The Brand Radar: Baileys, Carte D’Or and the thriving world of food and drink licensing

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at a raft of recent licensed food and drink launches, interrogating why this area of licensing is in such rude health.

One category of brand licensing that seems to be going from strength to strength is food and drink. Food and drink companies seem ever more alert to the potential that licensing brings them. The flow of rights goes in both directions, from licensing in to licensing out.

Companies like Unilever have long been awake to licensing and enjoy considerable success in this area with Marmite. Recently, Nairns launched a Marmite-flavoured oat cake, which is on sale in retailers like Sainsbury’s. This joins a line of other Marmite licensed food products such as rice cakes and nuts. The key here is that Marmite has a distinctive flavour and taste profile that translates well to other food products, making it an attractive proposition for new product development.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

For companies like Nairns, a development like this allows them to short circuit the development process by buying into a brand and a flavour. They are tapping into a powerhouse brand that is established at retail, is regularly promoted by the brand owner and, of course, has a loyal consumer following.

Other brands like Slush Puppie have used licensing proactively to play in new product categories and reach new distribution. Licensing programmes like theirs mix FMCG type licenses, such as confectionery, with signature licensed products like the Slush Puppie slush machine. This product has enjoyed considerable success at retailers like MenKind and Robert Dyas.

In this context, licensing is a tool that has helped the brand owner unlock the brand’s potential, while also raising its profile in the market. The Slush Puppie slush machines have created a lot of PR for the brand and the retail displays have been very visible. This is a marketing push that brands can’t often achieve by conventional means, nor have a budget to deliver this kind of coverage. This is one of the hidden benefits of licensing.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Another good example of a brand that has used licensing effectively to dial up its credentials in the food category is the restaurant brand Nando’s. They have licensed their brand into categories like sauces and seasonings. This has given them a strong presence in the grocery sector and created a great way of engaging with consumers beyond their restaurants. It also supports product categories that are able to deliver the unique Nando’s taste experience.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Reviewing a selection of recent launches and new product releases gives a good sense of the variety of developments in the category at the moment. Alcohol is a category that has seen a lot of brand licensing over the years. Brands such as Baileys, Guinness and Jack Daniels have licensed their brands into categories like composite gifting, confectionery, desserts and apparel.

Again, one of the reasons these brands have a foothold in licensing in the food sector is that they are high profile brands – but they also boast unique flavour profile. Licensing allows them to explore new ways of allowing consumers to experience the taste and flavour, while playing in as many relevant occasions as they can. Seasonal opportunities – like Christmas – are ones that suit licensing in particular, with the brands featuring in seasonal products such as pouring creams and frozen desserts.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Brands like Baileys haven’t stood still licensing-wise and seem committed to an ongoing programme of new launches. The brand recently partnered with Carte D’Or to create the Carte D’Or Baileys ice cream.

Jennifer Dyne, Head of Ice Cream for UK & Ireland at Unilever, the owners of Carte D’Or, gave a good insight into the motivation and thinking behind this partnership. She said: “Bringing together the number one premium desserts brand with one of the UKs most loved festive drinks is guaranteed to drive excitement in the ice cream aisle throughout this busy season – and creates a great opportunity for retailers to tap into a new premium dessert offering driven by two of Christmas’ most loved products.”

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

One can imagine that retailers will welcome this product launching in the run up to Christmas, although Unilever have indicated that this flavour will remain part of the Carte D’Or portfolio beyond the festive season. This is a good reminder that partnerships like this one can be quite time consuming to develop – given the emphasis on developing a product that delivers an ‘on brand’ flavour experience – so it isn’t a surprise that the product will be available beyond the festive period.

As well as these stalwarts of brand licensing, there has been a sharp increase in alcohol producers buying into licensing and licenses to develop new products. Arguably a key motivator here is the opportunity to leverage the power of an established brand to break into a competitive marketplace.

A couple of recent examples of developments like this are to be found in the gin category. TV chef James Martin has launched a gin under his own name, with the launch timed to capitalise on the Christmas season. Elsewhere, the RNLI have partnered with Salcombe Gin to launch the Four Seas gin, released to mark the RNLI’s 200th Anniversary. Given its location, the Salcombe Distilling Company is a good fit with the RNLI. A partnership like this gives them a platform for focused PR and marketing, and also works well at a local level in retail where the partnership can be communicated through POS materials.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Beyond James Martin, other celebrities have entered the drinks market… Cliff Richard has long been involved with a Portuguese vineyard who market wine under his name, while Graham Norton has his own range of wines. An interesting twist on this model is the success enjoyed by singer Kyle Minogue and Benchmark Drinks. They have developed a non-alcoholic sparkling wine under the Kylie branding. It was recently reported that Benchmark had sold over one million bottles in under 12 months and the wine is now acknowledged as the UK’s largest premium non-alcoholic sparkling wine.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

It’s also interesting to see how brands like Carling use brand partnerships to create new engagement for their brand. Carling are official partners of the FA Cup and have released a Limited Edition Can that features the FA Cup on the can.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Food and drink licensing is an area that the heritage sector have targeted for development as well. The Ashmolean Museum – part of the University of Oxford – recently announced a number of new licensing deals, including partnerships with Gibson’s Liqueurs and Jericho Coffee Traders. In both cases the producers have developed specific products under the Ashmolean brand with unique flavours and recipes. These are partnerships that have gone beyond a simple re-branding exercise of off the shelf product.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

These products join other pre-existing partnerships for the Ashmolean with companies such as Team Tea, Hook Norton Brewery and The Oxford Artisan Distillery. A motivator for the Ashmolean to be active in licensing is of course to generate income from the sale of licensed products, but it is also a way for them to showcase their collection of art and artefacts, shining a light on specific aspects of the collection.

In this regard, licensing provide a means of telling a story. Jericho Coffee have developed an Ashmolean coffee blend which is sold in a tin that features Turner’s painting of Oxford High Street which is on show at the Ashmolean. Jericho Coffee Traders have a coffee shop on the high street today and there is a long history of coffee houses being located on the high street. The product and the painting are a good way of celebrating this shared history.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Other museums such as the Natural History Museum are active in the food category. In their case, partners include Crème D’Or for a confectionery and chocolate range, while the National Gallery have a long-established food gifting range in Boots presented under the Delicious Art brand identity.

In general terms, the food gifting market is one that leans on food and drinks brands quite heavily to develop gift sets for retailers like Boots, Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda. Generally, these products combine a core food or drink component with a gift item, such as a mug. In the run up to Christmas, brands such as Guinness, Costa Coffee, Kellogg’s, Pot Noodle and Jack Daniel’s are very prominent in this category.

Interestingly, retailers have also noticed the power and potential of brand collaborations in the food category. A leading player in the retail market in this regard is Iceland. They have a noteworthy portfolio of brand partnerships in their business, including many they have used to create exclusive ranges with. Their brand partners include the likes of Greggs, TGI Fridays, Cathedral City and Harry Ramsden’s.

Recently they have partnered with confectionery company Mars to launch a range of frozen desserts on an exclusive basis featuring signature brands like Mars, Snickers, Bounty and Galaxy. This range of frozen desserts has been launched in the run up to the Christmas season a key selling period for Iceland; working exclusively with these kind of brands gives them a competitive edge while delivering innovative products.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Iceland use these licensing opportunities well, making sure their NPD is on brand, on trend and appealing to consumers. Of course, their products are also competitively priced. For Mars, it sees their brands being used creatively and secures retail visibility in a competitive trading period. It’s also a way of underpinning their brand’s heritage and building further brand equity.

Brands seem to be seeking out more limited-edition type partnerships these days – arguably as a way of cutting through communication wise and creating PR content that helps tell their story. A trio of recent examples give some insight into the thinking behind this strategy. The first is that Marmite has teamed up with Elton John to release a second limited-edition jar. The jar is being sold in Sainsbury’s with a contribution from sales going to the Elton John Foundation.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Elsewhere, Camden Town Brewery has joined forces with HP Sauce to create a limited-edition Brown Ale that replicates the tangy taste of HP sauce.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

Finally, Pukka Pies has developed a Christmas Der pie with Christmas chart toppers LadBaby. The pie is being sold exclusively in Tesco and includes a donation of 10p per pie to the Trussell Trust.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

All three of these partnerships have the potential to deliver brand visibility and help create brand content that can be used in consumer marketing. Trade-wise, they also deliver new engagement opportunities for a brand and – in a couple of cases – also offer an opportunity to build a retail relationship by developing exclusive products.

Another noteworthy recent launch has been McCormick launching a range of spices, meal kits and blends in association with TV chef Nadiya Hussain. This range launched initially in Asda and has subsequently rolled out into Tesco, Morrisons and Ocado. It was launched with a social media marketing campaign, in store displays and a consumer PR campaign.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

It’s a great example of how a well curated partnership with a well-chosen celebrity can be authentic and effective. Nadiya was fully involved in the development of the range creating the blends and mixes for the range based on her own culinary outlook. This allowed Schwartz to launch a product range that was unique, contemporary and on trend in regard to flavour profiles. By definition it gives them a unique proposition in a competitive marketplace and an opportunity to talk about flavour rather than price.

The product has been backed up with bespoke content, such as specially shot videos featuring Nadiya, that provide cooking tips, recipe ideas and money saving hacks. It’s a fully integrated campaign and a good case study of how licensing can be used effectively with the FMCG sector.

Rachel Pitman, Partnerships and Omnichannel Innovation Lead, EMEA at McCormick commented on the development process behind the range, saying: “Something both Nadiya and our team were set on was ensuring this was an authentic collaboration. Nadiya was involved in every step of the development – from spending days with our R&D team creating blends, tasting and creating new recipes, to reviewing how the products would actually look on shelf. The true collaboration here is the reason it’s such a success.”

Schwartz were probably also able to take some encouragement from other personality led FMCG ranges that preceded this one in the market. There is a history of personality brands thriving in the category, with product ranges featuring chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Loyd Grossman and Ainsley Harriott enjoying long-term success in the market. Indeed, these personality lead launches have in many ways evolved to be regarded as FMCG brands as opposed to celebrity brands, a measure of the potential this form of licensing has.

Ian Downes, Food & Drink

It will be interesting to see how this sector shapes up in the coming months. Based on recent launches, and some longer-term success stories, it’s a category with a lot of scope to it – but it’s also one that requires careful handling, with an emphasis on a bespoke, authentic, curated approach to product development.

It’s also one that offers FMCG brands an opportunity to amplify their brands and emphasise key brand attributes. Brands like Marmite, Baileys, Nando’s and Guinness have shown what can be possible when you decide to loosen the reins on a brand.

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