Easter bunny hand­ing out more toys than treats

Re­tail­ers seize op­por­tu­nity as par­ents es­chew choco­late and candy in favour of non-ed­i­ble bas­ket stuffers


LOS AN­GE­LES— Look out, candy man: Toy­mak­ers are mov­ing in on your plas­tic-grass turf.

Re­tail­ers and toy com­pa­nies are work­ing to­gether this year to cre­ate items for chil­dren’s Easter bas­kets that go well be­yond choco­late bun­nies and marsh­mal­low chicks.

The ef­forts are pay­ing huge div­i­dends. Easter-sea­son con­sumer spend­ing is ex­pected to hit a record $18.4 bil­lion (U.S.) this year, a fig­ure that would vault the hol­i­day past Valen­tine’s Day for the first time, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion in the U.S. Easter would trail only Christ­mas, back-to-school and Mother’s Day among the year’s main events for re­tail rev­enue.

“There’s about a bil­lion dol­lars of toys sold the three weeks lead­ing into Easter,” said Jim Sil­ver, editor of Time to Play Mag­a­zine, an in­dus­try pub­li­ca­tion. “Man­u­fac­tur­ers have been mak­ing toys that are Easter­bas­ket friendly and come in eggshaped pack­ages.”

The trend presents an­other chal­lenge for candy com­pa­nies such as Her­shey Co. Chang­ing con­sumer tastes, in­clud­ing a shift away from sugar and pro­cessed in­gre­di­ents, have eroded sales and put pres­sure on food com­pa­nies to con­trol ex­penses. Tra­di­tional candy-con­sum­ing hol­i­days such as Easter are more crit­i­cal than ever as the in­dus­try strug­gles to ig­nite sales growth. The tim­ing of the hol­i­day is cru­cial. Easter Sun­day landed on March 27 last year, which gave peo­ple less time to shop for candy and gifts. Her­shey, the largest seller of choco­late in the U.S., blamed the early hol­i­day for weigh­ing down 2016 sales.

This year, how­ever, com­pa­nies are ben­e­fit­ing from an Easter hol­i­day that falls on April 16, al­most three weeks later. Warmer weather this week­end could prompt more peo­ple to get out to stores and host fam­ily gath­er­ings, said Ana Ser­afin Smith, a spokes­woman for the re­tail fed­er­a­tion.

The ex­tra time bodes well for re­tail­ers like Toys “R” Us Inc. The chain is ask­ing shop­pers to “think out­side the bas­ket,” with bas­ket-stuffers like $18 Lego di­nosaurs, Mat­tel Inc.’s $20 Mon­ster High fash­ion dolls and Nin­tendo Co.’s $50 Poke­mon Moon video game.

Toy com­pa­nies also got shrewder in their prod­uct de­sign and pack­ag­ing this year. Man­u­fac­turer Jakks Pa­cific Inc. is of­fer­ing Disney Tsum Tsum col­lectible fig­ures in pas­tel colours for the hol­i­day.

“Moms like the idea of adding other things,” said Sara Ros­ales Mon­talvo, a spokes­woman for Jakks, “so that the Easter bas­ket isn’t com­pletely filled with can­dies and choco­lates.”

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