Specialty toy industry continues to innovate and evolve with trends from plush to social/emotional/mental learning.

Jane Neal, Content Editor

March 8, 2024

5 Min Read
My Melody plush.
My Melody plush.Build-A-Bear Workshop

Because toys and licensing go together like peanut butter and jelly, License Global spends a lot of time covering kids’ stuff. Just this year, we’ve already shared “Toy Trends from Nuremberg” and “New Launches from London Toy Fair.” One of the interesting things about toys is that, just like the people who play, collect and interact with them, their popularity and attraction can ebb and flow quickly. That’s why we’re always looking for the latest toys trends. 

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (Astra), comprising local retailers, manufacturers, Certified Play Experts and toy industry professionals, surveyed a group of independently owned retailers about the toy trends they’re seeing so far this year.   

“Our small retailers are on the front lines with consumers, having conversations and seeing firsthand what’s hot every day,” says Sue Warfield, president, Astra. “They are the perfect resource to help us determine trends for the first part of 2024 and this year they have not disappointed. We’re excited to see these trends and watch as what’s hot continues to evolve throughout the year.” 

Here’s a look at the top trends that Astra found, as well as some licensing deals and trends that License Global is following in some of those categories. 

Astra reports plush is a category going in multiple new directions. From Japanese-inspired to new formats and textures to smaller sizes, there’s something for everyone. Kids love plush to cuddle, while some kidults love collecting soft cuddly toys. Squishmallows continue to be popular for all ages, whether it’s VeeFriends plush toys or Squishmallow-themed apparel and accessories at H&M. In February, Build-A-Bear Workshops, home to huggable bears, introduced Blippi’s signature orange and blue cap, suspenders, bowtie and glasses so that Build-A-Bear plush can mirror Blippi himself.  

Kawaii, a Japanese pop-culture word for cute, has expanded across multiple categories, including plush. Hello Kitty and Sanrio, celebrating their 50th anniversary, are especially popular right now. Build-A-Bear also has a line of products from Sanrio, including Pompompurin, My Melody and Kuromi characters. It also offers seasonal versions of Hello Kitty, and a 50th anniversary edition of Hello Kitty is expected later this year.  

Social Emotional Mental Learning continues to evolve with toys that help kids recognize emotions, role-play scenarios and get in touch with how they feel. From blocks to dolls to games, there are multiple ways to approach the topic and help kids feel heard. New educational and sensory toys add to the already expansive options for kids and parents. Just last month, Hunter Price International announced a collaboration with Paramount Consumer Products and mental health brand, Calm. That news followed a collaboration between “PAW Patrol” and Calm, which saw the sleep, relaxation and meditation app create an exclusive collection of sleep stories and meditations to facilitate a relaxing bedtime routine.  

Astra found classic table games have evolved and become more accessible. New versions of ping pong to smaller foosball tables and tabletop volleyball, allow consumers to enjoy these games without a giant playroom. 

Kidult is a trend License Global has been following closely for quite some time. Astra’s survey confirmed what we already knew: play is not just for kids anymore. From kidult toys to products aimed at tweens to family games, especially in the escape room game category, everyone gets to join in on the fun. In November, License Global looked at how kidult culture has become so popular that brands are now deliberately designing and producing products for kidults.  

Building toys continue to be hot. For many consumers, that equates to the popular LEGO brand, which Statista reports that among the 89% of U.S. respondents who know LEGO, 60% of them like the brand. Astra’s survey also found there’s interest in new ways to build with different materials. Wooden building toys have become increasingly popular and magnetic tiles are integrating new materials, such as straws and tubes, to expand creative possibilities. 

We know that sustainability is becoming top-of-mind to consumers; in a 2022 survey, Deloitte found Gen Z and millennials are willing to pay more to make sustainable choices, with 64% of Gen Zs willing to pay more for an environmentally sustainable product. Astra found sustainability and environmentally/eco-friendly continue to grow, but just as important is how long toys last. High-quality toys made to last for years are now more desirable than ever. 

Impulse toys like fidget toys, slime and blind/surprise bags are growing in popularity with everything from tiny food to different-shaped popping toys to slimes of all textures, colors and smells. These toys are also great for neurodiverse children, something touched on in the December 2022 License Global article, “How Licensing Can Make Toys More Accessible for Children.”  

Radio-control toys are making a comeback with R/C cars, robots, helicopters and creatures that add a little technology to a classic toy, creating fun for the entire family. Last year, ahead of the “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” film release, JAKKS Pacific released a Sonic Speed RC Set, a Sonic Speed RC that lets fans recreate the action from “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.”  

Digital to analog, screen to toy, has grown in popularity. Whether it’s video games, small-screen or big-screen properties, Astra reports seeing more toys that allow kids to act out their favorite scenes without the screen. 

What’s next? We’re keeping an eye on the ever-evolving world of play; watch this space.  

About the Author(s)

Jane Neal

Content Editor, License Global

Jane Neal is a Content Editor for License Global. Working remotely in the great state of Wisconsin, Jane specializes in retail and pop-culture trends.

She has worked extensively in the communication field as a managing editor, advertising copywriter, technical writer and journalist. She detoured for several years into academia where she taught journalism, English and humanities at the college level.

A complete Marvel nerd, she enjoys food, films, fishing, friends and family … and alliteration.

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