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A post Christmas feast… it’s the first Licensing Lookout of 2024

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is back for a new year of Looking Out, beginning with some examples of food licensing and early Valentine’s Day highlights at retail.

Given what a big part food and drink play in the festive season, it is no surprise that my eye has been drawn to some examples of food licensing in the first Lookout of 2024.

LL6Last year I certainly felt that there was an increasing meeting of minds between the worlds of licensing and FMCG – licensing deals are flowing both ways. The festive season certainly provided a spark for some of the deals I spotted – a great example being Baileys Extra Thick Cream. Retailers add these kind of products to their offering for Christmas and New Year tapping into the consumer appetite for more indulgent products and consumers’ willingness to seek out signature flavours to add something ‘extra’ to the Christmas experience. Often deals like these can be extended beyond the festive season if they perform well. Coffee shops, cafes and restaurant chains also tend to add special edition flavours and varieties to their product offering for Christmas.

Costa Coffee was promoting a Terry’s Orange Hot Chocolate for example. This was marketed alongside a Gingerbread & Cream Latte and a Black Forest & Cream Hot Chocolate. All three were described as ‘Christmas favourites’ and were returning flavours. It isn’t always clear how these sort of products operate commercially, but for brands like Terry’s it is a great way of building brand engagement and celebrating their ‘unique’ flavour.

Another interesting example of a coffee chain using well known products to create Christmas ‘specials’ was that of the Wenzel’s chain which was offering Oreo and Lotus Biscoff coffees. I also noticed Wenzel’s was inviting customers to donate the price of a coffee to the CRISIS charity. This was made easy to do via a QR Code displayed in-store. This is a good example of how retailers seem to be more prepared to work with charities and also how retailers are embracing new technology to make the shopping experience easier.

LL3I also noticed Knoops had partnered with the movie Wonka to create a Wonka-inspired Winter Warmer. That’s a lot of Ws and a lot of chocolate. The Wonka Winter Warmer is 34 % Milk Hot Chocolate with cream, chocolate-covered popping candy and a chocolate plaque. I didn’t try it but it certainly seemed to be a product befitting of Wonka. It was also served in a very well presented Wonka branded cup. The partnership also extended to Knoops featuring the product on the Knoopsmobile pop up unit at Westfield London’s ice rink and also decorating the Covent Garden store with a Wonka theming. This activity also ran alongside a competition for consumers to win a stay in London and an afternoon tea.

It is likely that this deal was a promotionally driven partnership rather than a commercial licensing deal, but it is a great example of a film being used creatively to inspire NPD. It is also a way for a specialist retailer like Knoops to shine a light on its brand and its products; Wonka provides a wonderful opportunity for Knoops to show what makes its product offering special and different. It is also a low risk way of Knoops testing the licensing waters for the future. If this partnership works it may be more likely to consider other deals.

LL5It was also interesting to see how WH Smith was promoting the Premier League Adrenalyn XL trading card game from Panini. I noticed it being promoted in-store quite heavily along with window posters and kerbside posters after Christmas. I think WH Smith and other retailers recognise the pulling power of the Premier League and football in general. I am guessing post Christmas there is a bit of a lull for retailers like WH Smith. Encouraging consumers to buy into collections like this one provides a good shot of retail adrenalin. The Premier League is a brand that isn’t overly licensed and, as such, collections like this one have more pent up demand. I am sure for retailers like WH Smith it drives good business, but also gets customers into store on a regular basis. Licensing and licensed products can certainly play a role in driving retail traffic and arguably there is further scope in this regard in 2024 – promotions focused on the release of well chosen licensed products could be a useful marketing tool for retailers. We probably need to make more of ‘event’ opportunities.

Apparel is a core strand of the licensing marketplace. In recent years it has been good to see a wider pool of retailers embracing licensing in the apparel sector and a consolidation of licensing usage beyond core areas like childrenswear.

Two good current examples of this are Uniqlo’s continuing use of heritage licences in its men’s t-shirt offerings. At the moment it is promoting a t-shirt collection featuring a ‘unique combination’ of Hokusai artworks sourced from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Art on t-shirts seems to be a solid performer at the moment, with Japanese art a particularly strong feature in the category.

LL2The other good example of the ongoing presence of licensing in the adult apparel category I found was in Sainsbury’s. Within the menswear department, three out of four t-shirts featured on an end cap used licensed brands namely BSA, Volkswagen and Fender. Nearby I also found a Ford Mustang t-shirt. This is a great demonstration of how licensed brands can succeed in a competitive category like apparel, while reinforcing the fact that brand licensing creates opportunities for a variety of brands.

Car and bike brands seem to be in demand at the moment, while the presence of the Fender t-shirt is a good reminder of the success that music brands are having in licensing presently.

LL4Returning to retail in general, I went shopping on 27 December. I had to stock up on a few essential items. I also had to buy a couple of greetings cards. While in the card aisle I couldn’t help but notice that the retailers’ Valentine’s card ranges were already on sale. I understand that retail moves and changes very quickly these days, but it did seem like a very early launch for Valentine’s Day. That said it also means there are less excuses for not buying a Valentines Card this year. One other observation that I made was that I couldn’t see any licensed cards in the Valentine’s range on offer. I am sure there are some out there, but it struck me that there is an opportunity to play a part in this category.

I think as an industry we need to try to find a role to play in as many retail events and themes as possible or certainly try to. As noted earlier licensing can add value, create engagement and help achieve cut through.

LL1Finally, an early contender for the ‘I Didn’t See That One Coming Award’ for 2024 – an award that recognises the ‘unexpected deal’ in licensing. While in Pets At Home I noticed a JAWS Aquarium Kit on sale. A very enterprising use of a classic film brand. I have seen aquarium kits before – for example a SpongeBob one but don’t recall seeing a Jaws one.

Although I did think that the fish that end up in a JAWS aquarium may not be so keen on swimming into Jaws’ jaws every morning!

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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