"There's been a shift in gender," concurs David Fergenbaum, vice president, marketing, creative play brands, for Hasbro, owner of the Easy-Bake Oven trademark. The oven sells about a million units year, and has sold more than 50 million ovens over its lifetime.
But times are changing fast. Hasbro has taken on the license for the gender-neutral Kellogg's Rice Krispies Snack Shoppe (one of the few snack makers that requires no batteries or electricity, just gravity, water, and about five minutes to allow the wet mix to coat the rice cereal) and just launched the Quesy Bake Cookerator, a boy-friendly version of Easy-Bake that cooks up treats such as Mud 'N Crud Cake.
"We try to identify untapped niches in the marketplace that appeal to both boys and girls, and Charm's
Blow Pop and Double Bubble certainly have dual appeal," says ex-Hasbro executive Lloyd Mintz, a principal with Wellesley, MA-based licensing consultancy Nine Oaks Group, speaking on behalf of his client, Natural Science Industries (NSI). West Hempstead, NY-based NSI, a craft and activity kit maker and licensee to property owners such as Scholastic and The Smithsonian, recently took its first toy food steps. Concord Confections just gave the green light for the Double Bubble Bubble Gum Factory. Synchronicity, Kennebunk, ME, which handles Tootsie Roll Industries' licensing, chose NSI to make the Charms Blow Pop Lollipop Shop.
Touch of Nostalgia
It is also the first foray into food making for licensees such as Toronto-based Spin Master Toys, maker of the ICEE and the Hershey's Chocolate Magic maker, and for Sky Kids, a licensee for the Hostess Oven.
"Choosing Hostess was a no-brainer," says Sky Kids' Pottick, "What kids wouldn't want to whip up Twinkies with their very own Twinkie machine, whenever they wanted?"
Plus, Sky Kids has a nostalgia-rich property on its hands, and both the licensor, Interstate Brands, Kansas City, MO, and the licensee sense the toy might appeal to folks much older than the ones watching Saturday morning cartoons.
"Everything Hostess creates is centered on kids and fun, so it's logical that we make that step to make product that entices children, and maybe from a heritage perspective, the adults, as well," says Mike Redd, vice president of marketing for Interstate Brands cakes, which includes Hostess, Dolly Madison, and Drakes. Nancy Bailey & Associates, Coral Gables, FL, is the licensing agent.
But like in every licensing deal, a great brand name linked with a great manufacturer does not guarantee success. Products must have a point of differentiation, cautions one agent or the item will die in the shadows of the Easy-Bake Oven.
The Mrs. Fields cookie maker, last year supplied by MGA (but Wham-O prior), couldn't compete with the Easy-Bake, most likely because the product was too close in function to the girls' dream oven, which also makes cookies. Some say Mrs. Fields' brand glow had lessened a bit by the turn of the millennium.
As Spy Kids' Pottick reveals, "There was a time in 1990s when Mrs. Fields had a mystique sort of like what Krispy Kreme has now, but then it passed. It's like what David's cookies once had in the 1980s."
Will Winston-Salem, NC-based Krispy Kreme-the latest sweets chain to capture the hearts and bellies of the nation-have a toy product presence on shelf next year at Christmas? Will any, besides Easy-Bake, be in toy aisles two years from now? TRU's Tabakin says sales performance naturally dictates shelf space, and he can't even begin to address sell-throughs until October. So let the bake-off begin.
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