Toy Companies Offer Tasty Treats

Plush is always a core category within the toy industry. But it is doing particularly well of late. In 2022, category sales rose 31.1%, according to the Toy Industry Association’s annual sales data developed by the NPD Group (now Circana). That was by far the biggest growth rate for any category tracked, in a year when total toy industry sales declined by 0.2%. As a result, marketers are expanding their collections of plush of all sizes and innovating in a variety of ways.

One mini-trend in the plush space is the application of food brands to plush items, from mini backpack accessories to pillows to anthropomorphic plush toys, all depicting packages, products, or advertising characters tied to snacks, comfort foods, and other treats. The food plush trend has been ongoing for some time, but the role of licensed snack brands in the mix has increased in recent years:

  • Iscream sells pillows that emulate snack packs, with plush fabric versions of the outer packages filled with smaller plush candies, cookies, pasta, and similar. Among the many brands in the company’s portfolio are Chips Ahoy, Hershey’s, Reese’s, Smarties, M&Ms, Starburst, and Kraft Mac & Cheese.
  • Basic Fun! markets collectible pillows in dimensions ranging from “bite-size to king-size,” connected to a wide variety of mostly candy brands including Hershey’s, Junior Mints, Hot Tamales, Charleston Chew, York, SweeTarts, Trolli, Airheads, Dubble Bubble, and many more, all under the Snacks on Snacks (S.O.S.) brand.
  • Zuru has a line of 5 Surprise Snackles consisting of plush animals in various sizes, from dragons to bears to axolotls, all holding plush snack packages. Brands include, among others, Mike & Ike’s, Reese’s, Maruchan, Pringles, Mento’s, and Tabasco.
  • Funko’s growing collectible plush range includes licensed snack varieties such as Hostess (Cupcakes, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes), Jolly Rancher, Nerds, McDonald’s, and Froot Loops, as well as non-licensed bubble tea plush under the Gamer Food banner. Some take the form of the food items themselves, but most represent advertising characters.
  • Fiesta offers licensed plush figures and pillows in the form of friendly Kraft Mac & Cheese boxes, Kool-Aid Man figures, and Spam cans.

These and other licensed programs join a variety of non-licensed food-based plush lines, led by anthropomorphic kawaii-style plush from a plethora of brands. They include Squishables, which markets plush avocado toast, ramen, roasted marshmallows, cereal, and mac and cheese characters, among others; Fiesta’s Cutie Beans Foodies series of mini-plush collectibles in the form of foods such as fries, avocados, sushi, and ice cream cones; Squishmallows, which includes donuts, mushrooms, cinnamon rolls, fruits, and more within its array as well as Food Squad mini-plush; and Douglas Cuddle Toys, whose Macaroon collection has kawaii-style food-animal hybrids from sushi cats to s’more bears.

Other companies focus on unlicensed snack and comfort food pillows and figures that take their cues from licensed brands such as those mentioned above. In addition to its licensed examples, Iscream offers generic plush chicken nuggets, Doritos-like chips, and the like, along with other foods (e.g., broccoli); Kidrobot’s long-running Yummy World line includes unlicensed plush inspired by Happy Meals, Lunchables, Cheeto’s, Spam, Gummy Bears, Twizzlers, and more; and Hallmark’s Better Together line includes plush pairings of burger and fries, taco and hot sauce, peanut butter and jelly, sushi and soy sauce, grilled cheese and tomato soup, movie theater popcorn and drink, and so on.

As the examples listed here show, licenses in this space are often non-exclusive. And the deals represent a miniscule portion of corporate licensors’ revenue. But—like the broader novelty and lifestyle licensing programs based on snack brands and comfort foods that seem to continue growing with no end in sight—these on-trend products are popular with consumers. They serve as a fun way to keep the brands top-of-mind and perhaps drive some incremental sales of the snacks themselves.

Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter comes out next Tuesday, November 21, 2023. The Licensing Topic of the Month will examine forecasts for the holiday sales period, while the Datapoint research spotlight will analyze the board game sector. If you do not yet subscribe to this free publication, sign up here.

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