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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes casts his eye down the supermarket aisles this week.

In the week that the nominations for the Product categories in the Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards were announced, I reflected on the potential for a new award category – Longest Running Licensed product. What would be the licensing equivalent of The Mousetrap?

I found one candidate in the biscuit aisle of Sainsbury’s. Pink Panther pink wafer biscuits produced by Rivington. I remember this deal being in place when I started at Copyright Promotions over 15 years ago and I think it might have been first done a few years before that. It is a credit to the licensee that they have kept this single product offering on shelf for so long and an endorsement for the link between the character and the product. It is a simple idea which sometimes are the best ones.

It is possible that in today’s licensing market this deal may not have happened – it might have been difficult to get a listing and the licensor may have been looking for a different style of product. That said, I think this is a great licensing case study. Are there other single products that have been in the market longer? Would be good to get your nominations – who knows we might have found a new awards category…


The Jammie Dodgers Celebration Cake that we developed with Finsbury Foods was nominated in the Food & Drink category in the B&LLAs – this inspired me to take a visit to the bakery aisle in Sainsbury’s. Interestingly it is an aisle that is very licensing friendly – a fact that may come as a surprise to a lot of people.

The celebration cake category is dominated by licensed products with a mix of character and brand licences. Food brands such as Cadbury’s are strong players in the category. Innovation has arrived with developments such as smaller format gift cakes – for example there is a Marvel Gift Cake in store priced at £6.99.

Brands such as Thornton’s also have a presence in the aisle through products such as Mini Caramel Cake Bites developed by the Finsbury Foods Group. They also have a range of celebration cakes. In fact this is quite a long running deal as well. It is a natural fit with Thorntons’ core activity and their brand fits the category really well. This is probably a key explanation as to why this range has stayed in store so long. Matchmaking in licensing is important, especially in brand licensing – sometimes less is more in terms of the number of licensees in a programme.

The bakery aisle also sees a lot of licences used in cake mix kits from licensees such as Green’s, Fiddes Payne and Symington’s. The majority of these are using children’s licences with a bias to preschool characters. These are often cited as rainy day products – products that parents and carers can use to keep children busy. They also have a feelgood factor as they are ultimately activity-based and can promote shared time for parents and children.


However, an exciting new entry into this category is a range of bakery kits from Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood. The range uses his name, photograph and endorsement to the full, creating a range of products that dominate the fixture. The product is presented on shelf ready loaders which are also branded to draw the consumer’s eye to the product. The licensee is Premier Foods and they have managed to add something new to the category and refresh interest in it.

I am sure the range will do well – it is a fairly large range including ready to make kits for products like Flapjacks and I guess over time it may be reduced but it is certainly a bold launch. Some might argue that it goes against the scratch baking ethos of the programme, but ultimately this is Paul Hollywood’s range not the programme’s and it is a set of products that will encourage people to have a go at baking and also appeal to those who are time limited. It is a great example of personality driven licensing.

Another new development I spotted this week was in Sainsbury’s apparel aisle. They have a range of men’s apparel using the Admiral sportswear brand. I believe this is a direct licence between Sainsbury’s and the brand owner. It has been given a lot of space in-store and is supported with shelf talkers. The range includes the iconic Admiral England football top – there will be many people of my vintage who will react well to this as it is has a real nostalgic pull. Expect to see a few of us pot bellied football fans squeezing into this top in the summer in support of England.

Sainsburys and Admiral crop

Sainsbury’s using Admiral to create an exclusive range is a good example of a shift in licensing, with retailers looking to get more directly involved and also identifying the importance of brands to them especially in competitive categories like apparel.

Admiral is a recognisable brand with a strong heritage. It provides Sainsbury’s TU with a real point of difference, gives them a stake in the ground in the brand sector and creates a new offering in the competitive football market in the run up to Euro 2016. I think this is a smart move.


Finally, I have talked previously about the importance of offering apparel licensees a range of design assets to allow them to offer retailers and consumers fresh designs on a regular basis. Apparel licensees and retail buyers need access to a lot of design as the churnover is fast.

A great example of this is Disney and Star Wars – Sainsbury’s had a couple of t-shirts using a pixellated design of Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. The Star Wars apparel range is a great example of design being updated regularly and licensees benefitting from this variety of design. Investment pays off with frequent listings and consumers repeat purchasing. I am sure Disney have staff members spending time on trendwatching and using this insight to create a design palette that works on the high street, in fast fashion and grocers.

A good model for others to consider.

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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