The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Teddy, now 100, is still top draw

Barbie may be beautiful and GI Joe may be cool, but trusty ol’ Teddy is hard to beat.

The teddy bear — every kid’s favourite toy — may be over the hill, having turned 100 this year, but he’s still keeping pace with the hi-tech gizmos and the glam gals. The trend-sensitive market often offers competition to the ‘pooh’ family — like last year’s tiger take-over — but teddy is what keeps the kids consistent.

Of the Rs 744-crore toy industry in India — 10 per cent of which comes from Bengal — soft toys claim around 35 per cent of the market, according to industry estimates. And the bear family has a firm grip over this niche, accounting for 45 per cent of soft-toy sales.

To commemorate the success of this international icon, Calcutta-based soft toy-maker Fun Toys, the largest player in the organised sector based out of east India, with a turnover of Rs 3 crore, is launching the “centenary” collection, featuring a range of stuffed bears, on Friday.

Tastes are conservative, with variations of brown selling the best, though shades of pink also find takers. Dolls offer the stiffest competition, cornering roughly 26 per cent of the market. “Girls are the major buyers of dolls, but teddies have a wider appeal,” explains Lob Gupta, CEO, Fun Toys and president of the West Bengal Toy Association.

Calcutta is the third-biggest buyer of toys in the country, after Delhi and Mumbai. And of the 40,000 toys manufactured a month at Fun Toys’ Jadavpur factory, around 15,000 are bears. From Rs 40 to Rs 4,000, people are prepared to dish out substantial sums for the cuddly creatures, named after Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt.

The price threat from Chinese imports has made local markets more price and quality-conscious.

The largest sales in a market that is growing at “25 per cent a year” are in the under-Rs 50 segment. “This is down from around Rs 100 in 1999,” says Gupta.

“Buying culture has changed. Now people are most likely to give small soft toys as presents for everyday occasions,” he adds, though teddy is still most likely to be bought as a birthday present.

Innovations have made the stuffed toy even more accessible, with infant-safe, fur-less fabrics being used to give babies a taste of teddy.

Soft toys may have been elevated to lifestyle product-status, but they are still impulse purchases for most people. The appearance of a soft toy — its facial features in particular — is of critical importance. If the face isn’t right, a product won’t sell.

“Aggressive marketing” is a must to change the spending pattern in the Indian toy marketplace, according to retailers.

Studies compiled by trade bodies indicate that per capita spending on toys in India is 0.03 per cent of annual income. Compare this with the 2.5 per cent of households in the US.

Corporate India has also caught on to the trend of using soft toys in promotions. Fun Toys was commissioned to design Indian Railways’ mascot, Bholu the Guard, a cheerful, chubby elephant meant to ring in the public sector unit’s 150th year.

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