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Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at the upcoming launch of Budweiser popcorn from Joe & Seph’s, and how the firm is using brand collaborations to drive innovation in the category.
One thing I have missed during Lockdown has been attending trade shows. I’ve always found them to be a great source of new ideas and contacts for licensing.
Over recent years, I have been a frequent attendee at trade shows across a broad spectrum of industries including gardening, gifting, greetings cards and gourmet food. While meeting some bloke from a licensing agency is arguably not the top priority for trade show exhibitors, in most cases they’re happy to have a chat, exchange cards and follow up at a later date. Of course, you have to choose your moment when to engage with an exhibitor and accept that a trade sale trumps a licensing enquiry!
It was on one of my trade show visits that I first became aware of popcorn firm Joe & Seph’s. They were in their early stages when I first saw them but have developed into a brand of note in recent years. I remember chatting to them about licensing and receiving a very polite rebuff to my idea. At the time, I think they had just launched their official Marmite flavoured popcorn. This product is still part of their range, which suggests it’s proved a good seller and that Unilever – the owner of Marmite – is happy with the partnership.
A key point about licensing Marmite in the food category is that the licensed product has to deliver the distinctive Marmite taste and flavour consistently. Matching Marmite with popcorn was an innovative move and seemingly one that has worked taste-wise.
I read recently that Joe & Seph’s had partnered with beer brand Budweiser to develop Budweiser Gormet popcorn. The firm has already developed a number of beer-inspired variants – including Pale Ale, Irish Stout and German Weissbier – but developing an official Budweiser product is another bold move.
Joe & Seph’s pride themselves on the quality and distinctiveness of their product. Their website sets out what they feel as their USPs in product terms: all of their popcorn is handmade in England, they air-pop the kernels used in production and use all-natural ingredients. They are also keen to stress that they offer an extensive and innovative range, while also describing how their cooking technique means that flavours are unlocked as the consumer crunches on the popcorn.
With flavour and innovation being so key to their product offering, it’s no surprise they dip into licensing from time to time. In this context, licensing can be a gateway to distinctive flavours and taste, as well as creating a degree of exclusivity that non-licensed developments can’t deliver.
Brands like Marmite and Budweiser are supersized ones that deliver a consumer audience. They also provide a narrative from which a licensee like Joe & Seph’s can build a social media campaign, coupled with trade engagement. It’s a good news story to take to the market.
For a brand owner like Budweiser, this deal is unlikely to be financially driven. I suspect Budweiser’s motivation is about finding new and engaging ways to connect with consumers. They are also no doubt keen to see Budweiser featuring in new social occasions and situations. Joe & Seph co-founder Adam Sopher was quoted in The Grocer recently observing that: “As a result of households spending more time on the sofa over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a substantial increase in sales of our Gourmet Popcorn pouches.” One can imagine that Budweiser would want to be part of this home consumption trend.
Working with Budweiser is not the first time that Joe & Seph’s have partnered with beer brands. Previously they have linked with marketing mavericks Brewdog. In the case of Brewdog, Joe & Seph’s didn’t go down the route of using Brewdog brands to create a range. Interestingly, they collaborated with Brewdog to develop a couple of products that can be paired with signature Brewdog products. One of these is Brewdog’s Punk IPA with a pairing popcorn flavour of Madras Curry with Lime & Black Onion seed. The other is a Goats Cheese & Black Pepper popcorn paired with Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club.
Working with Brewdog undoubtedly created a lot of noise as Brewdog are past masters of owning the PR moment. It also reinforces the idea that popcorn can be consumed on a range of occasions, including when consuming alcohol.
One of Joe & Seph’s great successes has been to broaden the reach of popcorn and consumption occasions. Licensing and partnerships certainly help with this goal. A further example of Joe & Seph’s innovative approach to licensing is their 007 James Bond Dry Martini – described as ‘007’s iconic cocktail, only POPPED not stirred, with a license to thrill.’ The product is infused with 5% real Gin & Vodka and a twist of lemon; a very authentic product and ‘on brand’ Bond-wise.
Again, it is unlikely that EON Productions engaged with this opportunity thinking about the financial return. Their motivation will be around things like the creative message that a product like this sends out, consumer engagement and also enhancing the film watching experience – whether at home or in a cinema. Film companies are always looking at new ways of promoting films and having your own gourmet popcorn is a very novel way of shining a light on a film.
Joe & Seph’s are a great example of a company that has embraced licensing and partnerships without being overwhelmed by it. They take a very careful approach and choose only to work on brands that fit their ethos, with product quality and a consistency of delivery important to them as well.
I noticed they have also partnered with Michelin star chefs Michel and Alan Roux on a Caramelised Ginger & Lemongrass flavour. This release coincided with the opening of a new Roux restaurant in Edinburgh. It’s a great example of how a product collaboration can be part of a marketing programme and help create impetus.
While I failed in selling my idea to Joe & Seph’s, I am encouraged to see their ongoing success. It reassures me I can still spot a good company and one that has recognised the value of brand partnerships. Crunching on popcorn will never be the same again!
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