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Maddie Northern and Alex Cotton on how Kimm & Miller create brand extensions for famous foods.
Hello there, thanks for joining us! Maddie, you’re a product and digital manager; Alex you’re a designer with Kimm & Miller. Let’s start with the name…. Kimm & Miller aren’t your founders, are they?
MN: Actually, they are our founders, yes… Kimm & Miller was founded in 2006 by Rob Kimm, Ruth Miller, and Dave Kimm. Together Rob, Ruth, and Dave combine a wealth of experience and knowledge of the gift, design, and licensing industries, so we’re in good hands.
Beyond that, what’s the history of the company?
MN: We’ve been creating gifts for the UK and beyond since 2007; creating more than 3.5 million gifts each year for key seasonal gifting events… From licensed food gifts for much-loved brands, to bespoke own-label food gifts, alcohol gifts, traditional sweets, confectionery, and pet gifts. We’re based in Bedford, but we have our own technical and packing teams out in the Far East too.
Whom do you count among your clients?
MN: We create gift ranges for the major high-street retailers, supermarkets, and popular online stores. We also now offer our gifts direct to customers all year round via our amazon shop. A substantial amount of our output is made of up our licensed food gifts for well-known family favourite brands like Kellogg’s, Costa Coffee, Coca-Cola, Heinz, Nando’s, Marmite, Yo!, the RHS, and Me To You.
There are some big hitters in there! And what kind of thing do you produce for them?
AC: All sorts! Sometimes the buyer will have a really clear idea of what they want… For example, they might brief us on a cosy range for Christmas which needs to include hot chocolate, mallows, some ceramics or glassware, say. Then we’ll go away and look at the types of gift and the styling. Or they might want us to come to them with trend boards, newness… Then we try and narrow it down into different sections, like Wellness, Gardening and so on…
And what would be a good example of that?
AC: Pet Gifting is a good example. We’ve seen a big growth there; it started pre-pandemic but has only been helped by many people making big lifestyle changes and bringing a pet into their family.
It’s how I got on the team at Brands Untapped! So when the company comes to you and says, “We need to do something with Brand X…”, what’s your process? How do you go from that first conversation to a product? Walk us through it!
AC: I don’t think there’s a hard and fast process to it as every brand is different. From my own perspective, I try and research as much as I can about the brand and put myself in the consumer mindset. X loves this brand, so what would I want to buy as a gift for them? Then we look at the different types of food that come as part of that brand, be it sauces, or sweets or drinks.
AC: Then it’s a process of matching the food to other items that make it giftable and desirable. Kellogg’s is a great example because they have such an amazing archive of characters, styling, imagery and heritage. You’re not just creating a gift, you’re actually making something collectable that people want to keep for a really long time. And everyone loves breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day!
Well, let’s talk about Kellogg’s. This is work you’ve done with Pink Key. It’s beautiful; very distinctly Kellogg’s. What can you tell us about that?
MN: We’ve been working with Kellogg’s and Pink Key since the early 2000s. It might sound cliched but it’s a partnership that works so well. We’ve built the range up over the years and now have a great gift offering that includes sets with cereal as well as more traditional homeware items like bowls, mugs, and canisters. Alex will come up with some ideas and bounce them off Nancy at Pink Key – she’s always so helpful and full of enthusiasm for the work we do.
A dream team?
AC: Very much so! Nancy is brilliant and so supportive. She’s a great sounding board for ideas, as well as helping me tackle the vast Kellogg’s archive! Tony the Tiger is absolutely iconic so we’re always trying to think of new ways of working with the heritage images of him and adding a new twist. We’re really lucky with the Kellogg’s team too… They put a lot of trust in us, so we want to make sure we do a great job representing the brand.
It seems cruel to raise a harder question! What are the biggest challenge you face?
MN: Lately, our biggest challenges have been with supply chains and shipping. It’s always a bit like trying to predict the weather, but the last year has been particularly challenging: longer lead-times, port delays, complicated paperwork due to Brexit, Covid outbreaks… The logistics behind it can sometimes make your head spin. We try to be pragmatic, though, and everyone’s facing the same problem.
How important is creativity in what you do?
AC: Very important. I get a bit huffy when we get accused of badge slapping… And I’m sure many designers in licensing feel the same way! There’s creativity in everything we do – in thinking about the way a style guide can make or break a product, how an asset can work on ceramics or packaging, how colours complement each other, how a font can make something look ‘of its time’. Lately we’ve been spending a lot of creative time figuring out how to package gifts in a more sustainable way too. So there are many facets to creativity.
Broadly speaking, are there any things that – historically – you’ve found don’t tend to work so well? Things that don’t translate as cleanly as people might think?
MN: Sometimes we find we can almost be a bit too far ahead of the curve! When our team forecasts future trends in gifting, food, or beverages these trends can occasionally take a bit longer to filter down to the end customer than we’d expect. It can be a challenge to pinpoint exactly when an upcoming trend will take off and become mainstream, to make sure the gifts we create reach the market at the perfect time. The current craft rum trend comes to mind, for instance.
Rum? Interesting. Let me ask you this… What’s the most surprising thing you’ve worked on?
AC: We did a ‘12 days of cereal’ set for Kellogg’s and I remember we all said ‘no way, it won’t work, it’ll be too big’ at the development meeting, but we made it happen and it sold really well.
MN: We also worked with Costa Coffee’s social-media team on an Instagram collaboration in October, about our new Costa in-store gift range. We’d obviously hoped the post would garner a positive reaction from customers… But we were absolutely delighted to find the post exceeding all our expectations! It really took off, becoming Costa’s second most popular Instagram post of 2021!
Wow. Impressive. And what’s next for you?
AC: We’ve been developing ideas for the last few months, making samples and sending them out to our clients. Hopefully, we’ll start to get the orders in soon for Christmas 2022.
MN: I’m busy range-building for our amazon shop for Christmas 2022, expanding our 2021 gift range and trying to identify which of our new lines we hope will become our next online bestsellers!
Great answers! This has been so interesting; thanks for making time. We’ll start wrapping it up with this: what’s the one question I could’ve asked you but I didn’t?
AC: What did we have for breakfast?!
Ha! And what’s the answer?
AC: Big Coco Pops fans in my house. And lots of toast and jam.
MN: A bowl of nutty granola with fruit, and a big mug of mint tea!
Hark at you, Maddie! Putting me to shame! I had a stray smear of shaving foam! I’m going to buy some of these bowls though, see if I can improve on that. Thanks again!
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