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A bird’s eye view of licensing with RSPB

Louisa Skevington, product licensing manager, RSPB, and Guy Wilmot, ceo of ethical coffee supplier Bird & Wild, give an insight into their longstanding F&B partnership, and explain the many ways both parties have benefited from their “shared commitment to taking action for nature”.

Louisa, can you start by telling us how licensing fits into the RSPB’s strategy as a whole

Louisa: Our product licensing programme is a priority growth area for the RSPB’s commercial team, with the aim to raise unrestricted income, grow support for the RSPB and spread brand awareness in the wider market through reaching new and wider audiences. Our products are fantastic tools for educating and inspiring people about nature, as well as a means of communicating key messaging about our campaigns and values. For example, we have launched several products in association with Big Garden Birdwatch, and our wildflower seeds partner Sylvawood Agriculture and native hedging partner Best 4 Hedging have supported our Nature on Your Doorstep campaign by providing approved, appropriate product for the projects. The RSPB licensing programme also supports the sourcing for the RSPB’s own retail channels.

Can you talk us through how your partnership came about? And for those of us who aren’t familiar with it, can you explain what Bird Friendly coffee is?

Guy: I’ve been working in the coffee industry since 2007, in coffee importing and then coffee roasting, and discovered Bird Friendly coffee when visiting the US.

Much better known in the States than in Europe, Bird Friendly coffee is certified by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and guarantees the coffee comes from habitats where migratory birds can thrive and nest. Sadly, a lot of coffee plantations are monocultures and don’t provide the necessary trees, or food (insects) for migrating birds to feed on.

Put very simply, a Bird Friendly coffee farm needs to be Shade Grown certified, meaning it has lots of trees and plant cover, and Organic certified, which means no pesticides are used, so there is a greater abundance of insects on which the migrating birds can feed. Bird Friendly farms are also Fairtrade certified. As well as providing benefits for birds, Shade Grown and Organic certifications help protect the land by reducing erosion and fertiliser pollution of water systems, whilst Fairtrade certifications help protect coffee farmers and their welfare.

The Bird Friendly idea really took hold after my trip to the States and we launched Bird & Wild in 2017, becoming the first 100% Bird Friendly coffee in the UK. I approached the RSPB about partnering up as it made so much sense to help both migrating birds as well as those over here in the UK, as they need just as much help, sadly. We donate 6% of profits to the RSPB and so far we’ve raised over £50,000 for the charity.

LSkevington500x500Your partnership has been pretty longstanding. Aside from the revenue generated, what makes it a successful collaboration?

Louisa: It’s been a successful collaboration because the coffee not only tastes great, but the values behind it match those of the RSPB so well. As a result of the Shade Grown and Bird Friendly methods behind the coffee production, Bird & Wild has been recognised as Ethical Consumer Magazine’s no1 rated coffee, as well as recently coming top in The Good Shopping Guide’s Ethical Accreditation ranking. As the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, sustainability and helping to protect our species and habitats is at the heart of what we do, so it’s wonderful to collaborate with partners who hold such high environmental standards.

Unsurprisingly, given the aligned messaging, the coffee has proven to be a popular product for our own channels as well as the wider market – the coffee sells well across RSPB shops and channels, is featured in our catalogue and is a great product for tying in with product bundles around certain events. Ultimately, it’s the shared commitment to taking action for nature that makes this collaboration such an ongoing success, and Guy’s continued enthusiasm for working together really shines through.

RSPBlogoGuy: The RSPB has been very supportive since the beginning, as a sounding board, suggesting potential retail targets for our brand, and by purchasing Bird & Wild coffee for its sales catalogue for RSPB Supporters. Given that our brand is focused on environmentally conscious consumers, having the RSPB behind us really helps. We have also been Ethical Consumer Magazine’s no1 rated coffee for a couple of years now and I think the RSPB partnership gave us the edge in winning that crown.

What other practical help is the RSPB able to offer its licensees?

Louisa: On the design side, we work very closely with our licensees to advise on potential themes, species and direction. Our wildlife experts and picture researchers are invaluable in offering guidance on designs, as are our sustainability and environmental teams when it comes to the product itself. We support and promote many of our licensees’ products in RSPB’s own retail, e-commerce channels and catalogue, as well as through RSPB newsletters and alongside our PR and socials teams.

Our amazing nature reserves are also a fantastic resource for our partners. For example, our collectable pottery licensee Moorcroft creates beautiful collections inspired by our nature reserves, which it launches on-site with special members events, and our childrenswear partner Muddy Puddles also did a wonderful SS23 launch event on one of our reserves earlier this year. Our partner St Davids Distillery even uses the botanicals from our Ramsey Island reserve to flavour its gin.

Bird & Wild donates 6% of profits to the RSPB and so far it has raised over £50,000 for the charity.
Bird & Wild donates 6% of profits to the RSPB and so far it has raised over £50,000 for the charity.

When it comes to licensing, what are the RSPB’s strongest categories?

Louisa: The RSPB licensing programme is performing strongly and growing across numerous categories, and we now have over 30 partners. Our apparel offering with sustainable clothing partner Teemill is a strong and growing area, as we work very closely on seasonal designs and regular marketing on their e-commerce store. Homewares is also a strong category for us through partners such as Half Moon Bay and Roy Kirkham, as well as our paper products: greeting cards, stationery, and calendars and diaries from Otter House, Woodmansterne and Carousel Calendars.

Our natural history publishing programme with Bloomsbury is also very well established, and we have published over 100 books and ID charts together over nearly 20 years. There are also a couple of stand-out long-term stars for us – our singing bird plush range from Wild Republic and our birdsong clock from Zeon.

Finally, ethical considerations aside, why should we consider swapping to Bird & Wild coffee?

Guy: There are definite taste benefits. Shade Grown coffee takes much longer to grow and develop, which means more flavour ends up in the beans. Also, the coffee is grown on family-run smallholder coffee farms, which are minuscule compared to industrial coffee plantations. The producers really do take more care growing this coffee, which reflects in the cup.

We are a small business but we’re growing, despite Covid and so many economic challenges thrown at us. We’re grateful for the loyal support of small independent outlets across the country, as well as big corporate offices such as Allen & Overy, Hammerson and Max Fordham, among others – though we would dearly love more. So please get in touch if you would like environmentally friendly coffee at great prices!

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