UK jigsaw puzzle sales hit £100m as ‘people find a balance in their lives’

From hygge-inspired depictions of “cosy” sheds to currently off-limits country pubs and taxing single colour images, Britain has officially been gripped by jigsaw puzzle mania.

Figures show UK sales of jigsaws reached £100m in 2020, up 38% on the previous year. Covid-19 restrictions on socialising also resulted in more puzzles being bought for adults rather than children, which is not the norm, with 15m sold.

The sales bonanza was “totally unheard of”, said Frédérique Tutt, a global industry analyst at the market researchers NPD. Puzzles are a constant presence in the fickle toy market but manufacturers have been overwhelmed by the level of demand.

“Manufacturers have said to us, you could sell anything, even a white image,” Tutt said. “They ran out of stock in the spring and again just before Christmas.”

The bestselling jigsaw format is 1,000 pieces, costing about £12, meaning consumers were getting “hours and hours of entertainment” for a relatively small outlay at a time when they may be strapped for cash, Tutt said.

The German toymaker Ravensburger said its overall sales increased by more than a fifth to €632m (£546m) in 2020, with the company singling out stellar growth in the UK. Ravensburger shifted a total of 28m puzzles, a third more than in 2019.

Its chairman, Clemens Maier, suggested puzzles had helped “lots of people find a balance in their lives, especially in a time of crisis”. Early on in the year the company increased production at its factories in Germany and the Czech Republic to satisfy a level of demand it usually experienced before Christmas. Despite this, “demand outstripped supply capacity for some products”, it said.

The company’s sales data showed UK puzzlers – known as dissectologists – seeking escapism in imaginary scenes such as “my cosy shed”, which boasts a comfy sofa and log-burning stove, as well as challenging puzzles where the doer has to crack hidden codes, or work on shape alone as the image is a plain colour.

Julie Wilkins of the Dorset based JHG Puzzles said its sales in 2020 had quadrupled, making it the company’s biggest year since it started in 1997. “Nostalgia is big,” she said. “Animals and birds but also what people call ‘chocolate box’ [art]: pubs, inns and cottages, are popular.”

The most sought-after challenge is 1,000 pieces but, perhaps with some months to go before Covid-19 restrictions come to an end, Ravensburger said demand for harder ones was increasing. Last year it launched a 40,000 piece Disney set. With the finished image measuring 6.8m by 1.9m, you would need plenty of space to tackle it.

Peter Day, who helps run the Benevolent Confraternity of Dissectologists, a club for puzzle followers, said its members had previously feared interest in the hobby was waning. “The club has an ageing population,” he said. “I am in my 60s and I’m almost the youth policy.”

Puzzles offered escapism and entertainment but were also educational, said Day, whose club has been meeting virtually on Zoom. “A lot of our members feel like it helps keep them ticking over.”

But if you are just getting into jigsaws you may have to wait to get your hands on the one you want. With non-essential shops closed, popular ones have often sold out online, a situation made worse by the decision taken by some websites based in Europe to stop shipping to the UK since Brexit.

Tutt predicts the puzzle boom will continue until the summer at least: “After that I think some consumers will go back to cinema, travelling, restaurants and find more exciting things to do … but some will stay because they enjoyed the me-time or screen-free downtime.”