Thursday 9th April – Latest toy industry reaction to coronavirus outbreak

Here’s Toy World’s latest roundup, including news from Amazon, Lego, Panini, Hornby, Mattel, Disney and Toys and Games of Worcester.

Amazon, which has been prioritising orders of household essentials and medical supplies, is now also prioritising products where there is “strong customer demand”. The retailer’s decision to focus on essentials had affected sellers of other goods on the platform, many of which had long delivery times and were unavailable for pre-order. Indeed, customers have been looking up items and then sourcing them elsewhere – for once it was the Amazon platform that was being “showroomed”.

However, Amazon is now widening its description of high-priority products to include those people “most need and want”, appearing to reflect a relaxation of previous constraints. Amazon has not confirmed whether the status of certain categories has changed, however anecdotal evidence from sellers suggests that the number of products carrying an “extended delivery time” warning has dropped.

Joining the effort to provide much needed Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and eyecare to healthcare staff, the Lego Group has been developing PPE eyewear which has been put it into production at its Danish moulding factory. The new protective eyewear is being tested in hospitals, with the hope that the design will be approved for official use.

Panini has teamed up with Premier League Primary Stars, which uses the inspiration of sport to connect pupils’ learning to the world around them. A selection of resource packs, usually available for teachers, has been made accessible without sign in for those learning at home. The ‘Home learning – Stick with Maths’ activity, for example, features Panini Premier League player cards in a set of puzzles and games which encourage families to work together and have fun as children learn. One challenge provides downloadable, printable materials to make personalised player cards featuring friends and family or favourite players. The activities enable children to become familiar with different sorts of data and familiarise themselves with maths vocabulary and mathematical reasoning.

Hornby is also offering a host of printable activities on the Kids Zone section of its website. Various puzzles, quizzes and colouring sheets are on offer, including a colouring competition where kids can create their own livery for a Hornby Junior Express Train. They are then invited to post a picture of their design (and themselves) on Hornby’s social media channels to be in with a chance of having it used on an actual Hornby model train.

Adding to the efforts to keep families amused and entertained during lockdown, Mattel has announced 13 creative new ways to play its popular card game Uno, to enable players to get more out of the pack and extend the game play. The new ways to play debuted on the Uno Instagram page with Uno Bingo, and players are encouraged to join the social conversation using the #KeepPlaying hashtag. Other game variants include Uno Slaps, Uno Big Hands, Uno Stack and Uno Quick Play.

A free information book: Coronavirus – a book for children, illustrated by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, has been released and is available to download at nosycrow.com. The book has been created with the help of Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, two head teachers and a child psychologist, and answers key questions about coronavirus in simple language appropriate for 5 to 9 year olds. Although the book is free to download, the publishers have suggested that readers make a donation to www.nhscharitiestogether.co.uk.

Axel Scheffler commented: “I think it is extremely important for children and families to have access to good and reliable information in this unprecedented crisis, and I hope that the popularity of the books I’ve done with Julia Donaldson will ensure that this digital book will reach many children who are now slightly older, but might still remember our picture books.”

Hospitals and medical facilities in the US have received a donation of supplies from Disney Parks, including 150,000 rain ponchos and more than 100,000 N95 masks. The rain ponchos have been found to be useful as an extra layer of protection and can prolong the use of PPE (personal protective equipment). In some cases, they can be used instead of gowns.

Despite having reservations about operating an online business, Toys and Games of Worcester has swiftly adapted its business model and is delivering to local families, as well as posting orders further afield.

Owner, Tim Evans commented: “We are truly humbled by all the orders and kind words from our customers. We have been inundated with orders. I’m desperately trying to update our website but please bear with us, we’re not an online store and nor do we want to be. We value our interactions too much to move in that direction. We are and will remain a traditional toy shop; we value your friendship, your custom and your conversation.”

Exclusive: the latest from the pre-school category

Toy World spoke to a selection of Pre-school toy suppliers to discuss what’s new for the category this year. 

It’s fair to say that the Pre-School category is facing challenges. Over the past two years, some £200m has been lost in UK purchases. This figure may come as an unpleasant surprise to many who feel that the Pre-School (0-3) category is relatively protected from the ingress of products usually associated with slightly older children – video games and other screen-led activities, fashion and collectibles. The figures don’t lie though; speaking to one expert, the NPD’s Rory Partis, it seems the bulk of the issue may lie towards the younger end of the age spectrum. Parents, he says, are more aware than ever on the impact of spending on toys that may not be played with for very long, and therefore may instead be favouring second-hand items and hand-me-downs from other siblings. As readers with young children will know, infants and toddlers don’t really care if a toy is brand-new; they’re more interested in the fun it provides.

Pauline De La Riviere, marketing director at Mattel, agrees, and also points to ongoing issues with retail. “The pre-school market is a challenging category and there are a number of factors that have affected it over the last two years,” she explains. “The shrinking of the retail landscape, particularly in this category, has not only affected sales but also the service and advice that consumer would receive on products as trusted parental partners. As the economy and the environment continues to be a concern for parents, we see an increase in the second-hand market. This means that brands need to look at new ways to support parents, with advice on product needs offered through digital platforms, and through product development to ensure that brands help parents by introducing grow-with-me features that offer a sustained investment.”

“2020 is a very exciting year for us,” adds Pauline. “Not only are we celebrating Fisher-Price’s 90th anniversary but we have also launched our new brand campaign, Let’s Be Kids.”

Little Tikes is aiming to increase its presence in the category by teaming up with Moonbug to launch the first range of Little Baby Bum toys, based on the characters from the popular and globally recognised YouTube channel. Little Tikes’ key focus is to inspire playing and learning together through active and imaginative play, with a new line of products that encourages children to build skills through mobility, exploration and social interaction.

“We’re really excited about the number of ranges we have in the pipeline for 2020, which will facilitate these core skills, and support development from birth,” explains MGA’s UK SVP, Andrew Laughton. “Little Baby Bum is a very important brand for MGA. Since its launch in 2011 Little Baby Bum has won global recognition and generated over 23b views and over 21m subscribers on YouTube. We share so many values when it comes to development through play and we’re thrilled with the launch. We’ve created a fantastic line of products and there is more investment and products coming in the autumn.”

Read the full article, plus a comprehensive roundup of all that’s new to the pre-school category, in the April issue of Toy World.

ViacomCBS appoints Simon Leslie

Simon joins ViacomCBS Consumer Products with over 20 years experience in consumer products across Europe and South America.

ViacomCBS Consumer Products (VCP) has appointed Simon Leslie as vice president, Consumer Products for Southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa (MENA). He will dual report to Mark Kingston, senior vice president, International Licensing of VCP and Thomas Goller, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI) Europe, Middle East Africa and Asia (EMEAA). Simon will split his time between VCNI’s London and Madrid offices.

In this role, Simon will be responsible for licensing revenues and managing teams across France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and Africa, which make up a subsection of the newly structured VCP team for EMEAA. He will oversee the retail sales and marketing division across the region, and manage global partnership activity locally with the heads of markets, regions and categories.

Simon joins ViacomCBS Consumer Products with over 20 years experience in consumer products across Europe and South America in both emerging and mature markets. Most recently, he served as managing director at Hasbro Italy, responsible for leading seven functions – consumer products, sales, marketing, trade marketing, finance, human resources and IT. Prior to that, he was managing director at Hasbro Chile, Latin America’s most successful market, developing global strategic plans and spearheading all commercial functions, human resources, finance and operations. He also built Hasbro’s core brand market presence at Hasbro Portugal, after moving up the ranks at Hasbro UK.

Mark Kingston commented: “Simon has comprehensive knowledge of consumer products and the ability to adapt global strategies to local market needs and opportunities, which will help us grow our international presence and support our partners in Southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Simon is a stellar addition to the team responsible for these important territories.”

The Lego Group and Nintendo detail new Super Mario range

The full Lego Super Mario assortment will launch on 1st August 2020.

The new Lego Super Mario product line features an interactive Lego Mario figure that collects coins in real-life game levels created with Lego bricks. Lego design lead Jonathan Bennink has unveiled details of the Lego Super Mario universe, starting with the Mario Starter Course. This entry point set is needed to unlock expansion sets and features seven action bricks for different interactions with the Lego Mario figure that are only included in this set. The Lego Mario figure itself has LCD screens in his eyes, mouth and belly to display a wide variety of instant reactions to movement, colour and action bricks. Also included is a speaker that plays iconic sounds and music from the video game series.

Kids aged six plus can build levels and play their own way, with action-packed challenges. Lego Mario is used to collect virtual coins as he runs and jumps from the Start Pipe to the Goal Pole via Lego bricks, cloud platform and clashes with the Goomba figure and Bowser Jr. figure.

The Starter Course can be combined with Lego Super Mario Expansion Sets, which each unlock unique challenges and characters to play with and against friends. The first Expansion Sets include the Piranha Plant Power Slide Expansion Set and the Bowser’s Castle Boss Battle Expansion Set. Fans can also use the free Lego Super Mario app by the Lego Group, which keeps track of scores to encourage continuous rebuilding, as well as providing digital building instructions with zoom and rotate viewing tools to make building easier. The app also offers a safe forum for users to share ideas with friends.

The update was shared in a video posted by the Lego Group and Nintendo and on the Lego Super Mario website.

The full Lego Super Mario assortment will launch on 1st August 2020.

Silvergate Media unveils new broadcast deals for Octonauts

The new deals will introduce the show to key territories in Silvergate’s global brand strategy.

Silvergate Media’s pre-school animated series, Octonauts, is hitting new markets with recent broadcast deals that are introducing the show to audiences in Latin America and the Middle East for the first time.

In a deal brokered by Panaderia, Mexico’s TV Azteca has acquired the broadcast rights to Los Octonautas, marking the property’s first major launch in the Latin America region, where the show debuted in October 2019. Alongside TV Azteca and the show’s other Latin America broadcast platform, Netflix, the official Spanish language YouTube channel has seen rising audience figures. In Q4 2019, Mexico became the 4th highest rating global territory for Los Octonautas on its YouTube channel.

Silvergate is also embarking on a new mission to bring Octonauts to audiences in the Middle East following a recent broadcast deal with Spacetoon, one of the biggest family entertainment content providers in MENA. The agreement was brokered by 20too agency and saw the first episodes debut in prime-time slots from March 2020. Building on the property’s growing popularity, Silvergate is now readying the launch of the Octonauts live stage show which will premiere in the region with daily performances at Global Village Dubai, a multicultural family attraction, welcoming more than 7m visitors every season.

Ron Allen, EVP Commercial said: “Mexico and the Middle East are key territories in our global brand strategy. We are delighted to be working with regional partners of this calibre to grow our fan base and we’re excited to be planning a wider brand launch for LatAm for 2021.”

Exclusive: NPD on the shifting landscape of toy consumer demographics

Rory Partis, director UK Toys & EuroToys NPD, looks at the changing face of toy consumers.

In an article written for Toy World before the lock down, Rory revealed: “There have been a number of changes in the UK toy market over the last few years, particularly within the retail landscape. But we have also seen changes in terms of consumers, of those buying toys and those using them. Over the last two years, NPD consumer data shows that toy purchases for the 12+ age group have added nearly £80m to the total market in the UK, whereas the pre-school age range (0-3) has lost over £200m and boys 4-11 has lost a similar amount. Girls 4-11 has added £40m, but it is the 12+ age group that is far and away the best performer. Possibly the most striking statistic is that this age range now accounts for 24% of all purchases which is actually the same as pre-schoolers and boys 4-11. What is happening in the market to make these kidults buy into toys more than ever before?

The 12+ age group represented 24% of the market in 2019, a figure that has increased significantly in recent years – it was under 20% in 2016.

Rory goes on to unveil similar trends within the Games & Puzzles, Action Figures and Building Sets supercategories, and looks in detail at what factors have contributed to this.

To read the full NPD article in the April issue of Toy World, click here.

As toy sales patterns continue to shift during the lockdown, readers can keep up with the latest NPD insights in the upcoming May issue of Toy World.

Tuesday 7th April – Latest toy industry reaction to coronavirus outbreak

Today’s roundup sees Debenhams confirm its next step, while there’s more online fun offered by enterprising toy companies.

Debenhams has now confirmed that it will file for administration. The company has described the process as a “light touch” administration to protect it from legal action from creditors while stores are closed.

CEO Stefaan Vansteenkiste said “We have taken this step to protect our business, our employees, and other important stakeholders, and are striving to protect jobs and reopen as many Debenhams stores for trading as we can, as soon as this is possible.” He did not say how many of Debenhams’ 142 branches would reopen after the lockdown.

Debenhams has furloughed the majority of its staff, although the retailer is still trading online.

Marvin’s Magic has joined the many companies offering free online entertainment during the lockdown, with magical entertainment and fun for all the family. At 3pm yesterday, fans were able to enjoy live magic tricks and challenges from magician Sacha, on a link accessed via the company’s Facebook page.

“Here at Marvin’s Magic, the magic will always continue & we are doing our bit to lift spirits with some magical entertainment and fun for all the family to enjoy. Best wishes from Marvin and all at Marvin’s Magic,” read the invitation. For further magic sessions, check Facebook.

Asmodee has created free print & play versions of some of its most popular family games for anyone to download, print and enjoy at home. The Asmodee team is working on adding more games in the coming days. Read more here.

Amanda Alexander of Giddy Goat Toys in Didsbury has reported that her toyshop is still going strong, thanks to a decision to start working with Downyourhighstreet.com and Clearpay UK. Giddy Goat Toys has received a high volume of online orders, which are being processed and packed in the shop.

Despite almost every other sporting event being postponed or cancelled around the world, WWE‘s biggest show went ahead over the weekend, as WrestleMania 36 took place behind closed doors. The event was pre-filmed and there were no fans in attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic. Broadcast over two nights instead of the usual one, the event saw Drew McIntyre become the first ever British WrestleMania champion. In recent weeks, WWE’s Raw and SmackDown events have also taken place in empty venues.

“Love that modern technology made it possible for our annual WrestleMania party to still happen. And we got to do it for two nights – bonus!!!” said one delighted fan.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has clarified the status of certain essential roles that have been given the all clear from the government to keep working during the coronavirus lockdown. “You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” she announced in a briefing. “But I say to the children of New Zealand, if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make it to your household, then we have to understand that it’s a bit difficult at the moment. The Easter Bunny might not get everywhere this year.” The Prime Minister has posted a template Easter egg on her Instagram for children to colour in and decorate and encouraged everyone to display pictures of Easter eggs in their windows, to create an Easter hunt for neighbourhood children. She also promised to share some of the designs on social media.

Asmodee offers free Print-and-Play editions of board games

Asmodee has released a set of free downloadable board games as part of its new Print and Play initiative, including favourite titles.

The new Print and Play initiative is ideal for families to enjoy while staying at home, and the titles featured comprise some of Asmodee’s best-loved games, with a variety of fun, education and strategy titles to suit all needs.

Hosted together at print-and-play.asmodee.fun and available in multiple languages, the initial six games are all modelled on popular lines, with some slight modifications made to some of the titles in order to simplify the at-home printing-and-playing process. More games are planned to be added in the coming weeks.

“In these difficult times due to the worldwide Covid-19 crisis, we at Asmodee are happy to offer families a way to play together from the comfort and safety of their home,” said Stephane Carville, CEO of the Asmodee Group. “We hope that these free print-and-play games can offer some measure of relief, adventure and fun for everyone while staying safe at home.”

The full list of special-edition print-and-play board games on offer features: Dobble, Dixit, Timeline Classic, Unlock!, Cortex Challenge, and Combo Color.

The Toymaster May Show has been postponed

The show, due to take place from 19th May, has been postponed to September. 

Ian Edmunds, managing director at Toymaster, released the following statement:

“Firstly I apologise if it has seemed that we have been slow in announcing the postponement of the show, this has been entirely down to contractual issues that have now, thankfully, been overcome.

Therefore I am pleased to announce that the May Show is now planned to be held at the Majestic Hotel, Harrogate on the following dates:

  • Set Up: Tuesday 1st September
  • Show: Wednesday 2nd September
  • Show: Thursday 3rd September
  • Show: Friday 4th September

I understand that these dates may not suit everyone but if there is one question that has been asked over the last few weeks more than any it is ‘What’s happening with the May Show’. I hope you agree that we need the show to take place and help kick start the independent toy business for Members and Suppliers alike.

Please save the dates and we will come back to you nearer the time once normal service has been resumed with more details.

Stay Safe.”

Walmart pauses sale of majority stake in Asda

Currently there is no timetable for talks with bidders to restart.

Walmart has put the sale of a majority stake in its UK grocery chain Asda on hold to focus management’s attention on running the business amid unprecedented spikes in demand driven by the coronavirus.

Currently there is no timetable for talks with bidders to restart. Walmart told Asda’s leadership in recent days to concentrate on day-to-day business instead. Stockpiling  lifted UK grocery sales to a record high in March and supermarkets around the globe have had trouble keeping everyday essentials in stock.

Private-equity firms Apollo Global Management, Lone Star Funds and TDR Capital each submitted first-round offers for Asda last month and had been invited to join the next round of bidding, people familiar with the process said in mid-March, just a few days after the virus reached pandemic status. A deal for Asda could value the business at more than £7b, according to sources.

But the recent market turmoil has hampered financing for leveraged buyouts, forcing companies to put a number of bidding processes on hold.

Walmart has more than 630 Asda stores in Britain, a market it entered in 1999. In recent years Asda’s market share has been eroded by German discounters Aldi and Lidl, while rivals like Tesco Plc and J Sainsbury Plc have made big acquisitions to bolster their clout with suppliers.