7 Oct 2014
Grandparent-friendly Buys and Multifunctions Dominate US Kids Expo
Sales continue to surge in the US baby and child product sector, with total spending estimated to be up to US$23 billion in 2013. This promoted a genuinely bumper show for visitors and exhibitors at this year's ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas.
Hedgehogs are in, owls are out, while chevrons are this year's hottest pattern. Along with reclining car seats and chewable jewellery, such were the highlights of the 2014 ABC Kids Expo. Overall, the event saw a massive range of baby, child and maternity products all on show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
According to reports from IBISWorld and Euromonitor, two retail research consultancies, the market for juvenile products shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. The total US spending on baby products (including toys, grooming items, formula and durable goods, such as cribs) was worth at least US$23 billion in 2013.
Aside from this, online sales of everything from baby clothes and furniture to strollers, toys and diapers grew at an annual rate of 14.5% from 2008 to 2013, reaching US$5.6 billion last year. In total, US sales of baby toys and games were worth some US$487 million in 2013, according to Euromonitor. According to industry experts, this continued growth is being fuelled by older parents with higher discretionary spend, dual income households and a rising and uncompromising emphasis on child safety, health and wellness, regardless of price.
Fashion and functionality continue to influence most categories, from diaper bags and teethers to toys and accessories. Kiley Maanum, a Buyer with LTD Commodities, an Illinois-based merchandiser, said: "What's trending for adults is trending for kids. Adults either like modern and sleek or go the opposite route of whimsical. Non-gender specific neutrals are big. Also, nothing is going to have one purpose anymore. Parents want to be able to use products for a while and they're looking for multipurpose items that 'grow' with the child."
On the modern and sleek side are, for example, a new generation of car seats that sell for upward of US$300, competing with strollers in terms of both functionality and fashion appeal. The Cloud Q car seat – courtesy of Georgia-based Regal Lager – is scheduled for general release in 2015. At the show, it was being billed as the first reclining car seat for children as it transforms into a carrycot outside the car.
Company co-founder, Linda Lager, said: "When a child falls asleep in the car, you don't have to take them out. You can just extend the seat to a full reclining position." As with a number of older models, it offers telescopic Linear Side Impact Protection (LSP), reaching out to potential points of collision and ensuring that it doesn't have to be installed in the centre of the back seat. Lager said the company was working on making the seat lighter as well as developing a rain cover.
On the more whimsical side, wooden toys and puzzles stole the show, particularly those that were brightly coloured and eco-friendly. Assessing the appeal, Samantha Holappa, a Buyer with LTD Commodities, said: "So many people are trying to get away from plastics. With their nostalgia appeal, wooden toys are at the very opposite end of the spectrum from high-tech. Parents feel that kids don't need an iPad from the day they're born."
What started with blocks, stacking rings and simple puzzles has progressed into products that seem to offer an alternative to Lego, while drawing in both kids and adults. The Animal Parade A to Z puzzle – courtesy of Colorado's BeginAgain – is made from plantation-grown rubberwood and dyed with non-toxic stains. It also requires serious problem-solving skills to make it all fit together. Who, for instance, knew a vulture rides a unicorn? It also teaches lower- and upper-case letters and the names of animals, admittedly in a fun and memorable way.
Wooden vegetables by Woody Puddy USA – a Japanese toy company – come 'pre-sliced' and, thanks to magnets cunningly concealed inside each piece, can be reassembled into a whole new species. Yumemi Arai, a Brand Manager with the company, said: "Even parents start playing with it and like mixing tomatoes with oranges."
The company is just starting to make in-roads into the US following success in its domestic market. According to Arai, grandparents are the target demographic for its product, largely as they are more open to higher price points while also, typically, looking to buy a nice gift that will be passed down the generations.
There was a new connotation to the term "playing with your food" over at the FunBites stand, and Bobbie Rhoads, a mom-turned-entrepreneur and the founder of the Connecticut-based company had on offer a dedicated solution for feeding picky eaters. Her two-piece cutter set chops sandwiches, fruit and other food into little hearts, squares and triangles. Explaining the thinking behind it, Rhoads said: "It allows moms to make healthy food fun."
Before devising the system, she attempted to entice her own kids by using cookie cutters to shape food, but discovered that they didn't cut through tougher food, such as chicken cutlets. Using her background in the beauty industry, she developed a prototype of a cutter with curved blades. As a result, she is now the star of many 'mommy' blogs.
Also inspired by their own experiences as parents, Lisa and Eric Greenwald, two exhibitors at this year's show, launched Chewbeads, colourful jewellery safe for babies to tug on and chew. Explaining their motivation, Eric Greenwald said: "Our son used to attack my wife's necklaces, so we decided to make non-toxic, silicone beads that are colourful and chic, yet soft on baby's gums."
The company has since expanded into rattles and teething rings, but its core remains wearable jewellery, designed to be fun for babies and parents. With a new licensed line for major baseball, dads also won't be left out. Greenwald said: "It's a great gift for guys who don't know what to give a friend who's just had a baby."
Overall, organic and holistic products remain at the top of the list for many buyers. Everything from natural balms to body wash and household cleaners continue to appeal to health-conscious parents. Heather Logan, a Buyer with Inursemybaby.com, a Florida-based specialist childcare website, said: "We're here to find natural products that would go well with breastfeeding." Along with a huge variety of skincare and developmental toys, she found a particular product that intrigued her – Mimijumi, "a bottle that feels like a breast and a nipple that feels and looks like a nipple."
For those looking to go even more natural, Sweden Toys brought Pee and Poo plush dolls, figurines designed to help kids potty train. Admittedly, a weird way to introduce toddlers to the concept of Number Ones and Number Twos, the toys are surprisingly cute and have been known to inspire adult creativity on YouTube.
With grandparents a top demographic for juvenile products, exhibitor Thanks a Million Inc offers them the chance to "just add a kid" to their T-shirts. These novel T-shirts feature the bodies of a variety of kid-friendly icons – mermaids, cowboys, footballers. Diona Atkins, the company's representative at the event, said: "Grandparents see our T-shirts when they are walking through a gift shop at the airport or a resort and can just see them bringing a smile to their grandchild's face."
The T-shirts come in three skin tones, ensuring they remain culturally appropriate. Best sellers? Pirates and Cinderellas. The company also works with museums and other organisations on a number of special orders. Atkins said: "We've recently created a T-shirt for NASA. They wanted a space cowboy."
ABC Kids Expo took place from 7-11 September at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It featured around 1,000 exhibitors and attracted some 14,000 attendees.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas