How the US Toy Association identifies the hottest trends in toys

The Toy Association’s Kristin Morency Goldman shares the inside story on trend-spotting for North America’s biggest toy industry event

Written by Rhys Thomas

Posted 30.10.2019 | Business

How the US Toy Association identifies the hottest trends in toys thumbnail

Kids today are not only cognizant of what’s happening in their own neighborhoods and schools, they also have exposure to the latest worldwide fads and fashions through social media. It means that they are quite savvy when it comes to the hottest global trends, know exactly what they want, and ultimately drive the majority of purchase decisions for fashion, food and, of course, toys.

“From unicorns and sloths to slime and unboxing toys, we see new trends take off year after year. The challenge, of course, is to anticipate what will be on kids’ wish lists and ultimately propel toy sales,” says Adrienne Appell, leading trend expert at the U.S. Toy Association.

“At the US Toy Association, staying in-the-know about the next ‘it’ toys and games is a year-round job that involves meeting individually with global toy companies to see what they have in the pipeline, followed by internal team meetings to discuss the major themes we see emerging across the board,” Adrienne adds.

The information is then kept under embargo as the team works to develop a final list of the hottest trends for the coming year, which are announced to media and buyers at The Toy Association’s North American International Toy Fair held in New York City each February.

Known by industry professionals as “the place where trends come alive,” Toy Fair New York feels like Christmas morning. More than 41,000 net square metres of exhibit space overflows with hundreds of thousands of brand-new playthings and youth entertainment products, some of which The Toy Association trends team saw in prototype-form just a few months earlier.  

More than 1,000 exhibitors show their latest toys to 11,000-plus retailers, wholesalers, entertainment executives, importers, and buying groups. For the first-time visitor (or even the hundredth-time visitor), it can be a bit overwhelming. The Toy Association’s trend-spotters efficiently scour the floor and then help make the show a little less daunting for visitors when they announce the top toy trends of the year at a seminar open to all attendees.


At Toy Fair New York 2019, The Toy Association announced six trends: Unboxing 2.0, Compound Crazy, Explosive Entertainment, Throwback Toys, Inspirational & Aspirational Play, and Foodie Fun. Each of these trends encourages hands-on, imaginative play – whether children are unboxing and discovering hidden surprises within their toys or enjoying role-play and dress-up playthings that inspire them to imagine themselves in future careers. 

 Across all categories, toymakers are ramping up their efforts to not only capture but also keep the attention of kids in the face of ongoing competition from tablets, smartphones, and TV. Indeed, the most successful toys are those that are multi-layered and enable children to grow into or adapt to them as they learn new skills.

“And ‘brain-healthy’ products never seem to go out of style,” adds Adrienne. “Any type of toy or game that helps to build children’s cognitive, social, emotional and fine and gross motor skills will always be popular. The toy industry is constantly creating a diverse range of playthings that are not only exciting and innovative – they are also truly beneficial to children of all ages.”

Want to know what will be hot in 2020? Visit Toy Fair New York in February and be sure to tap into all the marketplace has to offer, including educational seminars on trends, invention and design, independent retail, and much more.

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