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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes discovers some tasty food treats at ExCeL.

Food Glorious Food was the song of the week for me last week as I attended IFE 17 – the International Food & Drink Event at Excel.

The show features a range of companies from independent food producers and start up businesses through to national trade bodies and multinational businesses. The common theme is they sell food and drink. Licensing is not a focus or theme of the show and, indeed, it is not on the radar of the majority of exhibitors.

Many companies that exhibit are heavily committed to building their own brand – companies like Hippeas have invested in creating a strong and effective brand identity. They are not likely to partner with another brand at this stage of their development – maybe they will look to licence their brand in years to come.

It is also the show that is important to remember not to eat breakfast before attending – the tasting samples on offer are worth waiting for.


IFE wasn’t a licensing free zone, however. Even before entering the show I noticed a licensing-like partnership: one of the cafes in the atrium of ExCeL was called the River Cottage Deli.

On the first day I visited it was closed, but I enquired about the background to it and was informed that the cafe was the product of a ‘collab’ between ExCeL and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It took its name from Hugh’s River Cottage TV programme. I must say I was surprised by this not least by the location of the café, but I guess it is a busy site with a broad church of visitors who will be familiar with River Cottage and, from Hugh’s point of view, it is a good way of getting some of his ‘key’ messages across to the public and influential people attending trade shows at the venue.

I am not sure of the business model nor the supply chain involved, but I thought it was a good example of licensing reaching into new corners. Sadly no sign of Hugh serving behind the counter though.

On the showfloor itself some licensing highlights included:


Burt’s – British Hand Cooked Potato Chips – extending its Levi Roots crisp range with a new flavour. It has added Caribbean Coconut Curry flavour joining Reggae Reggae sauce crisps. Judging by the numbers Burt’s quote on its sales literature, the Levi Roots brand is a great licensing success story.

The overall brand is reported to be worth £42 million and the crisps are number 5 in the UK crisp market (source: IRI data February 2015). This is a great example of a company using a licence to create a point of difference in its portfolio and focusing on long-term development.

Burt’s is also using the Hobgoblin beer brand under licence to create a range as well. As an outside observer, it has really embraced both brands and maximised the potential of them by strong marketing, well developed packaging and focused NPD.

Chef Tom Kerridge launched a range of Hot Flashed Pork Crunch – a pork crackling snack product range. Developed in 3 flavours: Oak Smoked Paprika, Pickled Green Chilli and British Sea Salt. Kerridge is working with Raygray Snacks on this range and seems to have been really ‘hands-on’ in the product development.

Authenticity seems to be at the centre of this product range in development terms and in sourcing – the product is developed using free-range British pork. It seems like the product has been developed in a strategic way – looking at a trend and a market gap rather than grabbing the first passing licensing opportunity.


Popeye featured on a range of energy drinks from the curiously named Curly & Smooth Trading Company. These have been developed with the global market in mind. It also licences Superman. The company had a big and bold stand which really stood out.

There is a fit between energy drinks and Popeye in terms of personality and character traits. The product catches the eye and this seemed to be one of the reasons for the licensee to use licensing. In a crowded impulse category brand recognition is important – characters like Popeye help with shelf presence and product pick up. They pique consumer curiosity.

The product seems to be doing better in Europe than the UK, not least as the UK market for energy drinks is very crowded, but the licensee seemed confident that it would see growth in the UK this year.

From my own portfolio, it was good to see long-term Britvic licensee Monty Bojangles (Honeycomb Project Management) launching a new pack format for its Robinson’s Fruit Squashes. It has developed this following market investigation and comparison. It is now in the sixth year of holding this licence and are a good example of a licensee developing its offer in a flexible way responding to trends in the market.

It is important to show some flexibility in licensing management sometimes. A rigid approach can stifle development. Licensees are closer to their market and if selected carefully are well qualified in their category.

Monty Bojangles has managed the Robinson’s brand very carefully with a long-term mind set – it is easy to think short-term in licensing and also to ignore the wider market you are operating in. Licensing has to co-exist with the wider market. The new pack formats and new recipes for the confectionery will give the product fresh momentum.


Another of the Britvic licensees was at IFE with Yumsh Snacks exhibiting its Tango Popcorn. Here the licensee has recognised that flavour is a key attribute for Tango and that it translates well into its product category.

It has acted in a focused way and only launched with two flavours – Orange and Apple – both of which matched the Tango taste profile well.  It chose not to launch a Cherry variant as the match wasn’t good enough. The disciplined approach has worked as the two flavours have been well received and are now in retail distribution.

Rather like Tom Kerridge being ‘hands on’, it is important that as licensing professionals we remember when to say ‘no’ in NPD and it is encouraging to work with licensees which respect a brand’s values. This simple approach should help licensed products have more chance of being successful.


I was also impressed by a range of food gifting tins containing tea and biscuits developed by Infinity Brands featuring the Mr Men and Little Miss characters. It has created a wide range of product, I guess thinking about the gift retail channel and the potential to range the products together.

Mr Men and Little Miss really suit gifting and have had a good track record in that sector. This was a good example of a brand owner building on a proven success in a category and migrating to new areas in a controlled way – Mr Men and Little Miss mugs have been a great success in retailers such as Cards Galore and so it makes sense to add food gifting with tea and biscuits to their gift offer.

By attending IFE, Infinity Brands has given itself a good chance of broadening distribution into locations such as farm, deli and department store outlets in addition to core gift retail channels.

IFE was an interesting show in terms of trend spotting and new business, although as noted earlier the majority of exhibitors are focused on their own brands and brand development. Interestingly, a number of these companies hadn’t thought about licensing their brand to third parties – many companies still don’t recognise that licensing can be a useful addition to their activities and not necessarily a distraction to their business.

Finally, I attended the Tesco Licensing Conference last week. It was a very useful insight into how Tesco values licensing and how it would like to work with the licensing community. I think Rachel Wakley and her team should be applauded for making a real effort to connect with the licensing community and share their thinking. It is good as a licensing agent to have some insight into Tesco’s strategy and helps us when thinking about opportunities.

Well done to Tesco for this enterprising initiative.

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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