Reverberations of what has been a pivotal year for toy companies the world over will continue to be felt for years to come as ‘play at home’ trends and renewed emphasis on ‘play longevity’ have been earmarked as some of the lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the nurturing dolls market specialist, Zapf Creation, key trends to have emerged from the past year of lockdowns, social distancing and all manner of restrictions, such as the strengthened relationship between families, parents, and toy companies across the globe will “continue to play key roles in 2021 and beyond.”
Awareness around diversity, inclusivity, home help, and sustainability, as well as fundamental factors such as a revised value of play driven by the stay home messaging of the past year, have all risen to new levels over the course of 2020, and will now all go on to shape the look of the toy market, particularly the doll sector, for future parents and families.
And it all arrives as the Baby Born brand, Zapf Creation’s number one nurturing doll brand, prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Here, ToyNews talks to Kasia Leskow, marketing manager at Zapf Creation UK to discuss the challenges of the past year, and just what might be ahead for the company’s leading dolls brands.
Hi Kasia, thanks for chatting with us. To start, can you talk us through the strength of the Zapf brand and product portfolio for 2021?
Despite the difficulties we’ve all faced in 2020, Zapf Creation UK has had an exciting year. We’ve launched new dolls and themes across both our Baby Born and Baby Annabell brands, introduced new series to our collectible Baby Born Surprise brand and launched two new transactional websites for consumers to purchase directly from us.
Our Zapf brands harness traditional play value and play longevity and consumers this year have really sought this authenticity when it comes to toys. With increased time at home, parents have really been able to see and appreciate the value of traditional play and spending quality time with their children, using playtime to support developmental skills.
Next year is a big year for us, Baby Born turns 30, so 2021 is going to be even more exciting and we can’t wait to reveal what we have in store to celebrate such a milestone. Our Baby Annabell product line is introducing new dolls and expanding popular themes and Baby Born Surprise has a raft of new play-sets, large dolls and more collectibles to add to the current series already on shelves.
So what will be the key launches and key trends that to tap into for the coming year?
Sustainability in the toy industry is a real focus and in 2021 we’re looking at how our products and packaging can be more sustainable to protect the future of our children. From early next year, we’re introducing plastic-free packaging across core products and new lines, eventually rolling the packaging out across the entire portfolio.
We’re constantly tapping into consumer feedback and listening to what parents and children want and being more sustainable and caring about children’s futures is a big part of that.
Our product lines reflect what parents and children want to see and, as 2020 has been such a pivotal year, play at home and play longevity will continue to have a big role in new ranges introduced to the market.
To what extent do you think the trends of 2021 will be dictated by the events of the past year?
Throughout the industry, 2020 has thrown up many challenges and we don’t see this changing at the end of the year. Diversity, inclusivity, home help and sustainability will all play key roles in 2021 and beyond. As mentioned, we’re already looking at our packaging and products in line with this, but we also pride ourselves in introducing dolls to market that enable development in young children.
This year, we saw parents spending more time than ever before with their children and seeing the impact play has on the early years development, so much so that we saw really strong growth in the traditional toys market. We also saw parents seeking more support and help at home than ever before, from resources to assist with home-schooling, to expert-led advice to help with development away from classrooms and friends.
In autumn this year, our Baby Annabell Ask The Experts campaign was all about supporting the vast parenting community online with helpful advice and tips from top parenting experts in response to the demand. Similarly, Baby Born partnered with educational resource hub iChild again this year to create printable and digital at-home resources to help parents explain cleanliness, hygiene and the ever-important message around hand washing in a fun but effective way utilising the Baby Born Bath range. We very much expect to see demand for this type of support continue late into next year.
How has business been for Zapf over the course of 2020? Have you guys seen consumer mindsets shift, and what impact has this had on the dolls’ market?
With the increased demand for traditional toys, toys that would provide hours of play and aid the development of key skills in young children, the Zapf brands were in a very good position to appease market demand this year. Baby Annabell remains the number one nurturing doll in the market, while Baby Born holds the number two position.
We also saw significant growth in the smaller dolls market, aimed at even younger children which tells us parents really saw the value doll play brings to little ones from the moment they really start to interact. Equally, we saw growth in the Baby Annabell and Baby Born accessory and clothing lines, with parents eager to ensure toys have play longevity, with new ways to evoke imaginations coming via accessories.
Doll play has for a long time been championed for its child developmental benefits. How important do you think the sector has become over the course of 2020 and the imposed social distancing and home learning?
Doll play and its links to early child development has always played a huge part in all the Zapf brands – from encouraging imaginations to thrive to helping children develop motor skills, nurturing and family values. Our ranges follow everyday patterns to support children in understanding routines like bedtime, bath time and mealtimes, and campaigns like those mentioned before enhance this and support parents as they teach their children these key skills at home.
With home schooling and the huge upheaval of everyone’s lives this year, we’ve found our online parenting community yearning for more support, which we answered through social media and website resources providing ideas for play and learning at home.
Throughout this year, parents often found themselves entertaining and home schooling young children, where previously they would have been at school or nursery. They had to be more creative and had the opportunity to watch their children play and see how interlinked play is with learning and development, the result of which we can see in the markets that saw growth this year.
The dolls market is also the focus of major advancements in the topic of empowerment, representation and inclusivity. What is Zapf doing in this field to fuel conversation and change?
At Zapf, we firmly believe dolls are for all children and the benefit of play is clear when it comes to child development. Our campaigns harness expert advice and are inclusive for all children, with play patterns that replicate real life.
Given the challenges faced this year, we gave parents a platform to speak with experts and ask about the issues they have faced in 2020, with genuine, helpful answers in return.
Recently, we drove the conversation around doll play being for everyone, creating engaging and funny video content of boys and girls from all backgrounds having fun with the Baby Born products, which was well-received by our online community and influencer partners,
Doll play has always been an excellent learning tool because it replicates real life scenarios and routines. Many of the experts we work with credit doll play as a way of helping children understand key moments and conversations. Similarly, more focused activities can help children learn new habits, like those we have developed with iChild, and activities we shared across our social channels and on our website.
So, what’s the next big step for Zapf and the dolls’ market?
At Zapf we care for children so updating our packaging to ensure it is plastic-free and easily recyclable is the real focus for us. It’s important to listen to parents and children and ensure feedback is reflected in what we do as a brand. We have seen and heard from consumers that brands need to be more sustainable, have a strategic plan to reduce their carbon footprint and play a part in making the future a brighter place for our children in the years to come.
Alongside the important sustainability message, Zapf will continue to support parents and encourage learning through play, with new ranges and a variety of products to support vital skills development from birth, through to the early school years.
We’re excited for the next year and what 2021 will bring, with our new launches and Baby Born’s 30th birthday celebrations. We will continue supporting parents through providing toys that offer development, build skills, enhance imaginations and encourage fun, traditional play.