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The Licensing Lookout: Food, glorious licensed food

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on why food and drink licensing shows our industry in a great light.

One area of licensing that has generally stayed open for business during the lockdown has been food and drink licensing.

Of course, not all retail outlets have stayed open but supermarkets in particular have and as such there has been a route to market for licensees. This should be qualified, of course, by the fact that consumers have been shopping in a new way and arguably with more of a focus on essentials rather than luxuries or treats.

Licensed products in the food aisles tend to fall into the latter category. Food and drink licensees have also faced the challenges of managing supply lines and coping with a distribution chain that has been disrupted. Nevertheless many of them have kept going and have product in-store, while there have been a number of announcements of new product launches.

One ongoing challenge food and drink licensees face is competition from established products in categories. FMCG brand owners guard their shelf space with vigour and make it hard for competitors to break through. In turn retailers at the best of times are seeking to limit the amount of suppliers they have – I am sure in current circumstances it is even harder to get a new listing.

In terms of new launches, The Grocer is my go to publication. The Grocer is a specialist trade publication and has carried on publishing throughout the lockdown. There is a lot to admire about trade publications like The Grocer – and! – which have managed to publish in these tough times. It has been a reminder that even in the modern age of information gathering, ‘traditional’ trade publications have a vital role to play.

Mrs Brown's Kitchen is a fun way of disrupting a rather traditional category.
Mrs Brown's Kitchen is a fun way of disrupting a rather traditional category.

The Grocer alerted me to a couple of intriguing new product launches recently. One I have to admit went into the ‘licensed products I never saw happening’ category. The product concerned was from licensee Golden Bake which has launched a range of Mrs Brown’s Boys pastry crowns. Being sold under a ‘Mrs Brown’s Kitchen’ label, the pastry crowns come in two varieties Ham & Cheese and Chicken Fajita. They are frozen products and will be sold exclusively in Iceland initially.

I am guessing that Golden Bake sees this as a fun way of disrupting a rather traditional category. I guess it sees that there is a good fit between Iceland consumers and the programme as well. My 79 year old mum is a big fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys and, as I have mentioned before, I am doing her shopping at the moment so I will try to call into my local Iceland and pick up some pastries for her. Bringing Mammy to Mummy!

As an aside and using ‘queue watch’ as a barometer, I sense Iceland is a retailer that has performed well in lockdown. It seemed to have got its act together quickly from a logistical point of view and the product offering seems to fit the current situation well, with people stocking up freezers but also topping up with fresh essentials.

Finsbury Foods has teamed with Baileys for a Strawberries & Cream flavour cake.
Finsbury Foods has teamed with Baileys for a Strawberries & Cream flavour cake.

Another new product announcement I spotted was from biscuit manufacturer Bahlsen, which has launched a Limited Edition range of Baileys Strawberries and Cream biscuit squares. These will be sold exclusively in Waitrose. It is another example of how the Baileys brand develops partnerships with established brands to create interesting and indulgent products that dial up Baileys’ flavour profile.

Products like this allow the brand to be stretched but in an appropriate fashion and in a product category where flavour is a key to success. Working with a manufacturer like Bahlsen also ensures quality of product is good and matches that of the core brand.

At the same time, Baileys has linked with Finsbury Foods to create a Baileys Strawberries and Cream cake: made up of a strawberry flavoured sponge cake, Baileys Strawberries & Cream flavour and dried strawberry pieces. A key driver for developing a cake like this is to deliver something different to the cake fixture. It is a fixture that can be quite traditional, so innovation and branding like this stands out. Both the biscuits and cake are also designed to create a summer variant in their respective categories.

For brand owner Diageo, activity like this is incremental business, but perhaps more tellingly it is a reminder to consumers that this flavour of the Baileys liqueur is available. Finsbury has already developed a number of Baileys products so it is fair to conclude it is confident that Baileys is a brand that translates well to bakery.

Seabrook Crisps has launched Worcestershire Sauce crisps under licence from Lea & Perrins.
Seabrook Crisps has launched Worcestershire Sauce crisps under licence from Lea & Perrins.

In deals like the Baileys one, brand credentials and flavour profile are key. A lot of food and drink licensing relies on tapping into well established brands that have a distinctive flavour profile.

Further examples of this in terms of recent developments include Seabrook Crisps launching a Worcestershire Sauce flavour crisp under licence from Lea & Perrins, while M&S is currently carrying a Marmite flavoured cream cheese product. Both these examples show how a distinctive brand can be extended through licensing.

Often these deals may only run for a limited period, but they allow the core brand to be stretched into parts of the store they aren’t normally featured in, encourage consumer trial which might convert to core brand usage and also the deals help reinforce brand credentials.

Rose Marketing has secured some good retail placements including the coveted 'middle of Lidl' feature.
Rose Marketing has secured some good retail placements including the coveted 'middle of Lidl' feature.

In my own work it has been interesting to follow how one of our Britvic licensees, Rose Marketing, has fared in recent weeks. Rose Marketing works with Britvic soft drinks and has created products such as freeze at home ice pops and sorbettos. It has gone through an intense NPD period, with a real focus on getting the flavours and ingredients right. Product delivery is a real key to brand licensing in the food category. Quite rightly, brand owners are not prepared to compromise on this. Any licensed product has to represent their brand accurately in all aspects of brand architecture.

Rose Marketing has developed a number of new products and has been working hard at maintaining its listings in the current marketplace. The core products are freeze at home ice pops featuring Robinson’s, Tango and Fruit Shoot. One challenge at the moment is maintaining listings and commitments from retailers. Products like Rose’s require a lot of logistical planning in production and shipping terms. So it has been good to see the efforts pay off with some great retail placements recently including a much coveted ‘middle of Lidl’ feature.

Working closely with Rose has been a timely reminder to me that it is not an easy task getting product onto shelf in supermarkets especially now, but it has also reminded me that a well chosen brand that is developed in an appropriate way can make a real impact in the market. Consumers come to trust brands and this is even more important now. Shopping time has been limited and consumers are being more careful about their spending – in this context well known and established brands resonate as they can be trusted and are instantly recognised even when out of their normal aisle.

On your next supermarket sweep try to have a look for examples of licensed products on supermarket shelves. There are probably more than you realise and often in parts of the store that you wouldn’t expect. It is often a hidden area of licensing, but one that shows licensing in a great light.

Happy shopping and stay safe!

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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