In line with many other sectors, the toy industry endured difficult trading conditions in 2019 with a -6% drop in year on year sales. Total sales for the year were £3.2 billion, which still makes the UK toy market the largest in Europe, but with Germany now a very close second.
The results were announced at Toy Fair, taking place at Olympia London this week, where hundreds of toy companies gathered to launch thousands of new and innovative products for the year ahead.
“2019 was an unusual year by any standards. The ongoing question that is Brexit undoubtedly had a dampening effect on consumer confidence whilst a general election in the middle of the busiest trading month of the year wasn’t helpful,” commented Natasha Crookes, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at the British Toy and Hobby Association.
Despite the poor trading conditions the toy industry continued to innovate, with over 32,000 new products launched in 2019. Action figures achieved 9% growth whilst board games and puzzles enjoyed a 1% increase. Collectables also continued to dominate the market, with sales equivalent to 21% of all toys sold.
2019 was predicted to be the Year of the Movies. Despite a slow start films played a big part in driving the market forward with 11% of total sales, up from 10% the previous year. However, they could not turn the market around at the back end of the year, as some key blockbuster titles were launched so close to Christmas.
Due to its late release, Frozen is expected to power the market in the first six months of the year. For the rest of 2020 and in the absence of a new craze so far, it will be the toy brands themselves which are expected to be the big market drivers, as the market looks open for toy companies to make their mark.
“We are entering a new era with many structural and economic changes ahead,” commented Frederique Tutt, global toy analyst at the NPD Group. “The toy market is no exception to other retail sectors and is in a transition period, adjusting and recovering from a challenging 2019 whilst finding its path for the future. Despite strong leading brands and licences, toy sales declined -6% in 2019. Looking ahead, the industry is resourceful and knows that creativity, innovation and agility will play a key part in getting back to growth.”
Play value continues to be important, with strong sellers in everything from traditional card and board games to more technology driven toys. Toys grounded in core play values are predicted to perform well this year, with demand from young children through to the growing kidult market.
A new report from Kids Insights, launched today at Toy Fair, revealed that board games especially are more popular than ever. Over a third of kids aged six-to-nine play with classic board games such as Monopoly, Guess Who and Jenga monthly. The report also revealed a positive link between playing board games and wellbeing, as tweens who play board games reported feeling above average happiness and less anxiety.
Looking ahead, whilst the UK’s final trading position with the European Union remains unclear, the UK will be exiting the EU at the end of 2020 and the BTHA has robust, comprehensive plans to help support the UK toy industry through every eventuality.
“January 2020 is a very different proposition to January 2019. It’s now not if, but how, we exit the European Union; and just that simple change means that we’re able to provide our members with a lot more practical advice, and they are able to invest in a known eventuality,” concluded Crookes.