This year's new films will provide most of the fodder for Santa Claus in December
As anyone who has ever handed over a credit card at Hamleys or FAO Schwarz already knows, toys aren’t just fun and games — they’re big business. Which is why the 260 exhibitors at the London Toy Fair, which runs from Jan. 20 to Jan. 22, are keen to promote the Next Big Thing in the toy world. The Toy Fair is now in its 62nd year, and each year it showcases thousands of new toys, which will also be available in the U.S. and around the world, to retailers looking to stock their shelves. And for a hint of what’s to come, take a look at the box office.
Just a few steps into the exhibition, visitors quickly see that the toy industry expects Minions will be everywhere in 2015. Everywhere one turned, Minion-related toys and products appeared. The small, yellow creatures from the Despicable Me franchise are getting their own film this summer and toy companies are clearly banking on the characters being fresh on kids’ minds — and wishlists.
Rory Partis, a senior account manager for NPD Group, which does market analysis for the toy industry, says that “the toy market can be very unpredictable,” and pre-judging which products will be best-sellers can be tricky. Yet looking at past trends can some clue as to what kids are after — and which toys will fall in line with those desires.
In 2014, toy sales in the U.K. saw a 4.4 percent increase from the previous year, with around £3 billion ($4.5 billion USD) spent on some 416 million toy products. Based on sales figures from last year, the Minions-push makes sense: according to research from NPD, 28 percent of 2014’s sales were toys that were licensed from a franchise.
And Minions-themed products weren’t the only toys with a film tie-in on show. The fair also displays the winners of the annual Best New Toy Awards, in which a panel of independent toy retailers appraises the crop of new toys, predicting which products are most likely to be best-sellers. The winners, which fair coordinator Majen Immink, describes as the “hot launches” for 2015, included movie-themed toys such as Lego’s Minecraft: The Dungeon set, Hasbro’s Jurassic World Growlers collection and Hornby Hobbies’ Corgi James Bond Aston Martin DB5 model.
A representative from toy giant Lego also told TIME that the company is also expecting big things from its Ninjago sets, which are tied to the cartoon series Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu. The fourth season of the cartoon will launch this year and a film, from the co-writers of The Lego Movie, is in the works for 2016.
Hasbro’s new products for 2015 include licensed toys from the Marvel’s Avengers and the Transformers franchises. The company will be releasing Optimus Prime Mega Step, a toy car that transforms into the beloved character. Then there are the Iron Man Arc FX Gloves, a pair of wearable gloves with motion-activated technology. Non-film related toys that Hasbro thinks will be hits this year include the Nerf N-Strike Modulus ECS-10 Blaster, which kids can customize with additional kits, and the Furreal Friend’s JJ My Jumping Pug, a Big Eyes-esque toy dog that can jump on its hind legs. The latter also bagged a spot on the fair’s Best New Toys list.
Noticeably absent from the fair were toys tied to an upcoming film which targets girls specifically. The big films represented in the displays were, again, Minions, but also Big Hero 6 and Age of Ultron, while representatives were quick to note their upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World-themed products. Of course, girls can and do enjoy action and adventure films — and their affiliated toys — but products tied to franchises with inspiring leading ladies didn’t appear to be plentiful.
So it wasn’t all that surprising to see a smorgasboard of Frozen-themed toys on display at the fair. Everything from Frozen jewelry, hair accessories, hula hoops, backpacks, plush toys, stationary and figurines were showcased, despite the fact that the film was released in 2013. NPD’s Partis tells TIME that “Frozen has slightly bucked the trend of a [traditional] movie license,” which sees strong sales when the movie is released and another bump when the DVD is released. Yet Frozen drove a significant portion of sales last year, as the number one license for 2014. In the U.S. alone, NPD estimates that Frozen led to $531 million in toy sales.
Toy industry insiders are clearly expecting the trend to continue. Lego’s new Disney Princess Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle was chosen as one of the fair’s Best New Toys and Lego spokeswoman Corinna Henson predicts it will be popular “without a shadow of doubt.” Yet even when the Frozen mania does eventually subside, there will be plenty of more kids movies and franchises to license out.