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'Little Scientists' Heads List of Trends Set to Dominate Toy Market

Little Scientists, Beyond Reality and Express Yourself identified as the three key categories set to emerge across the 2015/2016 global toy sector by exhibitors and buyers attending this year's hugely well-attended Nuremberg Toy Fair.

Photo: An Amazing and Incredible welcome at the Nuremberg Toy Fair.
An Amazing and Incredible welcome at the Nuremberg Toy Fair.
Photo: An Amazing and Incredible welcome at the Nuremberg Toy Fair.
An Amazing and Incredible welcome at the Nuremberg Toy Fair.

The Spielwarenmesse – or the Nuremberg Toy Fair as almost everyone refers to it – is the world's largest Toy Fair. The statistics are impressive – at this year's show, the 66th in its illustrious history, a grand total of 2,857 exhibitors from 67 countries, spread throughout 18 different halls, presented more than one million products to more than 72,000 visitors from across the globe.

International buyers made up 58% of the total number of visitors, demonstrating the truly global reach of the event. Overall, a number of factors contributed to the growth in international visitors this year, not least the fact that the 2015 event did not clash with Chinese New Year, resulting in a surge in the number of Asian buyers.

The current challenging economic and political situation in Europe, though, also had an impact on the show, although not in a similarly positive manner. Although the German market grew by 6% last year, the concentration on the domestic retail trade led to fewer German retailers visiting the fair this time round. There are, apparently, some 500,000 fewer children in the German market than there were a decade ago, something that is clearly going to have a knock-on effect to the German toy sector as a whole and to specialist retailers in particular.

Despite this, the German market is still one of the top six global toy markets and one with its own set of decided idiosyncrasies. The lack of dominant major accounts here is both a positive and a negative. It has undoubtedly helped the independent sector to retain a strong presence while, at the same time, presenting suppliers (particularly the large multinationals) with a set of logistical and administrative challenges that are very different those found in other markets, notably the US and UK.

It is not just the make-up of the retail landscape that is different. Certain product categories – such as action figures and licensed toys – are generally less successful in Germany than they are in other territories. Others, though, particularly the traditional sectors, are comparatively stronger. It's no surprise that the three sectors to show the largest growth in Germany last year were all traditional categories – outdoor toys (+11%), building sets (+9%), and plush (+9%).

According to the NPD Group, a New York-based market research company, a number of local German toy suppliers enjoyed a good 2014, including Ravensburger, Zapf, Schleich and Revell, while Lego had four items in the top 10 sellers of the year. Notably, VTech also secured two entries in the top 10, showing that strong technology-driven items can still succeed in even the most traditional of markets.

Subtle differences can even manifest themselves within individual categories. During the Spielwarenmesse it was interesting to note that, although successful, Frozen apparently was not as massive in Germany as it was in the UK and the US. One theory put forward – by a very credible source – is that the translations of the songs were not as moving as the original English lyrics. This would certainly be consistent the belief that it was the soundtrack that ultimately drove Frozen to the dizzy heights it reached in many English-speaking markets.

Photo: Not so cool in Germany: Frozen toys.
Not so cool in Germany: Frozen toys.
Photo: Not so cool in Germany: Frozen toys.
Not so cool in Germany: Frozen toys.
Photo: VTech play centre: Big with domestic buyers.
VTech play centre: Big with domestic buyers.
Photo: VTech play centre: Big with domestic buyers.
VTech play centre: Big with domestic buyers.

In addition to the reduction in the number of domestic buyers, there was also said to be something of a decline in the turnout of Eastern European buyers. There were, apparently, 51% fewer Russian trade visitors attending this year's event. Tellingly, though, a total of 35% of the buyers surveyed said they don't attend any other fair, underlining the fact the Spielwarenmesse still provides unique opportunities to interact with visitors that can't be reached at other European shows.

For many European territories, the Nuremberg event serves as the replacement for a domestic exhibition. With toy shows in France, Italy and Spain among  those disappearing off the radar over the past decade, Nuremberg is now the de facto ‘home' venue for many European exhibitors. In addition, some global companies also choose to concentrate their efforts on Nuremberg rather than having a presence at their more local shows. Mattel's stand, for instance, was colossal with – reportedly – some 600 Mattel and Mega Brands staff in attendance. Factor in hordes of global visitors keen to see the 2015 range and it is little wonder that the stand often felt like a Tokyo railway station at rush hour.

The UK is one of the rare exceptions to the rule, as it has retained its own domestic Toy Fair, traditionally taking place the week before the Nuremberg show. This long-standing arrangement, however, has been thrown into confusion for 2016, with the Spielwarenmesse deciding to adjust its place in the calendar, creating a potential date-clash with the UK Toy Fair. It has been suggested, though, that the change of date for the Spielwarenmesse is for one year only, although no confirmed dates have been released for 2017 and beyond. At present, then, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty whether or not this will prove to be the case.

The organisers of the UK event moved swiftly to mitigate the potential clash of dates by advancing the dates for the London Fair by two days, with the result that the UK show will now finish the day before Nuremberg opens. Although this will provide significant assistance to individuals who plan to visit both events, it still presents logistical challenges to companies that traditionally exhibit at both shows. Although the two fairs are 11 months away, planning has already started in order to resolve the potential problems presented by these conflicting dates.

Clashing toy shows aside, one of the main talking points of this year's Nuremberg Fair was the on-going currency issue. It's a complex situation with both the rise of the US dollar and the fall of the Euro creating challenges and opportunities. Depending on your position – whether buying or selling, and whether the Far East or Europe is your main port of call – the currency conundrum is definitely going to have an impact on many aspects of the toy market this year.

With clear ramifications for sourcing, retail pricing and subsequent sales volumes, retailers and suppliers will be keeping an exceptionally close eye on the currency markets for some while yet. Those retailers and suppliers who foresaw these recent developments have even seen their profits boosted as a result of currency trading, although the overriding feeling from most retailers and suppliers was of concern for the months ahead.

Two years ago, the show organisers instigated a new initiative – the TrendCommittee. Made up of a selection of toy industry observers and journalists from around the globe, this committee highlights a number of trends that it believes will have an impact on the market in the coming year. This year's nominated trends were Little Scientists, Beyond Reality and Express Yourself.

Little Scientists is a recognition of the growing popularity of ranges based on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), acknowledging products that promote and support learning and skills in these subjects. With Beyond Reality, it is no surprise that trends from the entertainment and electronics sector remain popular with children. They are just as fascinated by technology as their parents, wanting to explore and be part of the digital world in their own right. Express Yourself, meanwhile, focusses on the classic play pattern of imagination and role-play, illustrating the importance of toys that encourage creativity and exploration.

Collectively, these three trends showcase the diversity of the toy trade, exemplifying all that is best about this vibrant, creative industry. As, indeed, does the Spielwarenmesse itself.

Photo: The Nuremberg Toy Fair 2015: 58% of all visitors from outside Germany.
The Nuremberg Toy Fair 2015: 58% of all visitors from outside Germany.
Photo: The Nuremberg Toy Fair 2015: 58% of all visitors from outside Germany.
The Nuremberg Toy Fair 2015: 58% of all visitors from outside Germany.

The Nuremberg Toy Fair 2015 took place from 28th January to 2nd February at the NürnbergMesse.

John Baulch, Special Correspondent, Nuremberg

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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