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How Licensing PLC can help the retail recovery… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at how Morrisons is using licensing in ways which may fly under the radar.

I have a soft spot for the Morrisons’ shop in Wimbledon. This is due to the fact that for a number of years during Wimbledon fortnight it re-branded the store to ‘Murrisons’ in support of Andy Murray. This was an enterprising thing to do and created a feelgood factor locally. It then went further in 2013 when Andy Murray won Wimbledon and re-branded the store ‘Murriwins’. A good moment for Wimbledon, Andy Murray and signwriters. The signwriter may not be called into service again any time soon, but Morrisons in Wimbledon has shown it has an individual touch and a sense of community.

Last week I managed to take my lockdown looking out on tour and took a trip to Morrisons in Wimbledon. I am guessing this store is classed as a medium sized one by Morrisons – it has a grab’n’go Deli style fixture at the front which is a reflection of the fact that in normal times that Wimbledon has an office worker community. The store also has a news and greeting cards section just beyond the till line. Interestingly, on my trip I couldn’t really dwell in this area as it was where customers filter through after paying. It made me wonder whether certain parts of stores have suffered more than others in lockdown. Seemingly in some cases shoppers have not been able to shop a specific area due to store layout. My Lookout tour of Morrison’s was carried out with lockdown conditions in place: masked up, keeping my distance, not dwelling too long and not picking product off shelf for a closer look.

Generally in my experience Morrisons hasn’t stood out as a major supporter of licensing, but my visit showed that licensing plays a part in its product mix. I should say this store seems quite light in categories like apparel – in fact I didn’t see any apparel on my visit but I believe there is a small section in this store and in more broad terms I believe Morrisons may be dialling up its use of licensing in apparel.

Weightwatches has re-branded as WW recently.
Weightwatches has re-branded as WW recently.

The first thing I noticed was a strong showing for Weightwatchers products in the ready meal section in the chiller cabinets. It seems Weightwatchers has had a re-brand recently and the meals are now sold under the WW brand. Weightwatchers/WW is a great example of a brand that seems to thrive through licensing and has been in the market for quite some time. A good example of focused and well targeted licensing.

That said, its position in the ready meals and related market has been challenged recently by the success of the Slimming World range in Iceland. This shows that brands and licensees cannot be complacent: there is every chance a challenger brand will launch in competition.

Heinz is a long-standing user of licences particularly in the canned pasta territory.
Heinz is a long-standing user of licences particularly in the canned pasta territory.

Heinz is a company that is a long-standing user of licences particularly in the canned pasta category. This has evolved a little packaging wise with microwavable snap pots now part of the mix. Heinz dominates the fixture not least as its branding and brand colourways are so familiar. The licensing portfolio includes Minions, Peppa Pig and Disney Princesses.

This is a good example of a FMCG company that has to take a long-term approach to licensing. It is difficult for a company like Heinz to turn production on and off rapidly, so the choose licences carefully trying to secure ones that are well established and ones that should have staying power.

Reeses' Ice Cream Cups is a good example of how a distinctive confectionery brand can extend its reach through licensing.
Reeses' Ice Cream Cups is a good example of how a distinctive confectionery brand can extend its reach through licensing.

There were some interesting developments on show in the ice cream category. One eye catching product from Walls was some Reeses’ Ice Cream Cups. A new launch, this is a great example of how a distinctive confectionery brand can expand its reach through a well developed licensing range. Nearby I saw another interesting example of clever brand licensing in the frozen category with a Daim frozen cake dessert by Almondy. Almondy is a specialist in this category and is a frequent user of licensing.

I spotted some other interesting licensed products in categories like cheese with Cathedral City using PAW Patrol for a grab bag of Cheese Nibbles. Targeting the snack and lunchbox market, this is an example of a licence being a trigger for purchase. Cathedral City was keen to convey that each Nibbles bag of cheese only has 53 calories in it. The point here is that FMCG manufacturers are increasingly aware that they have to signpost details like this to consumers who are becoming more discerning when purchasing for their children.

A licence will create attention, but it is important that the rightsholder is aware of the wider context that food companies now operate in.

Licensing has always played a strong part in the bakery kits category.
Licensing has always played a strong part in the bakery kits category.

Another stalwart licensing category in the food aisles are bakery kits. On this trip I noticed a Cake Angels’ Disney Princess Cupcake Kit. Licensing has always played a strong part in this category and continues to do so. These are treat type products and are also ‘shared activities’ – parents can make cakes with their children.

Staying in bakery related products, celebration cakes have regularly featured character licences but there is a definite shift to cake manufacturers using licences from other categories, notably other food categories.

Celebration cakes generally show a lot of creativity.
Celebration cakes generally show a lot of creativity.

A great example of this in Morrisons was a Cadbury’s Flake cake. These confectionery lead cakes generally show a lot of creativity and are ‘on trend’ with the wider cake world – you can see how and why consumers buy into them for special occasions. I can see more growth for licensing in this category.

Indeed there were further examples of licensing in the bakery section at Morrisons. These include cookies featuring chocolate and confectionery brands like Dairy Milk, Caramel and M&Ms. These seem natural extensions for these brands and give the bakery department a fairly easy way of tapping into well established brands that help add value to a category. I believe the cookies arrive either part baked or in a pre-mixed dough and are finished off in-store by the bakers. This freshly baked element gives the product further consumer appeal.

It was also interesting to see a Peppa Pig Decorated Gingerbread Biscuit. It had the feel of a hand finished biscuit with a nod to home baked biscuits or ones that you might buy in independent bakers. Using Peppa Pig gives the product a real identity and creates pick up power.

Lucozade has created special edition bottles featuring sports stars.
Lucozade has created special edition bottles featuring sports stars.

As a sports fan, the two final products that caught my eye were ones using sports-related promotions. I am guessing brand owners are starting to feel more comfortable with launching sports related promotions as the sporting calendar has re-started. Obviously many sports fixtures are being played behind closed doors, but sports and sporting heroes still have pulling power promotionally.

Lucozade has created special edition bottles featuring sports stars like Raheem Sterling and Anthony Joshua. These come with positive messages such as Stay Humble and Always Believe. I assume that this ties into a wider campaign and programme. At a very basic level the packaging really stood out on shelf and I can imagine it is resonating well with consumers.

Another soft drinks company, Coca-Cola is using football and the Premier League for its current promotion. It is offering consumers the chance to win a Premier League Club shirt. The ‘Win Your Club’s New Shirt’ promotion is supported by posters and other advertising. Obviously it is well timed as the football season is about to re-start – you can also see that consumers would see this as a prize worth winning as I think replica shirts sell for £100+ these days. It is a neat way of tapping into the football market and the appeal of the Premier League. That said it would be interesting to see how supporters of clubs who aren’t ‘Premier League’ react to this promotion.

Coca-Cola is using football and the Premier League for its current promotion.
Coca-Cola is using football and the Premier League for its current promotion.

As mentioned I wasn’t able to shop the news and greetings cards fixtures, but my glancing look confirmed that licensing plays a significant role in both categories. I guess the learning I took from my visit to Morrisons is that there is a lot of licensing out there and often it goes below the radar. I am sure I missed other examples. While it is good to be back in-store it is still quite a challenge to spot things, stop and take photos. Hopefully we will see a further easing of lockdown which will help shopkeepers big and small. Licensing has potential to help the retail recovery.

Recently I wrote about how companies like Wild in Art might have a role to play in helping to kickstart the high street. With this in mind I was pleased to read about a new initiative it is involved in. It has announced a project called 50 Windows of Creativity in Manchester. This is an art trail that will showcase work of artists and makers through displays in a series of windows, venues, businesses and spaces across the city centre. It is hoped that the art trail will help encourage people back into the city centre and help retailers in particular. With the artwork in windows it makes the art trail more suited to social distancing. It is good to see this sort of thing happening and let’s hope it works. It should also be a spur for Licensing PLC to think about how we can come together to help play a role in helping the retail, high street and city centre recovery.

As Morrisons showed when it became Murrisons then Murriwins, a bit of retail theatre can go a long way to galvanising consumers and connecting communities. Imagine what Licensing PLC could achieve with a collective approach.

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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