Toy manufacturer Wham-O Inc. has acquired a nine-person, Colorado-based company that designs toys molded from a proprietary wood-plastic composite a move that officials at the smaller firm said marks a shift for the giant toy maker in the development of more sustainable and green plastic products.
Emeryville, Calif.-based Wham-O Inc. maker of the iconic Frisbee flying plastic disc and Sprig Toys Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., announced the merger Feb. 5. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Sprig was founded in 2007 by several ex-employees of major toy firms such as Mattel Inc. and Fisher-Price Brands as an alternative to the big conglomerates.
We formed the company to look into new materials, new processes and new ways of making toys. We have a green, sustainable approach to the processes and materials we use, to reduce the amount of plastics in our content, Sprig co-founder David Bowen said Feb. 9 by phone.
Sprig developed its Sprigwood composite material, made of reclaimed wood and recycled polypropylene, after experimenting with other materials, said engineering director Owen Richard.
When we first started, the intent was to use high density polyethylene, because it would be easy to find recycled at a reasonable cost, he said. We have since found a new material vendor that's been able to provide us with 100 percent-recycled PP-based [material] that is in really good shape and provides us with a high-strength, resilient product.
Sprig's battery-free, eco-friendly toys aimed at preschoolers which include Eco-Trucks, Sprig Hollow, Story Builders and Adventure Series toys will be sold under the new Wham-O Jr. brand with packaging that mentions Sprig's story. Sprigwood will be used in future Frisbee manufacturing, company officials said.
Despite the companies' difference in size and heritage Wham-O was founded in 1948 they have common approaches to toy making, Bowen said. (Richard cited Wham-O's Reflyer, a Frisbee made of recycled PE, as an example of a green product made by the larger firm.)
In the history of Sprig, we've tried to keep kids moving and jumping around and using their imagination, and that's been a goal of Wham-O's as well. A lot of their stuff is outdoors- and [activity-related] and so we align on the active aspects of their toys. But they're also looking to clean up the manufacturing of their toys, Bowen said.
We're positioning the value of Sprig as bringing in our products, but also as the innovation crew and the [research and development] crew that will bring innovations and new materials to [Wham-O].
Wham-O CEO Kyle Aguilar said he first learned about Sprig's toy lines as a result of his firm's ongoing relationship with Manufacturing Marvel America, a toy and novelties firm with U.S. offices in Los Angeles. In addition to manufacturing Wham-O toys in recent years including Frisbee, Slip 'n Slide and Hula Hoop at plants in China and Mexico, Marvel has molded Sprig toys for about a year, Aguilar said.
In January, Wham-O moved 50 percent of its Frisbee production and some of its other toys from China to Marvel plants in the U.S. and Mexico which Aguilar said include an injection molding plant in Lompoc, Calif., and a foam plant in Marysville, Mich.
For the immediate ramp-up [of Wham-O Jr. toys], we're going to be doing production in China. Once we finish that initial run, we're going to ship the majority of those molds back to Mexico and the United States in the third quarter, he said.
He added that Marvel is seeking to buy land for an extrusion and injection molding plant in Medford, Ore., with hopes of opening it by the end of May.
Aguilar would not say how many Frisbees per month are being made in the U.S., but he said an initial production run will ship later this month.
According to documents filed in a 2009 breach-of-contract lawsuit by former Wham-O CEO Mojde Esfandiari, in mid-2009 businessman Jeff Hsieh sold Wham-O to an investment group consisting of Aguilar and several others. The lawsuit has since been settled out of court.
Aguilar would not comment on Wham-O's ownership structure, but officials confirmed that at least one Wham-O executive also is on Marvel's board.
Sprig and Wham-O negotiated for about six months before finalizing their merger and creating Wham-O Jr., Aguilar said.
Sprig toys will be showcased in an earth-friendly products zone at the American International Toy Fair, to run Feb. 14-17 in New York. Among the toys, a new line of Eco Blocks to be marketed under the Wham-O Jr. name will be displayed.
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