Wal-Mart is about to bring religion to the toy aisle.
Early next month, 425 Wal-Mart stores nationwide will begin carrying faith-based toys from One2believe that target parents who would rather that their kids play with a Samson action figure than a Spider-Man action figure.
It's the first time the world's largest retailer has carried a full line of religious toys. "We're seeing interest from parents in faith-enriching toys," says Melissa O'Brien, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
Religious products have become a multibillion-dollar business, and the toy move comes as it targets a younger audience. Fox recently created FoxFaith, a 20th Century Fox unit to distribute family movies with Christian themes. In January, Universal Pictures will release The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything - A VeggieTales Movie, based on the spiritual characters by Big Idea.
But until now, most faith-based toys have sold successfully only in specialty religious stores, not at mass-market retailers, warns Jim Silver, editor of Toy Wishes magazine. "Once children turn 4, parents tend to get them what they want. And right now, kids are asking for Transformers."
About one-sixth of Wal-Mart's 3,300 stores will carry the One2believe line, which will get 2 feet of toy aisle shelf space, says O'Brien.
One way Wal-Mart decided where to carry them, she says: Stores that sell a lot of Bibles will carry the new line.
"We view this as an opportunity to reach that audience," she says.
But one religious leader does not consider Wal-Mart in the fold.
"They'll carry anything that sells," says David Croyle, president of FamilyLife, a non-denominational ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. "This simply signals intelligent buying within Wal-Mart."
For David Socha, CEO of One2believe, it's a dream come true. "Our goal is to give the faith-based community an alternative to Bratz dolls and Spider-Man," he says.
The toys are based on biblical stories. For example, there's a set of 3-inch figures based on Daniel in the lion's den for about $7. A 12-inch talking Jesus doll is about $15. And 14-inch Samson or Goliath action figures are about $20.
The toys target kids from pre-school to age 12, he says, and also are sold online at one2believe.com.
Since 9/11, there's been a surge in faith-based products, says Bob Starnes, vice president of licensing at Big Idea, the firm behind VeggieTales. That's because most Americans have a "faith perspective," he says.
Laurie Schacht, president of The Toy Book, a toy industry publication, says some parents also are dissatisfied with toys from conventional toymakers: "There are a lot of wild things out there. Parents want to give kids wholesomeness."