Faith toys gain in David and Goliath battle

Major US supermarkets and toy chains will start to carry a line of "faith-based" toys for children including Old Testament action heroes and heroines - and a 10 metre high inflatable ark.

The National Catholic Registe reports that parents will have more wholesome toy options available to them beginning this month.

American Catholic mother of seven Mary Ellen Barrett knows how difficult it can be to find children's toys in line with the virtues she teaches her children.

"It's hard because they don't promote the right values," Barrett told the Register. "Girls' toys are trashy, and boys' toys seem to be really dark."

She might prefer Wal-Mart's Tales of Glory faith-based dolls and figurine sets as a test.

Barrett's 10-year-old daughter Katie received a Bratz doll from a school friend on her birthday three years ago. It's not the kind of toy her mother would purchase.

"It was such a sardonic, snotty looking doll," said Barrett. I don't want my children giving me that look."

Eventually, Katie lost interest in the doll. When it ended up in a box of doll clothing, her mother threw it out.

Bratz are available at many toy chains – including Walmart.

One2Believe, the maker of the Tales of Glory dolls, found it tougher to get their toys on store shelves. The company approached every major retailer seeking a place to sell their products.

"These kinds of toys have traditionally been available in specialty stores, but not mass market," said Tom Bartsch, editor of Toy Shop magazine. "This is the first time that religious items have been available on mass market."

Wal-Mart plans to carry One2Believe's "Tales of Glory" faith-based dolls as a test in 425 of the chain's more than 4,000 retail units. The store is devoting two feet of shelf space for the line.

According to the company, the stores where the products will be sold were chosen based on market research.

"They will be carried predominantly in the Midwest and the South," said Jami Arms, Wal-Mart spokeswoman. "It's a community strategy tailored by where we see a larger concentration of churches and the popularity of faith-based products."

"Wal-Mart was the first one to take a shot at it," said David Socha, founder of One2Believe.

Wal-Mart worked with the company to develop the product and packaging.

Socha said that his faith journey from Catholic to Baptist and back again played a role in his desire to produce faith-based toys.

"I wanted to find a way to use our company's talents to try to impact for God through children," said Socha. "There are so many bad influences in toys these days."

Don Levine knows a thing or two about toys. He spent 47 years in the toy business – 18 as the senior vice president of Hasbro.

A Korean War veteran, in 1963 he created one of America's most popular and lasting toys, GI Joe. Last year, his company, Family Values LLC, launched Almighty Heroes - a line of Old Testament action hero and heroine figures, complete with Bible stories.

What started with eight products has grown to 50. The company's products - including a 10 metre high inflatable ark - were the hit at the recent International Christian Retailers trade show in Atlanta, Ga.

"I've lived long enough to say we need heroes that don't look like monsters," said Levine, who is Jewish. "The stuff now is so dark."

Levine has taken a different approach to distribution. He's marketing and distributing his products strictly to Christian retailers.

"We're not interested in this testing business of what Wal-Mart is doing," said Levine. "The Christian market is a big niche market. We're approaching 200,000 stores, including large Christian chains.'

Levine met with rabbis, pastors and priests in developing his product line.

"These toys offer the Christian market an alternative for children to learn the faith and the Bible," Levine said.

David vs. Goliath toy box battle – Faith-based companies fight the big retail markets for chance to compete (Catholic Online, 2/8/07)

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6 Aug 2007