My friend and I were relaxing in our hotel room while on vacation when suddenly she yelled, “Zoo Pals are back!”
We tried to purchase some right away. Unfortunately, they were all gone. We checked the page frequently for days to see if they had come back into stock. Sure enough, a few weeks later, I received my Zoo Pals.
Zoo Pals are paper plates that have the cheery, adorable faces of animals like pigs, turtles, ducks, and whales printed on them. I almost feel ashamed to mention this. There is one main section on each plate and two subsections for the animal’s feet or ears. The manufacturer of Zoo Pals, Hefty, stopped producing them in 2014.
Zoo Pals changed the game when I was a kid. That ensured that my chicken nuggets wouldn’t, heaven forbid, come into contact with broccoli, and they also provided a separate area for ketchup dipping. And I had a reason to finish my meal because I wanted to see my Zoo Pal’s face once more.
Power of ‘adults’ to spend
Adults are increasingly spending money on relics from their youth and things that make them nostalgic for the late 20th or early 20th centuries, like Tamagotchis, film cameras, and flip phones. The sales of products and toys originally intended for children, like my Zoo Pals, have greatly benefited from this demand.
According to data consumer research firm Circana shared with CNN, “kids”—or toy recipients 18 and older—accounted for roughly 17% of all toy sales in the United States for the 12 months ending in June 2023. That is an astounding eight percentage points higher than in 2019 and an increase of four points from 2021.
Circana data show that adult toy sales increased overall from June 2021 to June 2023 by $1.7 billion, reaching $6.4 billion.
Although the practice of adults buying toys for themselves is a relatively recent development, nostalgia for childhood is not. So why are adults now so willing to spend a lot of money on toys to relive their childhood?
More people went back to their youth as a result of the pandemic.
After the pandemic started, adults began buying more toys for themselves. According to Krystine Batcho, a licensed psychologist who teaches at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, COVID-19 increased anxiety levels and made people think about dying more.
Both elements are linked to “greater nostalgia,” according to Batcho, whose research examines the psychology of nostalgia. The Nostalgia Inventory was developed by Batcho and is now frequently used to determine what factors are most likely to trigger nostalgic feelings.
For instance, according to her research and other studies, Gen Z and millennials are in a stage of life where nostalgia is most likely to be felt. It involves a “bittersweet conflict between the desire to grow into independence and the desire for the carefree innocence and security of childhood,” she said, as people move from childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
Additionally, Batcho said that people tend to feel more nostalgic when things are tough or dangerous.