Mom was wrong: apparently, it’s more than OK to play with your food.
Since the inception of Kenner Toys’ Easy-Bake Oven in 1963, kids have been expressing their creativity in the kitchen by baking up miniature sweet treats. And while the Easy-Bake Oven is one of the most iconic toys ever made, inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2006, new toys that let kids make and decorate real, edible foods are eating up shelf space like never before.
In the ’60s, the Easy-Bake Oven was largely marketed toward girls, but with male chefs like Bobby Flay, Michael Simon, and Gordon Ramsey taking center stage on reality TV, both boys and girls are developing an appetite for toys that let them develop their culinary skills.
Wicked Cool Toys, maker of the Toy of the Year (TOTY)-nominated Girl Scouts Cookie Oven, also released a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Oven in late 2015, designed with boys in mind. The green and purple oven includes mixes to let kids cook up the crime-fighting turtles’ favorite dish: pizza, dude. Additionally, Hasbro introduced the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven in 2013, which is available in a cool blue and black design.
No Baking Required
It’s not all about the ovens. Additional new players in the cooking space include companies introducing products that don’t require any baking at all. Yummy Nummies, a line launched by Blip Toys in 2015, includes no-bake cooking kits for kids ages 6 and up. ”In some cases, kids do need to use a microwave, but only for 10 or 12 seconds. It’s not a long, drawn-out process,” says Rick Mershon, vice president of sales at Blip Toys. ”Kids want something that’s instant.”
Yummy Nummies are marketed toward boys and girls alike, with gender-neutral packaging designed to appeal to all kids. ”We’ve never endeavored to be just focused on one or the other. What boys would not want cakes and cookies?” explains Mershon, who estimates sales of Yummy Nummies to measure about 60 percent girls and 40 percent boys.
Another oven-free food play toy that has enjoyed great success since its inception is Skyrocket Toys’ Candy Craft Chocolate Pen, which topped hot toy lists and also earned a TOTY nomination in 2015. ”Parents and kids love coming together in the kitchen over the Chocolate Pen,” says Kristy Burns, vice president of marketing at Skyrocket Toys. ”Kids get excited by the awesome treats they can make and parents who already cook with their kids say it ‘ups their game’ when it comes to baking and decorating.”
The Chocolate Pen allows kids to use warm water to melt chocolate encased in plastic and then use the motorized pen to draw freehand or fill in molds to create unique chocolate designs. The pen’s design allows for easy clean up and doesn’t require an electric heat source.
Parents’ main criticism with cooking and food-themed toys is that you could get similar results by using standard cooking and baking products, but using tools designed for adults can be challenging for kids. Manufacturers say toys allow kids to get familiar with the concepts of cooking by using tools and mechanisms specifically designed for them.
”Toys like the Chocolate Pen bring fun and accessibility to cooking,” says Burns. ”Even though parents have always cooked with their kids, now we offer new materials, tools, and toys that make it easier for parents, more accessible for kids, and more exciting for everyone.”
As Seen On TV
In addition to its kid-friendly ovens, Wicked Cool Toys launched a MasterChef Junior line of cooking accessories at Walmart in November, complete with recipe cards and plating suggestions. The sets provide kids with tools such as rolling pins and sauce ladles designed for little hands, allowing them to create real foods, including pizza, burgers, and breakfast treats. The line launched in conjunction with the premiere of the fourth season of Fox’s TV series MasterChef Junior, which offers kids ages 8 to 13 the chance to put their cooking skills to the test.
The popular TV series reflects an influx of cooking challenge and reality shows, which helps fuel the cooking toy trend. “Cooking and cable networks are expanding dramatically, and that tends to roll down to the kid level,” says Mershon.
“Overall interest in food and cooking in general has skyrocketed. There are so many cooking channels and shows across multiple networks,” explains Burns. ”Chefs of all ages are becoming celebrities.”
As cooking toys continue to heat up, social media proves to be an important factor, with both parents and kids eager to snap close-ups of their food creations and share their creativity with friends and family. YouTube unboxings and demonstration videos also contribute to the cooking craze, especially since taste is an important factor in picking the right food-play toy.
Life Is Sweet—And Savory
While chocolate, cakes, and cookies are standard mix options when it comes to cooking toys, Yummy Nummies kits feature lots of unique savory options, such as chicken nuggets and tacos. ”The buying community appeared to be a little bit more nervous about the savory side, but we knew that we needed to be unique,” explains Blip Toys’ Mershon. With retailers and consumers alike a bit apprehensive about the flavor of these kits, YouTube provided the perfect outlet for real consumers to share their experiences with Yummy Nummies, helping to dispel any wariness. ”The number of views we got in our first month was shocking,” says Mershon. ”Anytime we have a new food, we automatically send new samples to our channels with our greatest viewerships.”
Blip’s Best Ever Burger Maker Make-a-Meal Fun Set was the No. 1 selling Yummy Nummies kit during the first four months of the product launch.
Finding a Home
Mass and specialty retailers alike are carrying an expanded selection of food play toys, but there’s some debate about where to put them on the shelves. Cooking toys are often lumped into the activities section, which includes basic arts and crafts, jewelry makers, and do-it-yourself and design-your-own kits. Some retailers, such as Target, are working to develop in-store food statements that give products like Yummy Nummies, the Chocolate Pen, and Easy-Bake Oven their own 8-foot home separate from classic activity toys.
Eva Lorenz, toys and games category leader at Amazon.com, says the online retailer added kitchen toys as a browse category in response to an increase in consumer searches for food-related toys.
”Interactive and educational toys are big hits with kids and parents,” says Lorenz. ”We expect this trend to continue, especially with new toys that produce edible food.”
With manufacturers mixing up new products heading into 2016, one thing’s for certain: kids are hungry for more.
This article was originally published in the December/January issue of The Toy Book on January 4, 2016.