12 Februar 2010

WPC: Green light for “green toys”

Toy manufacturer Wham-O going green with purchase of Colorado toy company

Toy manufacturer Wham-O Inc. has acquired a nine-person, Colorado-based company that designs toys molded from a proprietary wood-plastic composite – a move that officials at the smaller firm said marks a shift for the giant toymaker in the development of more sustainable and “green” plastic products.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Wham-O Inc. – maker of the iconic Frisbee flying plastic disc – and Sprig Toys Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., announced the merger Feb. 5. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Sprig was founded in 2007 by several ex-employees of major toy firms such as Mattel and Fisher-Price as an alternative to the big conglomerates.

“We formed the company to look onto new materials, new processes and new ways of making toys. We have a green, sustainable approach to the processes and materials we use, to reduce the amount of pastics in out content,” co-founder David Bowen said in a Feb. 9 telephone interview.

Sprig developed its Sprigwood composite material, made of reclaimed wood and recycled polypropylene, after experimenting with other materials, Owen Richard, Sprig’s engineering director, said.

“When we first started, the intent was to use high density polyethylene, because it would be easy to find recycled at a reasonable cost. We have since found a new material vendor that’s been able to provide us with 100 percent recycled PP-based (material) that is in really good shape and provides us with a high-strength, resilient product,” Richard said.

Sprig’s battery-free, eco-friendly toys aimed at preschoolers – which includes Eco-Trucks, Sprig Hollow, Story Builders and Adventure Series toys – will be sold under the new Wham-O Jr. brand with packaging that mentions Sprig’s story, and Sprigwood will be used in the future manufacture of Frisbees, officials at both companies said.

“(Sprig’s) unique material and valuable vision pave the way for many opportunities in the industry for Wham-O and Sprig,” Wham-O CEO Kyle Aguilar said in a Feb. 9 news release.

Bowen said in a Feb. 9 phone interview that despite the difference in size and heritage – Wham-O was founded in 1948 – his firm and Wham-O have a lot in common in their approaches to toy making (Richard cited Wham-O’s Reflyer, a Frisbee made of recycled PE, as one example of “green” policies by the larger company).

“In the history of Sprig, we’ve tried to keep kids moving and jumping around and using their imagination, and that’s been a goal of Wham-O’s as well. A lot of their stuff is outdoors and (activity-related) and so we align on the active aspects of their toys. But they’re also looking to clean up the manufacturing of their toys,” Bowen said. “We’re positioning the value of Sprig as … bringing in our products, but also as the innovation crew and the (research and development) crew that will bring innovations and new materials to (Wham-O).”

During a Feb. 10 phone interview, Aguilar said he first learned of Sprig’s toy lines as a result of privately owned Wham-O’s ongoing relationship with Manufacturing Marvel America, the North American division of Manufacturing Marvel Group, a toy and novelties manufacturer with offices in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Aguascalientes, Mexico.

In addition to manufacturing Wham-O toys in recent years – including the Frisbee, Slip ‘n Slide and Hula Hoop – at plants in China and Mexico, Manufacturing Marvel has molded Sprig toys for about one year, according to Aguilar.

Wham-O in January moved 50 percent of Frisbee production and manufacturing of some of its other toys from China to Manufacturing Marvel plants in the U.S. and Mexico – which Aguilar said includes an injection molding plant in Lompoc, Calif., and a foam plant in Marysville, Mich.

“For the immediate ramp-up (of Wham-O Jr. toys), we’re going to be doing production in China. Once we finish that initial run, we’re going to ship the majority of those molds back to Mexico and the United States in the third quarter,” he said, adding that Manufacturing Marvel is seeking to buy land for an extrusion and injection molding plant in Medford, Ore., with hopes of opening a facility by the end of May.

Aguilar would not say how many Frisbees per month are being made in the U.S., but said an initial production run would ship later this month.

According to documents filed in a 2009 breach-of-contract lawsuit by former Wham-O CEO Mojde Esfandiari, San Francisco- and Hong Kong-based businessman Jeff Hsieh in mid-2009 sold Wham-O to an investment group consisting of Aguilar and several others (the lawsuit has since been settled out of court). Aguilar would not comment on Wham-O’s ownership structure, but officials confirmed that at least one Wham-O executive also is on Manufacturing Marvel’s board.

Sprig and Wham-O negotiated for about six months before finalizing their merger and creating Wham-O Jr., Aguilar said.

Further information:
Sprig toys will be showcased in an “earth-friendly” products zone at the American International Toy Fair Feb. 14-17 in New York. Among the toys, a new line of Eco Blocks to be marketed under the Wham-O Jr. name will be displayed.

Source: Plastics News, 2010-02-10.

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