Star Wars and shaving foam set to be Christmas toy hits

Thunderbirds and Star Wars-themed toys
Image caption The UK toy market is worth over £3bn a year

The Christmas tree's up, the base is piled high with a mountain of presents and fairy lights wind their way up through the branches. A children's choir sings carols in perfect harmony, while a pyramid of mince pies stands temptingly in the corner.

This isn't a picture-perfect scene from a festive greetings card however. The venue is St Mary's Church in central London, a magnificent backdrop to one of the most important events in the toy industry's calendar.

It is where the hallowed list of the top 12 "dream toys" is revealed by The Toy Retailers Association. Decided on by a panel of selectors, it includes the toys that the association believes will be this year's must-haves.

Despite the festive themed, child-friendly setting, it's a serious event and the attendees are suited, booted and keen to promote their products.

The UK's toy market is worth over £3bn with an average of £300 spent annually on toys for each child up to the age of 11, and globally in 2015 sales are expected to reach £58bn - so a lot is at stake.

Messy winner

This time around, one toy in particular is already looking like a sure-fire success.

Image caption Here's a pie in your eye - just don't forget to add whipped cream or shaving foam

Hasbro's Pie Face game is built round a simple concept: put whipped cream, shaving foam or a wet sponge on the end of the lever, poke your head through the hole and turn the handles. It could go off at any time, creating an explosive mixture of suspense and mess.

It's a cross between Russian roulette and clowning school and has been hugely popular.

"It's sold out in quite a few shops already," says Gary Grant, who chaired this year's panel of selectors. "I think a lot of that was down to a YouTube video. It was posted by one of the customers using the toy and it went viral."

The film, which features a grandfather and son playing the game, has had around one million hits.

Film action

In recent years, films have given a huge boost to the toy market. This year's December release of Star Wars VII, The Force Awakens, is expected to induce a fan-driven buying frenzy.

Image caption "Star Wars has always been one of our biggest sellers," says Lego's Rebecca Snell

Lego has two toys in the top 12 list, one of which is the Star Wars Kylo Ren Command Shuttle. Rebecca Snell, head of the company's UK marketing, says the movie is key for the firm.

"Star Wars has always been one of our biggest sellers and this year we have seven sets which go with the film."

The star product doesn't come cheap. The Kylo Ren set sells for £99.99 and is aimed at older children and adults. Rebecca says it's one of the more complex sets.

"There are 1,005 pieces and it comes with six mini figures, which is always a big draw; you get Kylo Ren, General Hucks, a stormtrooper and some of the first order officers."

Top 12 toys - Christmas 2015

  • City Deep Sea Exploration Vessel from Lego
  • Disney Frozen Sing-A-Long Elsa from JAKKS Pacific
  • IDO3D Deluxe 3D Design Studio from Flair Leisure Products
  • Little Live Pets Cleverkeet from Character Options
  • Paw Patrol Paw Patroller from Spin Master Toys UK
  • Pie Face Game from Hasbro
  • Shopkins Food Fair - Scoops Ice Cream Truck from Flair Leisure Products
  • Star Wars Bladebuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber from Hasbro
  • Star Wars Kylo Ren's Command Shuttle from Lego
  • Star Wars The Force Awakens Millennium Falcon from Hasbro
  • Thunderbirds - Interactive Tracy Island from Vivid Toy Group
  • Toot-Toot Friends Busy Sounds Discovery Home from VTech Electronics Europe

Source: Toy Retailers Association

The Star Wars phenomenon is a big hit around the world according to Frederique Tutt, toys industry analyst at the NPD Group.

"Its appeal is global, we expect it to be the winning licence of the year. In 2014 Star Wars was the number one licensed product tie-in and that was even without a film release."

Image copyright Toy Retailers Association
Image caption China is becoming increasingly important, it is now the world's second biggest toy market

Other movies have also proved lucrative merchandise generators.

"China is the second biggest toy market globally and the Transformers film achieved its best box office showing there. It's resulted in big sales for the toys because naturally kids will then want the toys that go with the film," says Mr Tutt.

And China's recent scrapping of its one child policy could give a huge fillip to toy retailers and manufacturers: "There are over 200 million children in China and we're expecting that to grow by more than 56 million in the next few years."

Expensive failure

Mind you, some sure-fire winners turn out to be expensive duds. Remember the Battlefield Earth action figures? If you don't, you didn't miss much.

They were a tie-in with the John Travolta film, Battlefield Earth, which spectacularly failed at the box office in 2000.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Critics slated Battlefield Earth as one of the worst films ever, and its associated toys also failed to sell

The hoped-for blockbuster was based on a book by the Church of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, but it recouped only a third of the money it cost to make.

The US toy firm Trendmasters had banked on it being a huge hit and had produced action figures based on the characters. Its investment in Battlefield Earth products reportedly hastened its own end - it closed down in 2002.

Trendmasters' fate is a reminder that producers need to estimate accurately just how much they will sell.

Make too few of a product and they lose out on potential sales; make too many, and they leave themselves with lots of stock that nobody may want in the new year.

Interactive toys

For his part, Gary Grant is confident that his committee's picks will represent this year's must-have gifts.

Image copyright Toy Retailers Association

"We're retailers, we ought to know our products. Out of our top 12, we've historically got nine or 10 right most years.

"We aim for a good selection to suit different age groups and there's also a big range in prices, although generally the items represent a child's main present."

And as well as movie tie-ins, interactive toys are also expected to do well this year. Flashing lights, distinctive sounds and the occasional tweet from a parakeet mark out the toys tipped for success.

Of the big players, Vivid's Thunderbirds Interactive Tracey Island Playset has been attracting a lot of attention while Little Live Pets Clever Keet from Character Options and Vtech's Toot Toot Friends Busy Sounds Discovery House also make the top 12 list.

It looks like being a noisy and rather messy Christmas this year.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites