Push a cart through a grocery aisle these days and chances are you’ll see more and more product with a kids entertainment property plunked firmly on the label. Licensors have taken notice of the food category as a means for increasing both the longevity and popularity of their properties. And, according to some licensing agents, this category, although small, is on the rise.
‘[Food licensing] has become one of the biggest areas of opportunity I have seen in quite some time,’ says Carole Francesca, president of the Broad Street Licensing Group of New York, who goes on to predict that it has yet to plateau.
Although no specific numbers are currently available, Nancy Bailey, president of Miami, Florida-based corporate licensing and consulting services Nancy Bailey & Associates, roughly calculates that entertainment property-branded food accounts for about six percent of the general licensing market. However, if it includes the types of novelty confectionery that are sold at retailers like Toys `R’ Us, that figure could shoot up to 10%, according to Francesca.
In Europe, licensed foods are also doing well in some countries, particularly in the U.K. ‘It’s grown enormously in the last three to four years,’ says Richard Hollis, department head of licensing at BBC Worldwide. ‘It’s become more widely acceptable. People are much more used to buying character foods.’ Riccarda Kolb, spokesperson with Germany’s EM.TV & Merchandising, says EM.TV has seen a growth in this area, estimating it to be around five to seven percent of the general licensing market in Europe.
In North America, core categories that are really working for kids properties are not the ‘healthy’ ones. Candy, fruit snacks, frozen foods and cakes are all hot, says Francesca. Elie Dekel, Saban Consumer Products’ executive VP of consumer products and promotions, agrees, saying licensees in the U.S. are doing a lot of candy and snack products that will add to kids entertainment value. In his opinion, food licensing in the U.S. has indeed grown ‘to some extent’ in recent years.
Branded food licensing falls into two categories, according to licensing agents-short-term food licensing, which is usually part of an overall promotional strategy, and long-term food licensing, which occurs when licensees create a foodstuff based on a popular character.
Dekel says getting a character onto a fruit snack or yogurt is an important tool in being heard and noticed by kids above the constant media babble. ‘It speaks to a need to permeate a kid’s lifestyle.’
Saban has branched out of the traditional candy and snack food categories to more novel ones like pastas. After the success of canned Power Rangers- and Mystic Knights-shaped pasta by Franco American last year, Dekel says there are plans for NASCAR Racers-shaped pastas this year.
Saban has done character licensing on products that span many different grocery store shelves, another strategy to get kids tugging at parents’ sleeves for branded products. The mix includes everything from cereals to a planned Power Rangers juice Dekel hopes will be a good competitor against the Snapples and Nesteas of the world. The main thing is to make a match that gives a property enough resonance to be on the shelf for several years, he says, or to round out a strategic promotional program by pairing packaging with sweepstakes.
Universal Studios Consumer Products is taking steps to grow its food and beverage licensing initiatives, says Torrie Dorrell, VP of licensing for the division. Dorrell says where Universal’s licensing deals used to be mainly short-window promotions for film-based properties, the company is now looking to sign licensees for classic characters in categories like breakfast bars, cereals, cookies and bottled water-in short, anything that’s available in the grocery store that has long-term shelf possibilities. The most recent example is a pancake mix and syrup by Vermont-based Bascom-Elray that sports Curious George, one of Universal’s classic characters. Dorrell adds that food and beverage licensees have been especially interested in the upcoming Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas flick. One of Universal’s top priorities will be to grow this category, she says, because it has been relatively untapped for long-term licensing deals.
Something to consider when moving into food licensing with your property is that the lead time for testing can be longer for new products in this category than in most others. Licensors must ask themselves if the property has the longevity to still be buzzing by the time the product hits shelves. The average time span from concept of a new branded food to shelf is around one year to 18 months (depending on the product) because of FDA testing and regulations. Just putting an entertainment brand on an existing label usually takes around three to six months.
Francesca notes that it’s important to make sure the product really matches the character. One way to accomplish this is by picking foodstuffs that look visually similar to the property. Arriving at mass market mid-month, for example, is a new line of Jellabies candies by Toronto-based Trebor Allen (owned by worldwide food licensor Cadbury Schweppes) that are brightly colored like the characters in the show. Another way to make sure the property and the type of food are a good match is by sharing physical characteristics of the property. Mike Carlisle, president of Jellabies Canadian sub-licensing agent Telegenic Licensing, says it’s likely Telegenic will also grant a gelatin license, partially because the characters in the show move like jiggly Jell-O.
Both Dekel and Francesca note that retailers will first and foremost want to have an established relationship with the food manufacturer before considering stocking licensed food. She adds that companies wanting to establish their properties as classic brands will go at food licensing more slowly and seriously, trying out one or two foods first and then extending the brand, so the property itself becomes synonymous with the food product.
In Europe, there are other factors to consider. Christian Maass, head of sales at MM Merchandising Mönchen, says shelf space in Europe is expensive because companies have to pay ‘listing fees’ to launch new products and because unsuccessful products will be thrown off the shelves. Thus, pains must be taken to ensure the brand has enough longevity. Maass calls the development of branded kids foods ‘steady’ at about one to three percent of the general licensing market in his country, saying he hasn’t seen a real rise.
Jean-Michel Biard, president of V.I.P. Licensing in Paris, reports that entertainment-based food licensing is not on the increase in France, but says he hopes for a growth and agrees that it’s ‘very strong in the U.K. and Germany.’ He estimates that entertainment property food licensing currently makes up about one to two percent of the licensing industry in France and adds that foods like dairy products do well. The categories that V.I.P. has entered into include milk, yogurt and ice cream. Recent licensees include Snoopy milk by France-based Orlait, and a Snoopy cheese product with Fromageries Bel/Babybel cheese.
Over in the U.K., the story is a little more appetizing. BBC Worldwide, the agent for Teletubbies in the U.K., has been stocking Teletubby foods since 1998. Kids can now enjoy Tubby Toast and pink Tubby Custard. Richard Hollis, department head of licensing, says because products like the four-pack of Tubby custard have sold in the millions, other types of products are coming out, including Teletubbies Fruit Snacks by U.K.-based Whitworths (available this month) and new Kinnerton Confectionery chocolate eggs and jellies for Easter. Most of the Teletubbies products licensed by BBC Worldwide have no additives or have additional vitamins, which is important to consumers and for maintaining the integrity of the brand, says Hollis. He says food now accounts for approximately 20% of the property’s royalties in the U.K.
Hollis says in the U.K., like in the U.S., he has also seen a wider acceptance of other licensed foods. In his view, what was once limited to confectionery and birthday cakes is changing to a more well-rounded approach to food licensing.
Perhaps more popular in Europe and Asia than in the North American market are products like branded meats, cheeses and even eggs. Why the difference? According to many licensing companies, it simply comes down to different food culture.
‘Food is a wonderful category to get into, but it is a frightening category. It can come back and explode in your face,’ says Francesca.