Unicorns, Mermaids, Pens & Notepads  9/29/2017

Over the past year, unicorns and mermaids have infiltrated many of the categories for which ECRM has EPPS sessions. They are showing up in food products like candy and snacks (and of course, the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino), they have influenced colors in cosmetics, hair care and other beauty products, and now they are making their way onto an increasing number of school and office products.

Among the retailers and suppliers interviewed by our team during the recent ECRM School and Office Supplies EPPS, an overwhelmingly large number of them mentioned how these unicorn and mermaid themes and related design elements (think glitter, gold, and vibrant colors) are appearing on journals, backpacks, pens, cell phone cases, and many other school and office products.

This is part of a larger trend, which we started seeing at last year’s EPPS, of fashion and function as a part of the category, particularly among school supplies, as students seek out items to help express themselves in the same way they are selecting SnapChat filters for their selfies. And speaking of social media, many new design elements are taken from social media culture, such as emojis (yes, including the smiling poop emoji), animals (especially funny animals like “yoga cat” mentioned by one attendee), and bright colors, as students match their supplies and backpacks to their outfits in the same way they do with their sneakers.

This trend toward vibrant colors was evident in the selection of Pacon Products’ Now You See It! Art Papers as a finalist for the Buyers Choice Awards. The product enables users to create beautiful works of art by using a wooden stylus to scratch designs into black or white coated paper to reveal a rainbow of colors underneath (see photo). This is one of several educational and home use brands offered by the company, including Fadeless, Bordette, Tru-Ray, Riverside and Creativity Street.

And speaking of colors, while the adult coloring book craze has calmed down a bit, the segment has evolved to feature more licensed products, and unique formats, such as one I came across at an airport bookstore that the manager said was a top-seller. Rather than a traditional coloring book, each sheet has a design of in the shape of each of the 50 states, and could be used as a place mat when torn off of the pad.

Journaliing is also becoming increasingly popular, particularly among Millennials, for the personal growth benefits it brings, such as evoking mindfulness, boosting memory, and increasing emotional intelligence, according to a Huffington post article. (I know that our VP of Content does free writing every morning as a means of “warming up” his creative muscles.) And those consumers who do journaling tend to be very particular about the pens and notebooks they use for their morning pages. Again, here form and function come into play – the choice of notebook and writing implement for these journals tend to be very personal and reflect the personality and needs of the individual, whether it’s a gel pen and decorated journal, or a simple ball point pen and composition notebook.

Organizational products are also very much in demand, according to retailers and suppliers at the EPPS, driven by the increasing number of people who work from home or have home offices, as well as the fact that when you factor in cell phones, tablets and accessories in addition to traditional school and office products, consumers simply have more storage needs, whether at a home office or to keep everything in order in one’s backpack.

Finally, sustainability is another trend we’ve seen across all of the product categories for which ECRM helps retail buyers discover new products, and this is evident in the school and office product category in the form of recycled paper, plastic, and packaging, as well as more sustainable processes in product development. Indeed, the first place winner of ECRM’s Buyers Choice awards takes sustainability to an entire new level.

Treewise pencils, by Al Hasanat Trading Company, showcased its new Plant a Pencil product, which – in addition to being made from recycled newspapers – includes a seed in the capsule on the end of the pencil, than when planted grows into one of several plants, including tomatoes, coriander, mustard, fenugreek, and chili. Not only does the company reduce the amount of plants being used to create its product, but the product itself enables users to participate in growing more plants. The company’s tag line says it all: “Write. Plant. Grow.” 

NPD Presentation

During the ECRM School & Office EPPS, Tia Frapolli, President of US Office Supplies for NPD gave a presentation in which she addressed the following industry issues:

  • Extension of Season
  • Ecommerce Season & Growth
  • Tax Free Holidays & School Starts
  • Private Label Penetration
  • Convenience
Click here to download the presentation slides

Buyers Choice Award First Place Winner Treewise Pencils are made from recycled newspapers and contain seeds for select plants
Buyers Choice Award Finalist Pacon's Now You See It! Art Paper

Melinda Young

SVP of General Merchandise

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