Has China’s blind box economy reached a turning point?

Pop Mart, China’s top designer toymaker and blind box expert, got themselves into a pickle at the recent 315 Consumer Rights Day in China, with the state media slating its blind box collaborations with food brands, which has resulted in “irrational consumption” and food waste.

The case that came under the spotlight was the ‘Dimoo’ (one of Pop Mart’s most popular characters) cooperation with the American fast-food brand KFC earlier this January, where six ordinary and a hidden edition of Dimoo were made available.  

It is understood that the ratio of the hidden version to the ordinary versions is 1 to 72. With such minimal probability, some toy lovers were cashing in big in order to get their desired character, including one customer who was reported to have spent over 10,000 RMB ($1,572), snapping up 106 KFC meal sets to get the hidden edition of Dimoo.

This buying frenzy brought out a new service of “eating helpers” who help eat additional food for those placing multiple orders. However, it still inevitably caused food waste, which has then led to widespread criticism.

Pop Mart soon found itself embroiled in controversy as the panic buying extended online, with many taking advantage of the hype, reselling Dimoo characters on the second-hand market, pushing the price of the toy from 30 RMB ($4.72) up to 800 RMB ($125.8). Following the episode, the local authority in Shanghai introduced new rules banning businesses from selling blind boxes to minors under the age of eight.

In response to the state media’s reprimand, Pop Mart soon announced its decision to “suspend all blind box collaborations with brands in the food industry to avoid food waste”. It also emphasised that “the brand had never and would never engage in any second-hand designer toy market” and called for rational consumption amongst the public.

The rapid growth of the blind box economy over the past few years and the pitfalls reflected in recent controversy have drawn the attention of policymakers too. Yang Xuemei, headmaster of Huanghe Science and Technology College and delegate to the National People’s Congress raised the emerging issue in the blind box market during the recently concluded “two sessions” this year and called on the government to strengthen regulations and clarify standards for blind box products as well as to improve the supervision of blind box availability and draw probability.

With the possibility of closer scrutiny and pressure placed on the toy brand, it can be expected that China’s blind box fever will see a cool-down, and marketers especially those in the food business might have to take extra caution when tapping into the trend.  


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