Pasta has taken a real shine to character licensing, with a range of shapes being used to tempt youngsters’ tastebuds

The interest shown in character licensing is not limited to the obvious categories. Fresh food is not big in terms of long-term character licensing, but it does attract promotional activity. Noddy and Barbie have both been used in the past to promote fresh fruit on a short-term basis.
And cereals can often benefit from character promotions. Kellogg is using Winnie the Pooh for its Hunny B cereal, while Buxton Foods has signed up Peter Rabbit for a range of organic lines.
Even vitamins have got in on the act. Bio-Synergy recently launched a range of children’s vitamins in kiwi, blackcurrant and orange flavours using the Marvel Heroes characters, such as The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man in a bid for more responsible character licensing.
But it is pasta that has taken a real shine to character licensing. Premier Foods’ HP will be producing Peter Rabbit canned pasta, made from wholewheat pasta, with no sugar and low salt.
Heinz is also taking a closer look at its character strategy. Nathan Ansell, pasta brand manager at Heinz, says: “The main area in which we license characters is within our tinned pasta portfolio.
We now have eight of the top 10 licensed shapes and our share has risen from 56% to 61% in the weeks post launch [IRI]. We have also brought back Alphabetti, which is now the biggest seller in the category.”
Heinz uses Disney Princess, Winnie the Pooh, Thomas the Tank Engine, Tweenies, Spider-Man and The Simpsons. Fun Foods 4 All launched The Simpsons dried pasta last year and followed this up with a Scooby-Doo version this year.
Many other categories are starting to see the value in character licensing. The celebration cakes market for character products is worth £26.3m [TNS] and Greencore (Wallace and Gromit and King Kong) has taken advantage of this.
A Yoplait’s Frubes tie-up with Star Wars will coincide with the DVD launch of the latest film. And MDC Frozen Foods has teamed up with the BBC’s Tweenies for frozen steamed vegetables for children. Sometimes a relationship just clicks. Nestlé Rowntree launched three chocolate Wonka bars this year to tap in to the marketing and publicity of the film of Roald Dahl’s children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
So far sales on the three SKUs have passed £5.8m and the success has been such that the lines have been continued beyond the usual four-week period after the film launch, in which most one-off licences derive the majority of their sales.
The DVD launch in November will kick-start things again just in time for Christmas, says sales communications manager Graham Walker. “The longevity is comfortably until the end of this year, but we are thinking about how we can use the Wonka brand next year too. The success is there because it’s not only the kids that are buying the product, it’s their mums and dads who know the book and saw the film the first time round.”
But despite making most of the noise this year, Nestlé Rowntree is not the biggest component where it counts - in seasonal periods. Kinnerton and Bon Bon Buddies have
just as much to say in these key character sales periods.
The Christmas character market last year was worth £13.65m, according to ACNielsen. Kinnerton held 48% of this and Bon Bon Buddies held 42%. The Easter egg market is more competitive. Worth £8.38m, Kinnerton took 34%, Nestlé took 33% and Bon Bon Buddies took 32%. Although Nestlé will continue its Wonka brand over Christmas, it will also be taking a leaf out of these character specialists’ books by using classic evergreen characters that are guaranteed to sell over the long term.
Disney Princess and Winnie the Pooh, which are described by Walker as having “permanent longevity”, will be the biggest licences for Nestlé this Christmas. It will offer a Princess dressing mirror on a pack of Nestlé products as well as Winnie the Pooh-shaped chocolate bars, tinned chocolates and easel board selection packs.
Meanwhile, Kinnerton will roll out its usual characters, which include The Simpsons, Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine, but is also offering advent calendars using Jaqueline Wilson characters and will offer Trollz, the haircare characters from the BBC aimed at six to nine-year-old girls, while Bon Bon Buddies will roll out Bratz, My Little Pony and Scooby-Doo.
Films will continue to drive peaks in sales though, and next Easter Nestlé will tie up with the Disney film Chicken Little, offering an insider egg (one egg inside another), an egg plus Smarties and an egg with a Chicken Little toy. Kinnerton has signed the licences for Ice Age 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Super-Man, all of which are due to be released next year.
Nestlé is also bringing out Easter lines using Disney Princess, Winnie the Pooh and Bratz (an egg with a Bratz toy). Bon Bon Buddies will be offering a Bratz Easter egg, but without a toy.
Smaller confectioners include House of Dorchester, which has started a range using Paddington Bear that includes a chocolate bar, tinned confectionery and a pictorial chocolates pack, while Haribo has updated its Pez sweet dispensers using Bratz and Star Wars characters.
Kinnerton’s marketing director, Rachel Wyatt, is keen to expand outside children’s characters. Next year it will offer Little Britain Easter eggs for an older age group. She says: “With Little Britain, we’re trying to tap into a very hot, quirky theme. It won’t be anywhere as big as the kids’ sector, but there is room for it as a novelty product.”