Parents Seek Toys With 'Play Value'

Anyone looking for proof that parents want more bang for their buck can stop with the latest progress report from Lego. After a holiday season that had retailers crying in their eggnog and left industry heavyweights Mattel and Hasbro with disappointing quarterly results, Lego says its U.S. sales were up an amazing 38% in 2008, recording double-digit gains in every retail outlet.

Announcing results as the industry's annual Toy Fair gets underway, the Danish-based company says its best performers include its Star Wars Collection, as well as its City and Castle lines. "We achieved unprecedented growth and set company records in the face of negative economic trends and a downturn in consumer spending," says the company, which estimates that the world's children spend about 5 billion hours a year playing with Lego construction sets.

"Our strongest year among U.S. consumers kicked off with the 50th anniversary of the Lego brick and developed in a market where economic uncertainty squeezed holiday sales, proving that our classic play pattern and brand value really are timeless and resilient."



Overall, toy industry sales are in decline. NPD Group reports that in the 12-month period between October 2007 and September 2008, the latest available, sales of traditional toys fell 3% to $22.2 billion.

Just as Lego products struck a value note with parents, other toy marketers are trying hard to be recession-ready, introducing more affordable toys with a classic twist.

Hasbro, for example, is boasting about the "great value" of this year's offerings, and while there's plenty of new (look for Autobots and Decepticons from the Transformers line, linked to a new movie), there's also plenty of old: A 60th anniversary edition of Candy Land and a 20th anniversary edition SuperSoaker, as well as more G.I. Joe and MyLittlePony products.

"In challenging economic times, people often turn to brands and experiences that they know and trust," its executives say in releases that unveil new products. "We are confident that many of our new and re-imagined brand offerings this year will resonate well with consumers around the world as we continue to inject creativity and innovation into some of the world's most classic and popular brands."

Meanwhile, toy executives--stung badly in recent years by recalls--continue to be mindful of safety issues, and the Toy Industry Association, which sponsors the annual event, says registration at its Safety Seminar is triple the usual amount, as marketers size up the impact and implementation of the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

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