Just as licensed novelty candy has upped the candy category’s credibility with kids in recent years, a new breed of licensed beverages is bringing play value and collectibility to the juice category.
According to the Beverage Digest 2001 Fact Book, non-carbonated juice drinks represent a US$5.6-billion sector, and the market for licensed beverages appears to be growing. ‘We saw our overall volume grow from 63,000 cases at retail in 2000 to nearly a million in 2001,’ says Kathy VerEecke, VP of marketing at In Zone Brands. The licensed beverage division of Atlanta, Georgia-based housewares manufacturer In Zone was established four years ago after the company scored a surprise hit with a line of Looney Tunes character beverages for Warner Bros.’ Six Flags theme parks.
Licensor Universal Studios Consumer Products Group, which has been active in kids beverages with In Zone for the last two years, believes the category has a great deal of long-term potential. ‘The consumable category is one we love–it can sustain itself for years, so there’s tremendous upside,’ says Tim Rothwell, senior VP of merchandising and marketing at USCPG. ‘And you’re tapping into a potentially unlimited market because you get that repeat purchase that you don’t get with traditional licenses.’
In Zone Brands’ first retail venture involved the launch of BellyWashers, a line of licensed character drinks for kids ages four to 11. The company released a Scooby-Doo-branded test line in Atlanta Target stores in 1999, and AC Nielsen figures cited BellyWashers as one of the 10 fastest-selling juice/juice drink brands for the nine-week period that the Scooby drinks were available.
Shortly after rolling out nationally in 2000 at Target, Kroger, 7-Eleven, Texaco and Shell stores, the drinks were outselling veteran non-carbonated juice brands such as Minute Maid, SoBe and Kool-Aid Burst in 7-Eleven stores. Licenses for Power Rangers (then Saban, now Disney), The Grinch (Universal), Jurassic Park III (Universal), The Powerpuff Girls (Warner Bros.), Spider-Man (Marvel), Batman and Superman (both DC Comics) followed in 2000 and 2001.
But while licensed characters are what drew kids to the category initially, collectibility–boosted by introducing entirely new SKUs each quarter, by refreshing each set of characters after one year on the market, and by weaving limited-edition characters into existing SKUs–is what has built BellyWashers into a brand with staying power.
In June 2002, In Zone Brands will crib from the BellyWashers business plan to launch TummyTicklers, a new line for kids ages one to four. In deciding which licenses to pursue, ‘we go to kids and moms first, and then rely on the studios for current Q-scores, ratings, awareness levels and purchase-intent stats,’ says VerEecke. And since interactive beverages–in character-topped, dishwasher-safe, reusable bottles–are an emerging category, In Zone Brands also looks at how each property is performing in parallel categories (interactive for BellyWashers and bedding and apparel for TummyTicklers).
TummyTicklers will debut with a four-SKU line featuring characters from HIT’s Barney and Friends, Scholastic’s Clifford the Big Red Dog and Universal’s Curious George and The Land Before Time. And while BellyWashers is a 100% Vitamin C juice drink, TummyTicklers will go with a slightly different product strategy. ‘Because TummyTicklers is targeted at kids as young as 12 months, it’s a mom-driven purchase, not a kid-driven one,’ says VerEecke. ‘So it needed to be 100% real fruit juice with no added colors or flavors. We chose the top flavors for kids in that demo–apple/grape, fruit punch and strawberry/banana/apple–and aligned them with the four launch properties.’
Packaged in eight-ounce bottles featuring a patented no-drip closure, a tummy-like curve for an easy grip by smaller hands, and simple, rounded character toppers, TummyTicklers will also be interactive in an age-appropriate way. Bottle labels feature a game that parents and toddlers can play together. Web interactivity will also come into play, with plans for a TummyTicklers website in development. It won’t be as comprehensive as the BellyWashers site (www.bellywashers.com)–which invites kids to vote on new colors, flavors and other product features–but it will be host to a number of educational on-line games.
With BellyWashers featuring Butt-Ugly Martians (Universal), The Simpsons (Twentieth Century Fox) and Rudolph (Good Times Entertainment) slated to hit retail this summer and fall and a new TummyTickler license being finalized at press time, In Zone will focus on growing the two brands in 2002. As for future business development, plans for a line targeted at kids 10 to 14 are currently brewing.