Toy trends for 2023: from Lego flower power to Traitors the board game

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With its character parades featuring Paddington Bear, Paw Patrol and Pikachu, the annual UK toy industry beano has a carnival atmosphere but is actually a serious business as retail buyers select the sets, dolls and games we will play with in 2023.

Toy sales slumped by more than £100m last year, according to figures released to coincide with this week’s British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) fair in London, meaning the buyers there were desperate to identify the next big toy or trend for kids and, increasingly, the kidults who buy £1bn worth of toys for themselves.

View image in fullscreenPigs on Trampolines toy at the trade fair. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Melissa Symonds, an analyst at the market researcher NPD, says toy sales were hit by the cost of living crisis. Total sales fell back 3% to £3.6bn while the number of products sold dropped 6% as parents shunned cheaper impulse buys. There was also no escape from inflation, with the average selling price up 3% to £10.54.

“We’re not expecting huge growth this year because the economy is still uncertain,” Symonds says. “People are still going to be price-conscious … but will still want to distract themselves or their kids. That is something toys has over other categories – there is always an element of joy.”

View image in fullscreenCharacters that have difficulty with the stairs are squeezed into a goods lift at the toy fair at Olympia. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

Kidults rule

In 2022 the sweet spot was the kidult (buyers aged 12 and over) market, which is still growing and now equates to almost 30% of UK toy sales. After rediscovering childhood passions during lockdown, adults are opting to spend on Lego and collectible toys rather than nights out. The maker of plastic bricks continues to target this group with new sets and themes such as the Botanical Collection, which, with sets such as a £45 dried flower centrepiece, analysts say is aimed at women. Playmobil is also tapping into nostalgia for childhood favourites, with sets devoted to Asterix and the 80s TV favourite Magnum, PI. The latter, due out in April, includes a Ferrari 308 GTS Quattrovalvole and a figure complete with Hawaiian shirt and Tom Selleck’s trademark moustache.

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View image in fullscreenLego’s dried flower centrepiece from its Botanical Collection. Photograph: Lego

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Disney is 100

Despite the grim picture for toy town as a whole, in 2022 sales of licensed toys were actually up 5.5% thanks to spin-offs from classics such as Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These kinds of toys make up almost a third of sales, and analysts are predicting another “good year” because of the welter of merchandise – from dolls, cuddly toys and Lego to even a Rubik’s Cube – celebrating characters and films from the Disney archive as it turns 100. This year’s Barbie film is also set to provide a shot in the arm for Mattel’s veteran doll brand, which is enjoying a renaissance.

View image in fullscreenPotty Time Elmo. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Old favourites return

Sesame Street, Paddington Bear and Wallace and Gromit … there were lots of familiar names on the list of 25 “hero” toys of the year produced by the BTHA for the event. A £35 cuddly singing Elmo to help preschoolers crack potty training garnered a lot of attention, while for 80s kids the £20 Care Bear provides a blast from the past.

Honey, I shrunk the toys

The micro toy trend manages to sate collectors and small budgets at the same time. Analysts point to the Bitty Pop! toy range, which debuted at the London show. It offers tiny versions of the popular Funko Pop! figures, and the first wave features characters from Harry Potter and, of course, Disney. The Bitty Pop! figures will go sale in the summer in a four-pack costing £13.

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Plush (soft) toys are huge

View image in fullscreenKeel toys on show at the trade fair in London. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

While other toys were left on the shelf in 2022, sales of plush toys jumped 29%. They are expected to be popular this year too because of Squishmallows, the cuddly toy brand that is huge on TikTok.

Are you a ‘faithful’?

View image in fullscreenThe Traitors board game based on the BBC series. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

Britons rediscovered board games during the coronavirus pandemic and have kept on playing, with murder mystery and escape room games growing in popularity. With millions hooked on the BBC’s recent hit show The Traitors, the board game is expected to be one of the biggest toys of the year, with predictions we will all be hosting Traitors nights come Christmas. The game, costing £30, is due out in the autumn.

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