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Collaborations In Style at Licensing Expo image

Collaborations In Style at Licensing Expo

Collaborations were on trend at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, stretching to leave few categories untouched.

Collabs—limited-time offers that typically last for a year or less and are designed as much to burnish a brand’s image as to drive sales—have long been part of the licensing playbook. Increasingly, however, they have become standard operating procedure in new and unexpected categories.

Kraft Heinz, for example, last year paired its Claussen pickle brand with canned wine cocktail Spiritz for a 1,000-unit production run of 8.4-ounce Spiritz Society Pickle by Claussen drinks. Kraft paid for the marketing costs and the success of the promotion (the limited run sold out in three days) turned into a license for products that will be sold seasonally, a new batch of which was released on May 1st.

The collaboration also prompted Kraft to consider other alcohol-related promotions for labels like Crystal Light, no small feat for a company that prides itself on family-oriented brands, said Charter Foster, Senior Manager for Licensing at Kraft.

Talking Rain Beverage Company paired its sparkling water brand Sparkling Ice with Mars Wrigley’s Starburst brand, selling the range on at $27 for a nine-pack of 17-counce bottles. The collab has generated $3 million in sales since launching earlier this year. It also prompted some grocers to cross-merchandise the drink in the candy aisle, near Starburst.

“Companies like these collaborations because of the number of impressions they generate with each drop. In fact, brand managers sometimes care more about that than actual sales,” a licensing executive said. “In some categories like footwear, there are so many collaborations that it can get saturated. The trick is keeping the revenue stream going for one month to a year—depending on the promotion—while also constantly planning ahead for the next collaboration.”

That is not to say every collab works. In 2022, Kraft tied its Real Mayo brand to the Juicy Couture label for a deep blue plush velour tracksuit that was dubbed a “smooth lover’s collection” and struggled to get retail placement.

And even when collaborations are having the desired result, that doesn’t always mean more is better. In the footwear space, Ground Up—which is opening a new showroom in New York on June 3rd—is narrowing the number of licensed children’s footwear collections it launches at specialty retailers like Foot Locker to two at a time (down from as many as 10), said Gabrielle Correale, Director of Marketing at Ground Up.

“We noticed that fans want a smaller assortment to choose from because, when consumers come in for back-to-school [shopping], they aren’t going to buy three or five pairs of shoes,” Correale said. “They are going to pick one or two. So, it will be a small group of licensed footwear that we can spread over the course of the year. It will be narrower assortments that provide more for the fans and consumers, versus giving them 10 licensed brands to choose from and not seeing the results on our or the retailers’ end.”

Ground Up has dozens of licenses, including those for Pokémon and Super Mario, and moving forward seeks to expand to partner with food and beverage brands.

And while some may see the recent increase of collaborations as nearing a saturation point (especially across apparel and footwear, which have long been popular for collabs), that isn’t preventing new companies and categories from entering the fray.

Jazwares licensed See’s Candies for Squishmallows to launch gift boxes in October in See’s stores as well as online. Jazwares also has an agreement for a new Squishmallows cereal, a company spokesperson said. And BBC Studios has licensed  British meal kit company Gousto for a range of family dinner recipes inspired by the preschool brand Bluey.

“Food is an extension of when a brand can become a lifestyle and we are aiming to be part of all the key moments beyond toys and move into everyday life,” said Suzy Raia, SVP Consumer Products and Business Development at BBC Studios. “Brands traditionally spend their time, energy, and marketing dollars to promote their own brand but when they collaborate, that is when you see lifestyle moments.”

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