The rise of the kidult helped boost UK toy sales during the coronavirus lockdown, with Lego the latest business to benefit from parents joining their children on the playmat while pubs, cinemas and playgrounds were closed.
Lego said on Wednesday that a rise in sales and profits in the first six months of the year was due to more families playing together and “more adults than ever before” playing its harder-to-build sets. Purchases of jigsaws and board games have also soared during the pandemic as families spend more time together.
Retail figures also point to a market gain from adult buyers. Sales of toys rose 7% in the UK in the first seven months of the year after two or three years of decline, according to market research firm NPD, with expensive construction kits joining collectible dolls among the bestsellers.
Complex construction kits such as Lego’s Technic sets for a Bugatti and a Land Rover Defender were among the top-selling toys in the UK over the period, according to NPD. John Lewis said its bestselling Lego kit during lockdown was based on the 1990s sitcom Friends. In other pointers to a kidult games trend, Games Workshop, the fantasy figure retailer, had reported record sales in the final six months of 2019, while the Call of Duty: Warzone video game has drawn millions of players since its launch just before lockdown.
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“It’s pretty amazing and somewhat surprising,” said Frédérique Tutt, a global toy market expert at NPD, discussing the UK sales figures. She said the market turnaround was likely to be the result of a combination of parents seeking educational toys for children kept out of school as well as new ways to while away hours at home themselves. “During lockdown, parents were trying to keep kids happy and occupied while many parents themselves were at home working or furloughed,” she said.
The trend for construction kits favoured by adults helped Lego’s global sales rise by 7% year on year in the first six months of 2020 to 15.7bn Danish kroner (£1.9bn), despite the closure of toy shops for months in some countries including the UK. Alongside the Bugatti and the Land Rover Defender, Lego’s more challenging sets include the Architecture and Powered Up series, which offer models such as the Burj Khalifa and a motor-powered excavator.
Niels Christiansen, the chief executive of Lego, said the Danish company had benefited from more families playing together during the coronavirus lockdown, adults building their own models, an investment in its online sales operation as well as a pivot towards selling online.
“Our strong portfolio appealed to builders of all ages and our recently upgraded e-commerce platform and agile global supply chain allowed us to fulfil online demand,” he said. “More families are playing and learning together with Lego bricks and we are seeing more adults than ever before enjoying building our more challenging sets.”
As well as doing well with high-end kits, Lego has had success at the other end of the scale. A set of Lego DC Comics superhero figures for just over £3 was the UK’s number five bestselling toy in the first seven months of the year, according to NPD, with a new kit based on the Super Mario computer games the bestseller in August. Lego said in its results, which also showed a double-digit rise in profits to 3.9bn kroner, that the most successful products included themed playsets from Harry Potter, Disney princesses and Star Wars.
“Lego has done really well during lockdown. I think it is about something that takes up long hours of play with imagination and creativity which is what parents want kids to develop,” said NPD’s Tutt. “But it’s not just popular with parents, what we call kidults love [more complex building kits] like Technic or Architecture.”
Lego, which was founded in 1932 in Denmark and has grown to become the world’s largest toy company ahead of the Barbie manufacturer Mattel and the Transformers owner Hasbro, has been able to continue trading while shops were closed because it spent heavily on developing a website so it can sell direct to consumers, which is generally more profitable and has proven resilient when families were locked at home.
Visitors to Lego’s website doubled year on year during the first half of 2020.
The rise in profits in the first half of 2020 came despite increased shipping costs after the governments of China and Mexico mandated the temporary closure of factories as the coronavirus spread.
Beyond the pandemic, Lego faces a particular challenge around sustainability. The vast majority of its products are made from difficult-to-recycle polyethylene plastic. However, the company argues that the durability of its pieces mean they can be reused repeatedly and it last month joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is focused on promoting a circular economy and fighting plastic waste.
In 2018, Lego said it would produce its first plant-based plastic, sourced from sugar cane.
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