Health is becoming top of the agenda for the character licensing market, says James Durston

An accurate figure for food and drink’s share of the UK’s total £7bn licensed market, where a manufacturer pays for the right to use another company’s brand, is “like the holy grail”, according to one source.
Analysts estimate though that the sector’s sales compete with character sales for clothing and toys, the two top categories that use characters, which, according to NPD Europe’s Licence Tracker, are £507m and £472m respectively. But licensed sales follow general retail trends, according to the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association, and so the food sector’s share of the market is not likely to be seeing great growth.
In addition, the debate surrounding children’s health has limited the opportunities. The BBC pulled out of licensing of everyday unhealthy products last year and now only signs up to occasion-based treats such as birthday cakes and Easter eggs. The popularity of BBC characters such as Teletubbies, Tweenies, Fimbles and Balamory means this has been a blow to some suppliers.
BBC spokesman Richard Hollis says: “This has had an impact on our commercial profit and some manufacturers have been disappointed. But we thought it was time to take a lead and to maintain the trust parents have in the BBC.”
Instead the BBC will look at healthier foods low in salt, sugar and fat. Licences for the Tweenies and Balamory characters, for example, consistently the most popular BBC characters for pre-schoolers, according to Hollis, now include a frozen steamed vegetable line and a reduced-sugar fromage frais.
Other licensors are expected to follow their lead. Sam Phillips, editor of License! Europe magazine, which is on show at the Brand Licensing expo on October 25-26, says: “Health is very much a part of people’s strategy and they are thinking very carefully about the things they licence.”
Indeed, although traditional character licensing is working well for some - Nestlé Rowntree’s three Wonka bars have passed sales of £5.8m in the 10 weeks since the opening of the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Wensleydale Creamery has quadrupled its
turnover to more than £16m in the 10 years since it signed up cheese lovers Wallace and Gromit - one of the biggest themes of the next few years is expected to be health, driven by the brand owners.
Claire Shaw, head of consumer products at Entertainment Rights, which owns properties such as Postman Pat, Basil Brush and He-Man, says: “We wouldn’t do a deal with something that is unhealthy unless it is on an occasional basis and is portion-controlled.”
Christina MacPhail, territory manager at Chorion, brand owner of Noddy and the Mr Men, adds: “One of the key areas at the moment is dairy. It is the most appropriate category for kids if you’re looking to sell product and satisfy health demands.”
The Mr Men and Little Miss brands recently celebrated their 35th anniversary and Chorion is looking for licensees for these new characters. Noddy is already being used to promote an organic range of dairy products from Highgrove Foods.
Confectioners are tapping in to the health trend, too, either advertising free-from characteristics as specialist licensees Bon Bon Buddies and Kinnerton do, or offering promotions such as free swimming sessions, as Kinder is doing with SpongeBob SquarePants.
But the character licensing