How a toy maker shrunk the supermarket and made it big
There were skeptics in 2019 when New Zealand-based toy company Zuru unveiled its line of toys featuring miniature grocery items, reproduced in great detail but shrunk to a tiny fraction of their normal size.
What kid, analysts and rival toy makers have asked, would be delighted to open a mysterious packet of toys and find a small bottle of Hellmann’s mayonnaise inside, along with miniature versions of a carton of ice cream Breyer, a jar of Skippy peanut butter, a box of Spam, and a container of Dove shampoo?
“If I was a kid and had this for Christmas, I would be hopelessly disappointed,” a CNBC presenter said after a November 2019 broadcast segment when he and a co-host opened up Mini Brands toys from Zuru on the air, just before the line faces. his first holiday season.
But even though the CNBC presenters joked, it was obvious that Zuru was having a hit. In the first week of November 2019, Zuru sold 200,000 units of toys in Walmart and Target stores.
To date, the toy maker has sold 140 million miniature ketchup bottles, pickle jars, milk cartons and other tiny versions of supermarket staples. miniature items, sold at the rate of one every two seconds.
Retail tracking company The NPD Group named Mini Brands the best-selling US toy in the category of “exploratory and other toys” in 2020.
It turned out the kids wanted Mini Brands. But more importantly, a lot of teenagers and adults too. In addition to creating a toy that appealed to a wide range of ages, Zuru had also created the perfect toy for the Tik Tok era – a toy well suited to star in hundreds of sales-boosting videos.
Zuru was an early adopter of Tik Tok and is now reaping the rewards, said Jim Silver, CEO and editor of TTPM, a mainstream toy review website.
“They played early on Tik Tok, where others sat and watched. and it gave them an opportunity, ”said Silver. Mini Brands “was the dominant toy brand on Tik Tok because no one else was playing.”
The #MiniBrands hashtag has generated more than 1.6 billion Tik Tok views, according to Zuru.
Tik Tok, Instagram and other social media inspired the toys.
The team at Zuru, a 17-year-old toy company that has seen other successes including Bunch O Balloons quick-fill balloons, auto-attach balloons, X-Shot foam blasters, and Rainbocorns collectibles. , saw that miniatures, especially food items, were all the rage.
“It seemed like little miniatures of food items were being made, but no one had really been able to do it on a large scale,” said Anna Mowbray, CEO of Zuru.
Mini brands are capitalizing on three trends that rival toy companies were already capitalizing on: collectibles, surprise small toy unboxes, and nostalgia.
The toy took off as the world suddenly found itself nostalgic for the grocery store, as the pandemic moved many trips to online supermarkets.
There had been plenty of earlier examples of toy companies using supermarket products in children’s toys, said James Zahn, assistant editor of the Toy Book and editor of Pop Insider.
Kenner’s Easy Bake Oven had a licensing agreement with Betty Crocker to include branded cake and cookie mixes with the toys, Zahn noted. Topps in 1967 released Wacky Packages collectible cards featuring “Jolly Mean Giant”, “Ratz crackers” and other parodies of supermarket brands.
Moose Toys in 2014 sparked a craze for collectibles with the release of its Shopkins line, tiny plastic figures based on food products like Apple Blossom or Kooky Cookie. This brand evolved in 2019 to Shopkins Real Littles, with the addition of realistic miniature toy packaging alongside cartoon characters.
Zuru’s take on the idea of food miniatures was to make exact replicas of supermarket brands, right down to nutritional information and barcodes.
The toy maker has reached out to major consumer product companies to obtain licenses for their brands and packaging. It was a little hard to sell at first, “but once we showed them the prototypes of the minis and the in-depth details and how we are able to replicate their products, most of the partners were blown away,” said Mowbray said.
“When they saw and felt it, they understood the beauty of the product. They have that connection. And there really is this incredibly emotional connection with people, ”she said.
Toys have become such a phenomenon that the food brands that initially passed the license request have since approached Zuru to request that their products be included in future editions of the toy.
Zuru won licensing deals early on with the biggest players in the supermarket industry – Unilever, Kraft Heinz, McCormick Spices, Hersey’s and Mondelez.
Unilever, in a statement to CNBC in 2019, said he liked the idea because “partnering with a toy brand allows mainstream brands to access the home buyer through the most influential channel of all – their children “.
But it turned out that the biggest fans of Mini Brands were adults.
“The microgame is both a model of play for children and a collector’s item for adults,” Zahn said. “It taps into that same mentality as when dollhouses were so popular. People were making these intricate miniatures that would fit into these worlds. ”
Another plus for Mini brands, Zahn said, is that they don’t take up a lot of space. “A lot of people are facing space issues today,” he said.
Zuru’s decision to wrap the Mini Brands in round plastic balls, each containing five of the miniature figures, sparked legal action from toy maker MGA Entertainment in 2019.
MGA Entertainment, one of the big hit toy companies in the surprise unboxing category, with its LOL Surprise collectible dolls and accessories, has been selling its toys in similar packaging for several years. He brought an infringement action against Zuru in California state court, but his request for a preliminary injunction was dismissed. The companies announced in May that they had settled their dispute out of court, with no restrictions for Zuru.
Toy industry pundits Silver and Zahn both expect Mini Brands’ popularity to continue this year and beyond.
“I still think there is a lot of life left for the brand,” said Silver.
Zuru released a “Gold Rush” edition of three dozen rare gold-toned minis in June. Previously, it had also launched a line of mini toys that included miniature Crayola boxes, frisbees and other iconic toy brands.
Zuru’s strategy, Mowbray said, will be to continue offering limited editions and to maintain the right balance between availability and scarcity of products that drives collectors to collect.
“We know the brand is on fire, but we don’t want to just saturate the market,” she said. “We have to make sure we manage that very fine line around scarcity,” placing special editions like the Gold Rush at some retailers for very limited periods of time, she said.
Zuru, Mowbray said, plans to release new figure lines in 2022.
And like the supermarket products it shrinks, Zuru’s continued success with Mini Brands will depend on its ability to keep things from going out of date, Silver said.
“The key is constantly refreshing him,” Silver said. “Keep it fresh to keep the consumer interested. “
Mowbray and Zuru are confident that demand for Mini Brands will not abate anytime soon. “It’s a really big mini world to play in,” she said.