Play food is normally found in the pretend kitchens of preschoolers but this Christmas adults are queueing up to buy cutesy toy versions of favourite food and drink including croissants, slices of cake and takeaway coffees.
With food and cuteness among the pillars of social media it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone combined the two, with the tactile toys, accessories and tree decorations a surprise hit with children and adults.
“I couldn’t tell you when exactly food met toys, or why, but it has, and it is massively popular,” said Rachael Simpson-Jones, the editor of Toy World Magazine. “Food is a huge trend in toys at the moment, it doesn’t matter if it is plush toys, collectibles or jigsaws.”
The Amuseables range of food-themed toys and accessories – which includes bags shaped like a coffee and a croissant – made by the British brand Jellycat is one of the names cropping up on Christmas lists. Selfridges says its sales are up 110% compared with 2022, making it the fastest-selling toy brand in its department stores. Jellycat’s £30 coffee cup bag sold out when it first went on sale.
Eleanor Gregory, Selfridges’ toy buying manager, said Jellycat’s cuddly animals had always been popular with children but the quirky food characters appealed to Gen Zers who shared their purchases on social media or gifted them to friends. “Everyone goes crazy for it … who would have thought a coffee-to-go plush bag would be a must-have item?”
Plush toys are one of the bright spots in an otherwise depressed toy market as the cost of living crisis hits spending this year. This buoyancy is largely due to the success of Squishmallows, with the squidgy toy brand enjoying huge growth in the UK over the past two years. Global sales of the whimsical creatures, which can be fruit, vegetable or animal, or, indeed a hybrid, have surpassed 300m.
“During the pandemic a lot of people were stuck at home and wanted something that would bring a bit of joy and levity into their lives,” Simpson-Jones said. “Plush is cuddly, it’s cute. It is designed to make you smile. If you’ve got a cuddly toy and it’s shaped like a mushroom, it’s off the wall, isn’t it? It’s a step away from the traditional teddy bear.”
Collecting it is not a new thing, said Simpson-Jones (who confesses to amassing a huge collection of Beanie Babies in the 1990s), but it has been reinvigorated by people sharing pictures and videos of their toys on social media. “Social media and toys are so interconnected now especially when it comes to collectibles.”
The stakes are high for the toy trade at this time of year as the dolls, games and action figures bought for children at Christmas make up nearly 30% of the industry’s annual sales. Last year shoppers spent £1bn at this time of year, but unless there is a big last-minute rush sales could well be down this year as spending on toys slumped 5% in the first 10 months of the year, according to data company Circana.
There is still time to make up lost ground because as many toys are sold in each week of December as in a normal month. However, faced with a tough market retailers are cutting prices and running promotions to attract shoppers.
“It is quite tough out there and there is a lot of pricing pressure,” Simpson-Jones said. “People are probably going to do their shopping late, after they get paid, so it is all going to land in that weekend before Christmas because we have got Saturday and Sunday as shopping days.”