The need for greater industry collaboration in tackling issues around sustainability and flexibility in licensing became the crux of conversation when a cross-sector panel of licensees took to the stage at the Brand & Retail Conference in Birmingham last week.
Charged with tackling some of the biggest topics to impact the brand licensing sector in recent years, the session brought together some of the business’ keenest advocates for industry change including Jeremy Oriss, director of licensing at Difuzed; Tom Rossi, managing director of Erve; Julie Jones, publishing director at Redan Publishing; and Daryl Newlands, head of brands and marketing at Finsbury Food Group.
Improved collaboration between licensors, licensees and retailers was woven into the narrative of conversation that most pointedly argued for the need of an industry sustainability fund and means of sharing the cost of burden when it comes to sustainable development across the licensing sector.
Not only this, but the session highlighted an ecosystem of issues that need to be addressed – from minimum order guarantees and contracts with built-in test periods for lines or properties, to the need for flexibility from the retailer and licensor – to feed into the wider sustainability mission.
Responding to a prompt from the panel’s moderator, Cristina Angelucci, editor of License Magazine, Difuzed’s Jeremy said: “We need to come together more, work together more and I think we need to start talking about how we share the cost of sustainability across the industry.”
It was an idea carried by Erve’s Tom who posed his own question, asking whether the licensing industry could benefit from a dedicated ‘sustainability fund’ to commit to the transition of the sector.
“The thing with sustainability is that it’s hard to reach, too. We need to be better at talking about the sustainability of a product to the end consumer and begin to educate them on the steps we are all taking,” he added.
Led by Kyra Claeys via its European division, Erve is going to lengths to reduce the environmental impact of its licensed fashion and apparel, looking towards certified organic cotton and joining the Roadmap to Zero initiative to reach ‘net zero’.
Key to that endeavour is the topic of minimum guarantees and the ability to build test periods for properties and lines into licensing contracts as a means of both fuelling innovation and reducing the impact of over-production.
“We need to do more as an industry on this side, too. It’s hard to structure it, but we need to get the retailers on board to do trials. This could have a major impact on over-produced lines,” said Tom. “Obviously, where this may be harder to do in brick-and-mortar shops, the digital landscape perhaps has greater potential for these kinds of test periods.”
At Redan Publishing, publishing director Julie Jones has been among the keenest pioneers of sustainable change within the children’s magazine sector when she and the team set out to address its cover-mounted plastic toys and packaging. Thanks to Julie’s efforts, Redan has since won awards for its approach to redesigned, more sustainable packaging.
Julie underlined the imperative for action on sustainability when she said that “while we have all debated before the cost and how it can be shared among partners, the fact is none of us are going to survive if we don’t pick up the mantle and run with it.
“But we do need to make sure the same standards apply across all the categories so that we’re not being singled-out for something.”
The interconnectedness of subjects such as trial periods for properties and licensor, licensee and retailer flexibility with contracts and minimum guarantees with the over-arching topic of sustainability became apparent when conversation turned to the scope for innovation within the licensing industry.
“Flexibility should be the next key word after sustainability,” suggested moderator, Cristina, hinting at the role it could play in reducing figures and impact surrounding core elements to the licensing process such as samples and over production, while also fuelling innovation.
However, Finsbury Foods’ Daryl Newlands highlighted some of the issues with leaping too fast into partnerships with properties still to prove themselves at retail.
“Celebration cakes is a key area of licensing in food, and shelf life is a crucial thing,” he explained. “So, we would choose the bigger licensees to maximise what we do. That’s a fear of investing in something that might not work.”
Not only would that impact be felt in a business sense, but so too in terms of wastage. We already know that food waste is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and if its emissions were a country, it’d be the size of the US.
“Selling our category, you’ve got to go for the big properties. We’re very limited because if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t get another chance,” said Daryl.
Home delivery and drop-shipping, however, is an emerging trend that could better facilitate that flexibility in the licensed food market for Finsbury and Daryl admits that as technology and capabilities to make this happen grow, so too does the scope for more bespoke licensed lines within the Finsbury portfolio.
On that same subject, Erve’s Tom urged the audience to consider the future of the licensing space.
“It’s a controversial point, but too large a guarantee stifles innovation,” he said. “With the economy as it is, of course, you have to pay that minimum guarantee. But if you go for high volume – that stifles innovation and design that never sees the light of day. That’s something to consider for the future of the industry.”