Product safety has become a crucial consideration for the toy segment of bulk vending. Faced with increasingly complex global supply chains and fast-evolving government regulations, suppliers have sharpened their focus on consumer safety. Safety is now a prime determinant for everything from choosing overseas manufacturers to allowing adequate time for independent testing when scheduling a product introduction.
Vending's bulk channel has always been responsive to safety concerns, but it got a wakeup call early in this decade. The 2004 recall of toys containing lead had a chilling effect. Although recalls are common, even among major retail toy manufacturers, the 2004 bulk toy scare attracted unflattering media attention. Despite the industry's decisive response and close cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, media outlets continued to sound alarms.
Last month, new CPSC rules drafted to meet the mandates of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 went into effect, and product safety is once again in the spotlight. The rules require a reduction of lead in all toy products intended for children 12 years old and younger to a proportion of 100 parts or less per million. This extremely low level is the most stringent limit yet imposed.
"On Aug. 14, the total lead content limit in the United States for children's products [dropped] to 100 ppm," said CPSC public affairs director Scott Wolfson. "And for nearly two years, the lead paint surface coating limit has been 90 ppm. When you combine those two limits, it will put the U.S. in a position as having some of the lowest lead limits in the world."
The updated CPSIA's effects have been felt not only throughout bulk vending industry, but also among overseas manufacturers, who now must take greater care in manufacturing and monitor their own suppliers of paint and other materials more carefully. With independent testing labs now mandated by the CPSIA, overseas manufacturers looking to cut corners with inferior or dangerous materials risk having an order rejected or losing a valued American customer.
"The industry as a whole has done a very good job in terms of testing product and making sure products are compliant to the regulations," said A&A Global Industries president Brian Kovens. This is a sentiment echoed by many bulk vending veterans, both suppliers and operators.
"As an industry, suppliers and operators have worked hard to meet or exceed the regulations set by the CPSIA, and we are meeting those regulations to insure the safety of children," said Don Goletz of Vendomatic (Frederick, MD). "If more regulations do come in the future, I believe we'll have the experience to meet them."
According to Wolfson, the CPSC has been doing its part in staying engaged and reaching out to businesses at home and abroad. He noted the chairman of the CPSC, Inez Tenenbaum, has traveled to China often to meet with her Chinese counterparts in Beijing and make sure that U.S. safety standards are fully understood.
These efforts by industry and the CPSC seem to be working across the entire toy industry, the commission observed. "We look to toys as an example -- there has been a dramatic decline in not just toy recalls, but recalls related to lead violations," Wolfson said. "There were 19 lead recalls of toys in 2008, and that dropped to just three in 2010. We've made great progress."
Although somewhat costly, the strict new CPSIA regulations may prove beneficial for the industry. As bulk vending continues to evolve by offering an ever-wider array of products, safety will play a greater role in building consumer confidence. Enhanced safety protocols will allow the industry to pursue cost-effective manufacturing with a high level of assurance. For bulk to continue to thrive, the industry watchword must be "safety first."