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Toy Industry Sizzles As Pandemic Smolders

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

There are many industries that have suffered through the pandemic, but the toy industry is not one of them.

According to in-depth research released by The NPD Group, toy sales soared once more in the first half of 2021, despite a very strong showing in 2020.

The NPD Group typically examines 12 global markets, and says this year the toy industry’s sales have increased by 15% to $22.45 billion in the first half of 2021, as compared to the same time period in 2020.

Even better, revenues are up 28% when compared to the $17.59 billion generated in the first half of 2019, which was well before the impact of the pandemic was felt.

That growth was evident in all global markets, NPD adds, although sales were down in Spain and Brazil by 10 and 15% respectively compared to last year.

The highest growth showed up in the US, which boasted an astounding 40% boost in sales, followed by Germany with 23%, Canada at 20%, and Belgium, the Netherlands and Russia all ringing in at 19%.

One thing we’ve seen consistently during the pandemic is that certain categories within the toy industry have done better than others. Typically, most toymakers have found that games and puzzles have steadily led the way, followed by outdoors and sports toys. That was true again in early 2021, with Games/Puzzles increasing by 59% and Outdoor/Sports growing by 38%.

The top five performing categories were rounded out by Infant/Toddler/Preschool Toys (14%), Dolls (10%), and Building Sets (38%).

Of the 29 toys subsegments, NPD says only two experienced declines in revenue vs. early 2019. Those included Playset Dolls & Accessories, which declined 34%, and Battling Toys & Playsets with an 8% decrease in sales. The highest subsegment growth was seen in Strategic Trading Card Games, which increased 136%, from $341.7 million in the first half of 2019, to $805.8 million in the first half of 2021, driven by Pokémon, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

And speaking of Pokemon, the venerable trading card franchise was also the top toy property in the world for the period, followed by Barbie, Star Wars, L.O.L. Surprise!, and Marvel Universe.

“We are delighted to report continuous strong growth for the toy market globally,” said Frédérique Tutt, Global Toys Industry Analyst at The NPD Group. “Even though COVID-19 restrictions are easing in most countries, consumers continue to turn to toys and games for their entertainment. Whether it is collectible cards, building sets or outdoor toys, demand is still very strong, which is promising as the industry is now preparing for the holiday season.”


As mentioned above, the US market led growth this year, and NPD says sales hit $11 billion in sales for the six months from January to June.

Thanks to the strong growth in 2020 and 2021, the compound annual growth rate for the industry remains positive from 2018 to the present day, despite much less stellar years in 2018-2019. NPD estimates the industry experienced a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9% in both dollars and ASP, driven by COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. However, the CAGR for units-sold was flat over that period.

In the US, 10 of the eleven supercategories tracked by NPD had growth in 2021. Outdoor & Sports Toys continues to be the largest supercategory with $2.9 billion in sales, more than double the size of the second largest supercategory, Games/Puzzles. Outdoor & Sports Toys also had the largest dollar gain of $280 million while Plush had the fastest dollar growth versus 2020 of 39%.

The only absolute dollar declines versus 2020 came from Arts and Crafts, which declined -1%. This was driven by Craft Kits which makes up 42% of the supercategory. The remaining classes within Arts & Crafts all experienced growth during the first half of the year.

Juli Lennett, NPD vice president and industry advisor for U.S. Toys, says the devastating heat wave in the western states had an immediate effect on toy sales in the country.

“The continued exceptional growth in Outdoor & Sports Toys was partially driven by water-related toys as consumers looked to beat the heat,” said Lennett. “With the vaccine still not available for kids under 12, ‘safely social toys’, like Playground Equipment and Skates/Skateboards/Scooters also continued to grow.”

Lennett’s report also stated that, compared to 2019, all supercategories posted a positive 2-year CAGR. Looking at other compound annual growth rates compared to 2019, Games/Puzzles had the fastest growth of 31% followed by Building Sets and Explorative & Other Toys.

NPD chart shows relative growth of 11 super categories within the toy industry, led by Outdoor/Sports Toys.

Lennett says Pokémon led sales in the US, just as it did globally. Pokémon was the #1 property and top growth property during the first six months of the year, and Strategic Trading Card Games was the top dollar growth class among all 96 classes tracked by NPD in toys, she says.
Rounding out the top ten properties were Barbie, Star Wars, L.O.L. Surprise!, Fisher-Price, Marvel Universe, Hot Wheels, Little Tikes, Nerf, and LEGO Star Wars.“Nostalgia has been a key driver of growth over the last 18 months,” Lennett says. “Consumers have looked to fill the isolation with memories of happier times in their lives.“Adult males drove growth with nostalgic brands like Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering, and the National Football League in the collectible space and parents and grandparents leaned heavily on the brands that they have known and loved through multiple generations.”

Special Report: Toy Sector Proves Immune to COVID-19 Pandemic

NPD Says Toy Sales Soared 27% In Year-To-Date



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