“Millennial parents care about how things look in their homes,” Ms. Wainer said. The nursery must be Instagrammable with wooden toys in neutral colors or a whimsical play tent in an inoffensive gray shade. Gen Z, meanwhile, seems more interested in toys that will go viral on TikTok, such as Squishmallows, round pillow-like stuffies that come in an assortment of characters.
I asked if it was the hard yellow plastic frame that did my preferred toy in. Ms. Waller said plastics were still popular despite consumers’ expressed desire for sustainable materials, such as wood and fabric. “I will tell you that the plastic toy industry is not going anywhere,” Ms. Waller said. “That is not how they’re buying.”
(Dr. Golinkoff, the professor who studies child play, confirmed that American parents “love anything with a battery.”)
Kids 2 runs surveys and panels to help decide what new toys it should design, and subscribes to trend forecasting agencies such as WGSN and Trend Bible to figure out what colors, patterns and themes are going to appeal. Plant patterns are big right now, Ms. Waller said. “Aloe plants and cacti,” she said. “There’s just something kind of homey and cozy about houseplants.”
As a parent, I’ve noticed this: all of a sudden a surprising animal will suddenly be everywhere in the kid section. In recent years, it has been the flamingo, the sloth, the llama and, of course, the longstanding unicorn.
“There was a narwhal moment,” Ms. Waller said, and my mind flashed to the many stuffed narwhals around my home, many in rainbow hues, my children’s desires shaped, ultimately, by what toy companies choose to sell.
Disappointingly, I could not get Ms. Waller to explain precisely why Kids 2 had smushed the Bug. Reading between the lines of our conversation, though, it was clear that my many purchases for newborns had not been enough to lift its sales numbers to the point where retailers insisted the company continue to supply it.
Seven-month-old Mira contributed reporting.