NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Don't expect to see $180 toy puppies or a $300 animated dinosaur when toy makers unveil their latest products next week at the 2009 American International Toy Fair.
The recession has squelched the buying power of even the most indulgent parents. Toy makers must tread carefully with their new lineups as consumers are torn between the desire to spend on their children and the need to save money.
"Price, value and the economy are going to be the key focus," said Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association (TIA).
"That is what retailers are looking for, and that's what they are hearing from their consumers," she said. "They want to make sure that the products on their shelves reflect not only what consumers are looking for, but what they can afford."
The 2009 American International Toy Fair, which runs from February 15-18, is expected to draw hundreds of toy makers and retailers to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.
Safety concerns after a sweeping recall led to millions of toys and calls for higher testing standards dominated last year's event.
Worries about the safety of toys have largely been replaced this year by the dire economy. But toy makers may not have had enough time to reshape plans to respond to the recession. New toys are usually designed one to two years in advance, said Gerrick Johnson, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets.
"They've had enough time to kill projects that may have been expensive," he said. "I don't know if there was enough time to develop a whole bunch of new, inexpensive toys."
This year, Mattel, the world's biggest toy maker, is betting on a "tweenage" Dora the Explorer doll, as well as furry, red Elmo gloves and a game called Mindflex, which uses the electrical activity of the brain to control a small ball.
The Elmo gloves will retail for about $30, as Mattel tries to sell catchy items at lower prices. Last year, the Sesame Street character's Elmo Live doll sold for $60.
Mattel is also revamping its Barbie line, as it unveils a campaign for the doll's 50th anniversary next month.
Hasbro will sell a $28 puppy called Lil' Patter Pup. Last year it sold Biscuit, a bigger toy dog, for roughly $180. The company is also banking on board games such as Monopoly and card games.
Hasbro's key toys for 2009 include the G.I. Joe and Transformers products, to be sold in connection with the movies that will come out later this year.
Smaller companies will also try to take a bite of sales this year. Crayola, which is owned by Hallmark Cards, will sell a $10 Airbrush Painter with washable sidewalk paint and a $15 canvas which glows when written on.
LeapFrog is introducing new games that incorporate mathematical and science puzzles for its Leapster2 handheld gaming system.
Though the outlook may not be bright, the toy fair promises to be interesting. One of the toys to be launched at the toy fair is the "Bernie Madoff Action Figure" by Modelworks, named after the accused perpetrator of a purported $50 billion investment scam, the TIA said on its website.
Editing by Patricia Reaney