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Feature - Infant Toys

Infant Toys First things first

When choosing toys for their babies, parents are becoming more selective, in a bid to protect the world they have just brought them into, as Toy World’s Sam Giltrow discovers.

More and more parents are taking on the mantle of protecting the planet for their newborns and toddlers by seeking out sustainable infant toys that will last and not end up in landfill.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the impact that the products they purchase have on the environment and this is particularly relevant within the toy sector, where the use of plastic is extremely high,” explains Mitch Levene, managing director of toy and nursery company Chicco, part of the Artsana Group. “We are seeing an increased demand for sustainable products, with parents wanting to buy toys that are eco-friendly but also affordable.”

Chicco has recognised the important role it can play in making sustainable parenting achievable by placing a firm focus on its Eco+ toy range, which includes a wide variety of products from teethers and rattles to a balance bike and ride-on, all of which are made from recycled plastic or bioplastic. Many of the products in the range are made from either 80% recycled plastic or 50% bioplastic. Mitch says Chicco will be looking to further develop the line, and will be supporting future launches with an integrated digital and PR marketing campaign.

Another popular choice among parents has been Chicco’s First Dreams Baby Bear, particularly due to its neutral colour. “The First Dreams range perfectly complements our Chicco Next2Me range and by highlighting the connection of the products, we are able to capitalise on the success of our sleep-time products and further grow the First Dreams range,” says Mitch.

The trend towards more environmentally friendly toys has also been seen by Rainbow Designs, which produces soft toys and gifts for babies and young children based on classic and much-loved story book characters such as Peter Rabbit and Paddington. However, managing director Anthony Temple stresses that sustainability should be more than just a trend, rather an important focus for long-term toy manufacturing. “This is not something to be followed for a while until something new comes along,” he tells Toy World. “Sustainability is a call to inspire continuous change for a better future. Our commitment, as a business, is to continue our commitment to ongoing improvements in the interests of the future of those we design these toys for.”

As an example, Rainbow Design’s Always and Forever Winnie the Pooh collection was designed and created with a focus on sustainable materials, FSCcertified and reusable packaging, stuffing made from recycled bottles and recycled plush fabric. Anthony says that along with looking for something that will not harm the environment, consumers are also seeking infant toys that are both contemporary but will stand the test of time, as well as being safe and supporting the child’s development.

Melissa & Doug is another company placing a focus on more sustainable materials including fabric and wood and its 0-2 range debut is an important launch for the company in 2022. It includes two new ranges, Rollables and Go Tots, which both use FSC certified wood, while the core infant range is made of textured fabrics.

David Lubliner, head of Customer Marketing – Europe at Melissa & Doug says that since the Covid lockdowns, parents have also been increasingly looking to buy fun, yet educational, toys for their children, as they have become more aware of the importance of play and the role toys can play in stimulating early developmental skills. “Melissa & Doug’s new 0-2 range of toys has been designed around this premise,” he says.

David adds that this year there has also been a positive trend towards sensory toys, resulting from the huge growth of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) and other mood-boosting content on social media. Melissa & Doug’s new 0-2 range will see toys with a mix of textures and different movement dynamics to capitalise on the trend. Marketing will be focused on TV advertising on children’s channels, PR , social media and influencer campaigns – all aimed at reaching parents and potential new customers.

Despite the difficulties posed over the last couple of years by the pandemic, Rainbow Designs’ Anthony Temple says nursery sales are continuing to reflect what a strong and stable category it is. “Over the last few years in particular, we have seen well-established, beloved brands such as Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit and Guess How Much I Love You performing exceptionally well against brand ranges that are in their infancy,“ he says. “However, investment in the care, innovation and evolution of our toy ranges with such brand heritage, is important to ensure that our collections are kept fresh and on trend.”

One of Rainbow Designs’ best-selling ranges is the Peter Rabbit Once Upon a Time collection, which includes My First Soft Toys, Comfort Blankets and Ring Rattles as well as gift sets and a new series of wooden toys that launched this year. This summer will see the launch of new infant toys including Playtime Peter Rabbit and Flopsy Bunny soft toys, available in two sizes, and 25cm versions of Pooh Bear’s woodland friends, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger, which join the bestselling Hundred Acre Wood collection. The autumn will also see the launch of two new play sets in its Adventures of Paddington pre-school toy range.

Rainbow Designs will be supporting the launches with a multi-layered, targeted marketing approach with digital marketing and social media playing a significant role. “As stores are now so much more than just bricks and mortar, we have invested heavily in supporting our lines digitally, with creative photography and engaging video content for our retailers to utilise on their own digital channels,” explains Anthony.

Mitch Levene attributes the success of Chicco and Artsana to working in close partnership with retailers. He adds that Artsana’s marketing strategy has reaped benefits for stockists by rewarding those who support the Chicco brand with strong product presence and gold standard in-store and online support. “Chicco’s reputation in the nursery sector also has a halo effect on our juvenile and infant products such as toys, with parents recognising the brand and making our products stand out,” he says.

Social media continues to be an effective communicative channel for Chicco in reaching its target audience and over the past two years it has seen increasing levels of engagement from followers within key demographics. Chicco also supports retailers’ baby events with promotions and marketing support. “Social media and influencers continue to be a very effective channel for reaching families and expectant parents and by using these channels, we are able to deliver emotive, engaging content that resonates with our target audience and supports our retailers," says Mitch.

He says that last year was a more challenging year for the markets, following what had been a bumper year in 2020 with the lockdowns driving record demand for toys. Although there was media speculation and some expectations of a baby boom resulting from the pandemic and lockdowns, this has simply not happened. Mitch adds, however, that despite the many challenges, both the nursery sector and the overall toy market seem to have fared far better than many other retail categories and is positive about the year ahead. Mary Wood, general manager, UK & Ireland at Tomy, says that with consumers returning to bricks and mortar stores, it is important that its products are in store and well presented to give the best chance of pick up. “We are securing some great distribution for our new Lamaze range – eight products that have been developed based on insights into how children play,” she tells Toy World. One of these is the Puffaboo Elephant which stops a child crying when a puff of air from the elephant’s truck touches their face. “It’s so simple but it really does work so I’m sure this will be a great help to parents,” she says.

An evergreen performer for Tomy is the Hide & Squeak Eggs within the Toomies range, which remains a perennial best seller with over 200,000 units sold annually in the UK alone. “It’s a product that has been around forever and still is a relevant today as it was when it was first launched,” says Mary. However, though Mary says consumers may not have changed what they are looking for in terms of buying for babies and toddlers, the way Tomy markets its toys has had to adapt to an ever-changing world of product promotion.

“Marketing to parents is becoming more challenging with the myriad of social media channels available,” she says. “There is also the challenge of communicating a product online which would really be best touched and seen in the flesh.” Tomy is therefore focusing its efforts on creating more content that fits each of the different channels. “That said, we still have to remember that the basics come first,” adds Mary. “One, the product has to deliver smiles, two, it has to be fairly priced and then three, it has to be in wide distribution so consumers can actually find it and see all of the above for themselves.”