Toy makers see joy in tech, green, classic in 2010
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toy makers from industry goliath Mattel Inc (MAT.O) to smaller names such as MEGA Brands (MB.TO) and Techno Source displayed their top playthings for 2010, which many bet will be a good year for toys.
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It was all work and no play for the Who's Who of the toy industry on Sunday as they gathered at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City for the opening of the 107th American International Toy Fair.
"The outlook at this point seems extraordinarily good," Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association, told Reuters after his round of the toy aisles at the fair.
U.S. toy retail sales fell less than 1 percent in 2009 after a disastrous 2008, while the recent holiday quarter saw unit sales rise nearly 4 percent over the year-ago period, according to market research firm NPD Group.
"The U.S. consumer is spending generously on toys again, Keithley said.
Many top industry players concur.
"I think we are seeing signs of optimism and that's certainly reassuring," Laura Phillips, Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) vice president of toys, told Reuters in an interview.
Wal-Mart is launching a new line of toys based on the DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc (DWA.O) movie "How to Train Your Dragon."
The line, made by privately held Spin Master Limited, will include action figures, dragons, Viking play sets and role play toys. They will hit store shelves in March.
The hope for a better year shows in inventory levels as well.
"It looks like the retailers believe the consumer is going to come back. They are buying like it is a much more normal year," Eric Levin, president of Techno Source, said.
Techno Source unveiled a board game called "Bubble Talk," a line of electronic handheld games based on "Toy Story 3" and "Rubik's Slide," to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the iconic cubic puzzle.
And while we are nowhere close to seeing the return of ultra-high price tags, many parents are willing to pay a premium for a toy that topped the Christmas wish list.
"If you have a strong item, even if the economy is slow, you can outperform the economy," Techno Source's Levin said.
"TECH," "GREEN" AND "CLASSIC"
According to industry experts, the must-have toy of 2010 will be found in the words "tech," "green" and "classic.
Toy makers have upped the ante on tech savviness. Mattel's "Puppy Tweets" link pets to a Twitter feed, while Wowwee's "Paper Jamz" cardboard electric guitar makes music with touch-sensitive electronic sensors.
One attention grabber was Air Hogs' Vectron Wave, a hand-sized UFO capable of sensing objects below it and which automatically adjusts its height to hover above them. The new $24.99 toy from Spin Master will hit retail shelves in spring.
The annual Toy Fair features a "green" pavilion for the first time ever, where many small names and start-ups touted their eco-friendly toys.
From "Eco Blocks" to "Eco-Trucks," Colorado-based Spring Toys had a wide array of items made from biodegradable materials.
Plush toy maker Hosung, known for its miYim organic toy line, displayed two new lines -- one named after the famed anthropologist Jane Goodall and another after Dr. Seuss, the pen name for American writer and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel.
Among classic brands, Mattel's Barbie doll added two more careers to her long resume -- news anchor and computer engineer, while smaller rival Hasbro Inc (HAS.N) put a twist on a classic, with a new Scrabble word game that lets players shuffle electronic cubes rather than using wooden tiles on a game board.
Danish toymaker Lego Group unveiled a line of board games to extend its business beyond colorful building blocks in the United States.
A toy that won't find many buyers is a $10,000 Snuffles teddy bear made of white alpaca fur, with black pearls for eyes. It adorns a 10-carat diamond necklace with a white gold chain.
The bear, which celebrates Snuffles' 30th birthday this year, will be put up by toymaker Gund for a charity auction later this year.