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No more ‘Mr.’ Potato Head: Hasbro makes classic toy gender neutral

The new gender-neutral Potato Head name will appear on boxes this year. (Hasbro/AP)

Potatoes have no gender. And soon, after nearly 70 years, the name of Hasbro’s popular spud-shaped toy will reflect that: No more Mr. Potato Head. It’s just Potato Head.

On Thursday, the company announced that it would be rebranding the iconic quick-change toy to break away from traditional ideas about gender roles and family structures — it celebrated the wedding and subsequent anniversaries of “Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head,” and it sold boxed sets of the couple and their offspring, “Spud” and “Yam.” (Yes, there was even a picket fence.)

Soon, Hasbro hopes the potato play can be a little more flexible and diverse, such as Mr. and Mr. Potato Head weddings or single spud-parent families. The move reflects a growing appetite for products that offer more flexibility around identity, from a surge in popularity in makeup for men to Mattel’s diversified Barbies and a boy “American Girl” doll. One in 6 adults in Generation Z identifies as LGBTQ, according to a Gallup survey, providing some of the most detailed and up-to-date estimates yet on the size and makeup of the nation’s LGBTQ population.

“Culture has evolved,” Kimberly Boyd, who works on the Potato Head brand at Hasbro, told Fast Company. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists — with the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ — is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

The “sweet spot” for the Potato Head toy is about 2 or 3 years old, Boyd told Fast Company. Not just because of the its silliness, but because of its capacity to serve as a blank slate where they can model their experiences. “This often takes the form of creating little potato families, because they’re learning what it means to be in a family.”

When the rebranded toy hits shelves in the fall, the accompanying pieces will be made from “plant-based plastic” and have less plastic packaging, Hasbro told investors Thursday, according to reporting from Bloomberg News. A spokeswoman told Bloomberg News the kit will include two plastic adult potatoes, one baby potato and 42 accessories.

The news raised some ire on social media Thursday and may generate some flak in certain corners of conservative culture, but it’s not actually controversial, said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData in New York.

“A potato doesn’t have a gender. And they’re not saying the toy can’t be male, female or anything else — they’re just allowing the child or consumer to determine that for themselves,” Saunders said in an email to The Washington Post. “The alternative would be to produce a whole variety of different products to cater for different genders — but that would be unwieldy in terms of costs and securing space in stores. So this is the simplest solution.”

Hasbro’s original Mr. Potato Head cost just 98 cents, according to Fast Company, about $10 in today’s currency. After the release of the original Mr. Potato Head commercial, which was the first televised ad directed at kids rather than adults, Hasbro netted more than $4 million in sales in just a few months, according to the National Toy Hall of Fame. In 1953, Hasbro rolled out a Mrs. Potato Head and potato kids Spud and Yam. Later, the company sold various sets with the whole family.

In 1992, Mr. Potato Head eschewed his couch potato status and “received a Presidential Sports Award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports,” according to the Quad-City Times, which was presented on the White House lawn.

After Mr. Potato Head appeared, voiced by comedian Don Rickles, in Pixar’s “Toy Story” in the 1990s, sales got another major boost, as did many other classic toys featured in the film, like slinky and Etch-a-Sketch, according to the Takeout.

George Lerner, a Brooklyn inventor, first conceived of Mr. Potato Head as a “funny face kit” that kids could stick onto potatoes or other vaguely head-shaped vegetables in 1949, according to ThoughtCo. The early iteration was a collection that included 28 hands, feet, eyes, mouths, hair and hats — potato not included. After selling the pieces as bonuses in cereal boxes, Lerner later sold the rights to the Rhode Island company Hassenfield Brothers, which would become Hasbro.

The original Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will still be sold under the gender-neutral rebrand, Hasbro confirmed Thursday in a tweet.

Hasbro did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.