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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at trends from different industries this week.

This week I visited a couple of specialist trade shows – Lunch! and Designjunction. One of the motivations behind my visits was to seek out some new business opportunities in the food and home décor sectors. I think it is also worthwhile to go off piste sometimes to check out latest trends, see how other businesses do business and seek fresh inspiration.

Lunch! is a ‘food-to-go’ show with suppliers who are targeting the likes of coffee shops, restaurants and travel companies. In terms of licences, there wasn’t much to see, but in terms of new ideas and contacts the show was very worthwhile.

There were some good examples of licensed products – Joe and Seph’s Marmite flavoured popcorn being the stand out item. This product has attracted a lot of press attention – probably one of the aims for Unilever when agreeing to the product but now seems to be well established and is a core part of Joe & Seph’s range – the product has a whole page in their catalogue and seems to be selling through well.


Popcorn seems to be a product in growth and there were a number of companies selling popcorn at Lunch! In my own business we have launched Tango flavoured popcorn through Yumsh Snacks – this was very much driven by wanting to be part of a food category in growth.

Licensed popcorn also featured at Lunch! on the Tommy Tucker stand – they have gone down the character licensing route with Disney Frozen popcorn. They were also marketing other popcorn licences based on film licences – I guess here the point being a direct connection in cinemas when a film is being shown with the popcorn tying in with the featured film. I managed to identify a number of companies who I thought could be selling licensed products – the hard work starts now persuading them I am right…


Designjunction was based in four sites in King’s Cross/St Pancras including Granary Square – an area of London well worth visiting – a great example of urban regeneration. Designjunction centres on presenting the best in contemporary design with suppliers drawn from areas like soft furnishings, interiors, wall art and ceramics. There is an emphasis on fresh ideas and contemporary styling.

The licensing highlight was a fantastic product collection based on the London Underground licence. This is a licensing programme that has always been managed in an imaginative way with an emphasis on the innovative use of design.


At Designjunction the collection that was launched was based on the theme of Metroland and the part the Underground has played in the expansion of suburban London over the years. A number of companies were participating in this project including, Kirby Design and Loris & Livia.

The collection included furniture and fabrics. The highlight for me was the range presented by the Finnish company Vallila. They created prints and fabrics inspired by the Underground map. It was great to see how the licensees were inspired by the brand combining really well to present a collection effectively. It had been very well marshalled by Transport for London and was a real talking point at the show.

I am sure the reward for the effort and focus Transport for London have put into this project will be a great uptake at retail combined with a new range of high quality products for the London Transport Museum to sell. The museum shop is a great showcase for products like those launched at Designjunction – a useful retail lynchpin for projects like this.

Transport for London had also supported the collection well with advertising on the Underground. A good example of using all available resources to push a licence.


You know winter is here when ranges of licensed headwear, scarves and gloves appear in retail. When I first started in licensing, these accessory sets were always present but not given much attention design wise – indeed they were probably leading examples of ‘label slapping’ – basic design applied to a product to get it out into the market quickly. So I was pleased to see the attention to detail and commitment to better quality product shown on a few hat sets I saw this week.

I think this is a good measure of the growing acceptance from the licensing community that design, product quality and bespoke development is the way forward and that the end result is better products which should sell through well and ‘reassure’ consumers that they represent value for money.

A prime example of this was a Gruffalo hat set that I saw in Sainsbury’s. It stood out design-wise and felt like a good quality product – other examples included sets based on Marvel characters. Young children were certainly look very smart on their journey to school this winter. This approach should also encourage consumers to shop the aisle for new designs because there is an on-trend fashion element to the products and it has shifted the purchasing decision a little.


I managed to give my award winning Dr Martens Beano boots an outing this week and they got a lot of favourable comments on the train. I wore them to the excellent launch party for – the launch party which was focused on children having fun signalled the start of a new journey for Beano. The iconic brand has a fresh look with a new style guide, a digital platform and new partnerships with a range of content owners.

An interesting aspect of the launch from a licensing point of view was that Beano Studios created a shop at the event selling a limited range of merchandise such as t-shirts. While the event was by invitation only and free to attend, it was considered a good opportunity to test out designs and products by selling at the event. The shop did a brisk trade and over the next few weeks it will be useful to look at the ‘retail detail’ – it will help in future discussions with retailers and licensees to have some insight into the popularity of specific designs.

The point here is that as the licensing and retail markets become ever more competitive, rights owners may have to work harder to develop concepts and prove their potential. The launch party was meant to be a fun event which it most certainly was, but it has also provided some valuable business insights.

I also survived without being gunged and more importantly my boots are intact ready for the next commute!

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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