Earlier this week, Hasbro reported a rather depressing fact in its second-quarter findings: Sales of its “Emerging Brands” are down 14%, the particular casualties being Playskool, Super Soaker, and the Easy-Bake Oven.
Emerging Brands may strike some of us as something of a misleading label when applied to a product like the Easy-Bake Oven, that unwavering constant of American culture. This play-oven has been around since 1963 and never really disappeared, stalwart as seasons and consumer whims shift. Within Hasbro’s corporate vocabulary, these Emerging Brands are categorically different from its power-earning “Franchise Brands,” like Nerf, Monopoly, Play-Doh, and My Little Pony.
The Hasbro report didn’t go much further than citing this 14% plunge, which presents quite a challenge: It’s impossible to extrapolate a conclusion from these sales and what they augur for the Easy-Bake Oven’s future. The report doesn’t spell out what the Easy-Bake Oven's sales actually are, or what this apparent dip might mean for Hasbro’s bottom-line.
“I don’t see the Easy-Bake Oven in heavy sales promotion by Hasbro, and it has been several years—2015—since they’ve introduced the Baking Star Edition,” Todd Coopee, the man who wrote the literal book on Easy-Bake Ovens, wrote me over email earlier this week. The Baking Star Edition looks like a set piece from The Jetsons, sleek and futuristic, with rounded edges. “Two years is a long time in the toy industry!”
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I should add that Coopee's book, 2013's Light Bulb Baking: A History of the Easy-Bake Oven, is a marvelously fun exegesis of this toy’s history, including ebbs and flows, its umpteen facelifts, and what the marketing strategies around this product say about our shifting assumptions about domestic work, gender, and who cooks. (The photographs are also quite lovely.)
Coopee acknowledged that the Easy-Bake Oven exists as something of an outlier within Hasbro’s portfolio. Hasbro’s been putting its weight behind licensed products with media tie-ins and promoting them aggressively, and there haven’t been any tie-ins in recent memory for the Easy-Bake Oven. “It may make sense for Hasbro to make some changes to the product line to try and ramp up some sales,” Coopee suggested.
Well, if there’s something the Easy-Bake Oven is good at, it’s reinvention: The Easy-Bake Oven is there when we aren’t even looking, and it's undergone a number of makeovers to freshen up and appeal to different generations. It’s easy to see why this toy has had such stamina, and makes it quite difficult to imagine an America without it. The Easy-Bake Oven presents a charming, low-stakes gateway into inspiring kitchen confidence. Every era has kids who’d like to learn how to cook.
Have any memories of your first Easy-Bake Oven? Let us know in the comments.
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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.