Toy Licensing on an Upswing

The licensing industry as we know it was built on a foundation of toys. In fact, the beloved children’s book character, Peter Rabbit, is said to be the world’s oldest licensed character. Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit book series, spearheaded the product development for her character by registering a patent in 1903 for a Peter Rabbit doll she personally designed.

Beatrix was ahead of her time when it came to merchandising and clearly hands-on with managing her licensing agreement and royalties. Not only did she negotiate the license, she personally visited the factory to collect royalties! Beatrix Potter was a true pioneer in licensing and to this day toys dominate the licensing industry.

U.S. toy sales generated $28.6 billion in 2021 vs. $25.4 billion in 2020–an increase of 13% or $3.2 billion according to the NPD Group.

The top 5 toy categories in 2021 were:

  • Outdoor & sports toys
  • Dolls
  • Infant/toddler/preschool toys
  • Games/puzzles
  • Building sets

Capturing the “Kidult” Trend

And licensed toys aren’t just for kids any more. The Toy Association coined a new trend in 2021 – “kidult” toys that cater to older  consumers. “Kidults” are helping toy sales surge. A 2021 Toy Association survey found that 58% of adult respondents bought toys and games for themselves.

Toy companies and brands have taken notice. Razor USA LLC has released adult-sized versions of their electric scooters while LEGO launched an “Adults Welcome” section to its website in 2020. LEGO recently collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to launch sets based on Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”  Fisher-Price now has RuPaul as part of its Little People family with a collector pack that features RuPaul in two drag looks and one formal look.

The Toy of the Year award (TOTY) at this year’s Toy Fair went to Jazwares’ Squishmallows. Now, Jazwares has taken Squishmallows to Licensing Expo to license its #1 plush toy brand into other categories including apparel, beauty, and home décor.

CPG Brands Expand into Toys

While character brands dominate toys, traditional CPG brands are also expanding into toys to expand their brand’s reach. Kraft Heinz has partnered with Funko for vinyl figures and plush, Big G Creative for board games, USAOpoly for Kool-Aid Monopoly and Jenga games and YWOW for puzzles. There is also the first-ever NFT-inspired board game from Bored Ape and Imagination Gaming.

A great way to see trends in the toy industry is to attend Toy Fair, one of the largest toy trade shows with more than 30,000 global play professionals and buyers from 100 countries. Toy Fair will take place at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City from September 30 – October 3, 2023. Also, the Toy Association is hosting their annual 2023 preview & 2022 holiday market trade show September 20 – 22, 2022 in Dallas.

Toys and games are a top-selling licensed category for a reason. It’s a category that continues to grow with all ages. Toys and games are a great way to associate your brand with good times so go ahead, bring your brand some extra licensing fun and royalties.

And if managing your contracts and royalties like Beatrix Potter did isn’t quite so fun, we’re here to help! Contact to schedule a demo!


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