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When is a food licence not a food licence?

With food and drink touted as one of the licensing trends to watch in 2021, Pink Key Licensing’s Richard Pink breaks down the category’s attributes.

Food licensing can have more than one meaning – and I feel a little like I should invoke Donald Rumsfeld with his ‘Known knowns’, ‘Known unknowns’ and ‘Unknown unknowns’ speech to make my point. There is ‘non-food onto food’, ‘food onto food’ and ‘food on to non-food’.

‘Non-food licensing onto food’ might include a Disney breakfast cereal or Mr. Men yoghurts. We have one of our own coming on this front involving aviation and drinking, so watch this space. Hopefully it will make more sense than Spider-Man Ham slices – yes, my friends, that was really a thing…

‘Food licensing onto other food’ – this is interesting in that you can take the elements of a brand and also the process or ingredients of a product and apply it to another related food. It’s the kind of thing that Tango and our own brand partner Vimto has been doing successfully for years. The question here is how far you can stretch the brand away from its core characteristics and heritage and still remain true to the brand. Another way of saying it is how far can you bend it before it breaks. A lot of the decision on that will come down to the brand custodians, and in some respects it’s a virtuous circle as the more you do it the more consumer acceptance there is likely to be. How else would you get to Marmite Peanut Butter! Ultimately, however, the consumer will decide when you’ve gone too far by just not buying it.

Then there is what we have been doing for years – ‘licensing food brands onto non-food products’. We think this is trickier (well, we would say that wouldn’t we), but a good place to start is exactly the same place you would if you were extending the brand into another food areas. Our mantra has also been that the closer you can get to the core characteristics of the brands and/or products, the more likely you are to have a success on your hands.

In some cases you get a slam-dunk, and falling into this category for us has been the mighty SLUSH PUPPiE home making machine which has been in every major retailer for over two years, turned over millions of pounds in sales, appeared on celebrity social media such as Olly Murs and Louise Redknapp and is now in the running in the My Gift of All Time category at the Gift of the Year 2021 awards.

Why has it been such a success? Because it is so very close to the core of what a SLUSH PUPPiE is, and what it does. Sounds simple, and with hindsight it’s one of those things you look at and say ‘but of course…’

However hindsight is a wonderful thing. In reality the product only exists and has been successful because of the foresight of Fizz Creations, and because it’s a damn good product.

But it’s not only getting as close to the product attributes, although it’s a good place to start. There are also other happy hunting grounds to look at that are not so obvious. I’ve written and talked endlessly to anyone who will listen about the success to be had by mimicking a product attribute that isn’t necessarily related to the food itself.

My favourite example is always going to be the Helix ‘can shaped’ Pringles pencil case. However, spare a thought for a pair of socks sold in a case that is then able to store your Pringles so that you can carry them with you. Again this is a good example of a product that retrospectively looks like a very obvious and simple idea, but the good people at Roy Lowe still had to come up with it in the first place and then sell it to Primark.

Then there is a question of when a food licence is not a food licence at all. We have had some great examples of this as we have been working on the Vintage Kellogg licence, which I have argued for many years to be closer to an art licence than food. In reality labels like this don’t actually matter, because the brand benefits from positive attributes from both of these worlds. People love Tony the Tiger because they have memories associated with eating Frosties when they were children, but they also love him because he’s just a great looking piece of art (pun intended!).

This neatly brings me to my final point on ‘trends’. This is something the licensees, agents and licensors have little control over, as it is wholly driven by consumers and influencers – all you can do is hang on for the ride. It is arguable whether the Kellogg logo benefited from being part of a trend of consumers wanting to wear bold and simple logos, or whether it was because it was a food brand in a ‘food and drink’ trend. But when you have YouTube gamers and influencers wearing the shirt, the argument becomes academic.

However, as an agent who manages a number of brands, it gladdens my heart to hear that there may be another such trend on the horizon. Long may it continue!

Richard Pink is md of boutique licensing agency, Pink Key Licensing. He can be contacted on

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