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The Licensing Lookout: The Christmas count up

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes switches his Lookout radar back on after the Christmas period.

I switched my Lookout radar off over the Christmas period, but somehow it powered up every so often. I think this was mostly because I saw a number of noteworthy ‘composite gifts’ produced under licence. ‘Composite gifts’ are gift sets that generally feature a food or drink element coupled with a traditional gift item such as a mug.

The category has a number of experienced and capable licensees which are specialists in the category. These include Beams, Scoop Designs and Kimm & Miller.

A key part of this product category is the licensee’s ability to put the product together, often sourcing elements from different suppliers and then compiling the gift set. They also have to work to a price – most composite gift items are selling for around £10. Of course in the context of licensing they have to deal with a separate set of commercials and approvals. All of this has to be done in a timely fashion. Christmas comes but once a year. Christmas is Christmas. I did say it is a specialist area!

Indeed, it also seems to be an area which is one that once you are in you can stay in for a while, as long as you are selling. That said the category  faced a fresh challenge last year. One of the biggest retail supporters of the category has been Debenhams. Sadly Debenhams has been in a state of flux with stores closing down.

My local Debenhams in Wimbledon, south west London was one of the stores nominated for closure. Even during the peak Christmas selling period it was being closed down. Everything was marked down and it was even selling off the fixtures and fittings. There were lots of gaps in-store and composite gifting was a category that seemed to have been severely cut back. This must have been a difficult scenario for the composite gift companies to manage. As a sidebar, I also felt sorry for the shop staff in Debenhams having to work their way through a shop closure. Not sure whether staff will be found new jobs. The staff I encountered were extremely professional in trying circumstances.

In the wider retail market my sense was that retailers had cut back a little on space allocated to the category and had also stuck with proven successes rather than backing new lines. That said, retailers like TJ Morris seem more active in the category albeit with more value driven offers and ones it is developing itself along non licensed lines. Indeed it is worth noting that a number of brand owners have cultivated the category themselves as direct business rather than through licensing arrangements.

Kellogg's has enjoyed long-term success with its gifting offer.
Kellogg's has enjoyed long-term success with its gifting offer.

A good example of a long-term success in the category is the Kellogg’s gifting offer. This has been part of the category for some time, but seems to remain very popular and a good seller. It is a straightforward offer: ceramic cereal bowl, spoon and mini cereal box. Featuring classic brands such as Rice Krispies. Nicely presented, it is a compelling offer.

From Kellogg’s perspective it represents a great way of getting the brand into new retail aisles and reinforcing brand loyalty. Maybe even recruiting new consumers.

The Haynes Wallace & Gromit contraptions manual was launched by Beams and Haynes.
The Haynes Wallace & Gromit contraptions manual was launched by Beams and Haynes.

In my own work, I was very pleased to see Beams further developing its Wallace & Gromit offer. We encouraged it to work with other licensees to create new product formats. One of these was Haynes Publishing and the end result was a gift set that included a bespoke edition of Haynes’ Wallace & Gromit contraptions manual.

A book has a high perceived value and going into this category opens up a new channel for publishers. It is always nice to see a what if chat come to fruition.

Guinness and Jack Daniel's are a significant part of the category.
Guinness and Jack Daniel's are a significant part of the category.

A significant component of the category are alcohol gifts. Some of these are non licensed sets developed directly by retailers around classic ideas such as gin and tonic sets while others are fully developed licensed ranges.

A great example of the latter are the Jack Daniel’s and Guinness gifting ranges. While these do not always include the core product the nod to the respective brand’s heritage is there with inclusions such as glassware, bottle openers, coasters and other bar accessories.

Yo! Sushi had a strong gifting presence for Christmas 2019.
Yo! Sushi had a strong gifting presence for Christmas 2019.

Restaurant brands are also active in the category including the likes of Costa Coffee. But it is a category that allows restaurant brands to underpin their credentials and for the licensees it is a focused way of tapping into food trends.

Yo! Sushi had a strong presence this year with items such as a soy dipping set and a katsu curry kit. In this context the value of this for these kind of brands is not in money terms it is in terms of brand experience, exposure and engagement. I am guessing in some cases the kits may include money off offers to encourage consumers to visit the restaurant.

I think it is also worth highlighting the fact that The National Gallery and its licensee Scoop Designs have very cleverly created a food gifting line that is in its third year I think. They have centred this around the concept of the art of food making use of the gallery’s art collection. I saw it in Boots. It is a great example of creative thinking and how licensing can help a heritage brand reimagine itself.

Finally, I have to highlight one gifting line that made me chuckle. I had just watched a classic episode of Only Fools and Horses and my eye was drawn to a Malibu Pina Colada gift set complete with coconut cup. It had Del Boy written all over it… this time next year who knows Peckham Spring Water might be available as a gift item!

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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