Toys Turns on the Heat for Kitchen Play

July 2009 | The four-day International Tokyo Toy Show wrapped up on Sunday, June 19, at Tokyo Big Sight, the city’s international exhibition center.  The event drew 132 companies displaying 36,000 toys.

Takeo Takasu (Namco Bandai Holdings Inc.), chairman of the Japan Toy Association, spoke with optimism at the event, reporting that Japan’s domestic toy industry suffered only a small (1.2 percent) drop in market size in fiscal 2008.

Trumping the card games that were last year’s blockbuster, this year’s show highlighted the growing popularity of cooking toys.  Four major players — Sega Toys Co., Tomy Co., Bandai and Megahouse Co. — increased their products in this niche area to 37 in fiscal 2008 from just 10 the year before; domestic Japanese sales in the category increased by 3.5 times.

Among the various treats these toys can produce are Chinese dumplings, ice cream, cotton candy, “mochi” sticky rice and bread.  Sega Toys has around 110,000 of its Ice Kurin ice-cream maker since last July.  Tomy Co. displayed its Nama Carmel Pot, a kit children can use to make fresh caramel in a microwave oven; it won the “trendy” category at the Japan Toy awards this week. 

Atsuko Shimizu, a member of the marketing team for Sega Toys, said cooking toys became popular due to the recession because people are growing more reluctant to dine out.

“Families can play with their children while cooking together . . . which also facilitates family communications,” observed Shimizu.

“Simplicity is back,” agreed Marian Bossard, TIA’s vice president of meetings and events. “Cooking at home is a reflection of a challenging economy.  There’s a real connection between children’s role play and what parents are doing in the kitchen.”

The beginning of the cross-Pacific kitchen toy trend was spotted at the American International Toy Fair held in New York City in February 2009, when nearly 25 companies specifically identified themselves as featuring household and/or cooking toys and play sets. 

Along with the rising popularity of the (U.S.) Food Network and its chefs – like Duff (Ace of Cakes), Giada De Laurentis (Everyday Italian) Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives), not to mention superstar Rachael Ray – who have obtained celebrity status, the trend for food- and kitchen-related toys will likely continue to grow.

The newest batch of cooking and baking toys allow children to customize their own edible creations. Through a licensing agreement with JAKKS Pacific, the popular Girl Gourmet line now includes a Cake Bakery kit featuring Duff Goldman. "Now young bakers can pretend to be just like me and make beautiful fondant cakes for their friends and family, but without all the mess that I make! [I wish we had this product when I was a kid!]" says Duff Goldman, who bakes and creates fantasy cakes on his hit Food Network series, Ace of Cakes.

They are also several role play toys allow younger children to experience the fun of working in the kitchen through experiential play:

  • For fall 2009, Hasbro is bringing back its original aqua color for the classic EASY-BAKE Oven and Snack Center.  Since it was first introduced in 1963, there have been 11 models, each reflecting the colors and oven styles of their day. 
  • Alex Toy’s Sweetheart Café is a 40-piece role play set which includes a chef’s hat and apron.  
  • Young gourmet chefs will enjoy Plan Toys Cooking Utensils set, Schylling Rose Tin Tea set, and Melissa and Doug’s wooden Sushi Slicing play set. 
  • Parents can teach kids about nutrition and let them pretend that they are part of the food preparation process with Learning Resources Pretend N Play Healthy Food Snacks Set, Plan Toy Assorted Fruits and Vegetables, and Melissa and Doug’s Food Groups.

Kids love emulating their parents,” says Reyne Rice, TIA toy trend specialist. “Cooking is a creative learning activity which adults and kids can share at any age.”