playsets with farm-to-table elements; and STEAM toys that feature renewable energy sources.
With many theatrical releases moved to streaming services or taking a hybrid approach in 2021, licensed toy sales will be driven by what’s happening on non-linear channels (Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, and others) and, in the absence of live events, through video gaming (i.e. gaming systems, platforms, and brand anniversaries). This shift will create new opportunities for original IPs bolstered by social media platforms (such as TikTok and YouTube) to cut through the noise and make an impact at retail across multiple categories alongside traditional entertainment licenses.
A video of the Toy Trends Briefing can be viewed online (www.YouTube.com/TheToyAssociation). With the toy, play and retail landscape continuing to shift at an accelerated rate, The Toy Association’s trends team will present a mid-year trend update this summer.