Move over, fidget spinners and slime kits. This year, some of the hottest trends are making their way into the plush aisle.
Plush was the second-fastest-growing supercategory at 8 percent in the 12 months ending this January, according to The NPD Group (NPD). It follows All Other Toys, which grew fastest at 15 percent—thanks to fidget spinners and squishy toys.
While not the most talked about toy last holiday season compared to 2016—up against Fingerlings and L.O.L. Surprise!—Spin Master’s Hatchimals property still reigned supreme. Hatchimals dollar sales in plush are nearly equal to the next top four properties combined (FurReal Friends, Ty, Mickey & Friends, and Sesame Street). Plush sales overall increased by 6 percent, with Hatchimals as the largest contributor, according to NPD.
The data also shows that special feature and interactive plush grew most in dollar sales, which is not surprising given the popularity of Hatchimals. This year, Hatchimals will share the spotlight with other interactive, innovative, and trendy plush.
Products with reversible sequins started to make their mark in mid-2017. The concept is simple: Swipe the sequins in a certain direction to reveal a new color or style. These plush are addicting to transform, look cute, and feature a functional two-in-one design. The breakout reversible sequin items were largely available as home goods and fashion items, such as notebooks, backpacks, scarves, and more.
Reversible sequins then expanded with pillows and plush, and the trend continues by capitalizing on the popularity of unicorns, mermaids, narwhals, and other stylish themes, says Richard Derr of Learning Express Toys.
“I sense the trend is slightly slowing as more low-end products have entered the market and pillows particularly have become saturated,” says Derr. “Sequins will be a good seller through summer, but look for it to slow and be replaced by some other emerging trends, such as a plush/squishy combo toy.”
These squishy plush hybrids are inspired by the mega popular slow-rise foam toys. In line with the squishy trend and inspired by Kawaii culture, Kellytoy’s Squishmallows offer an irresistible squish with an ultra-soft outer fabric and polyester stuffing. These huggable plush will expand this year with more than 50 styles, including holiday themes and a baby line. The snuggle is real with Squishmallows.
“The Squishmallows are a very versatile product,” says Jonathan Kelly, CEO of Kellytoy. “Soft enough to play catch or serve as a soft bed buddy or pillow, they are comforting companions and can be soothing for those with medical and sensory issues. They are easy to take anywhere on the go because you can squish them into small places or pockets.”
As opposed to most plush, consumers don’t consider Squishmallows as a one-off purchase and are buying multiples to grow their collections. Plush is regaining that collectibility factor, harkening back to the popularity of Beanie Babies in the 1990s.
That’s where Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co.’s new line comes in. Squeezamals plush are super squishy—but these characters are actually stuffed with slow-rise foam, serving as squishy plush hybrids. They are also scented and come in a wide assortment of animals, including adorable narwhals, puppies, hedgehogs, and more. Derr predicts the line will do well at retail this year, hitting the three hot trends right now: They are squishy, scented, and collectible.
Consumers will also collect plush in a new way this year. During New York Toy Fair, The Toy Association announced “The Big Reveal” as one of its top trends of the year. This new type of unboxing has two layers: You play with the toy to reveal what it is, and then you actually get to play with the toy.
“This pattern keeps kids engaged because it encourages the same type of nurturing play as other plush but has the added element of ‘surprise,’” says Adrienne Appell, director of strategic communications at The Toy Association. “It’s important for companies to innovate in just about every category, and sometimes people forget innovation isn’t always about technology. When a company is able to put a new twist on a tried and true play pattern in a classic category, it’s exciting for us to see—and even more fun for kids to play with!”
One of the first plush with this type of play pattern are Scruff-A-Luvs, from Moose Toys. Each pet comes as a matted ball of colored fur with only its eyes showing. Kids will then wash, towel dry, and then blow dry the animal to reveal whether it’s a dog, a cat, or a bunny.
“Not only is there the big reveal and the anticipation of what Scruff-A-Luv they will have to take care of, but kids also experience the unique water unboxing, and the process of ‘rescuing’ their pet,” says Belinda Gruebner, executive vice president of global marketing at Moose Toys. “The magic of Scruff-A-Luvs is that it has to be rescued to reveal its true beauty. Children will keep engaging with Scruff-A-Luv over and over again, re-creating nurturing moments and grooming them. These kinds of items are important to a child’s development because they help them develop a sense of love, care, and empathy.”
Or, kids can adopt something a little bit more creepy. No. 2 is No. 1 this year, and New York Toy Fair introduced us to some of the grossest toys and games ever—and the plush category was no exception.
Spin Master will introduce Fugglers to the mass market. These quirky plush have a combination of toothy grins and disturbing eyes that are quite off-putting, but that’s the whole charm of it. TOMY also takes potty humor to the next level with Stink Bomz, a collectible line of plush farts, each with its own distinctive scent, personality, and sounds. Get a more in-depth look at the gross toys trend on page 44.
As plush continues to be one of the fastest growing categories in the toy industry, some of the hottest overall toy trends of the year are fueling growth for the category.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2018 issue of The Toy Book.