Last year’s World Cup didn’t quite live up to the promise as far as merchandising went – for obvious reasons. But with the Royal Wedding nearly upon us, brands and retailers have another chance to strike gold. So who’s poised to cash in? Rob Brown reports

Ding dong the bells are going to chime… and so are the cash registers.

Coming hot on the heels of Easter, Wills and Kate’s big day will kick off the second four-day weekend on the trot and give brands and retailers a gilt-edged opportunity to clean up.

Incremental sales for supermarkets during the Royal Wedding week alone are set to top £360m, according to Verdict up 11% on a normal week. Supermarkets are stocking up on everything from bunting to cake stands to help the nation’s street parties go off with a bang.

Suppliers of booze, snacks and (weather permitting) barbecue food are also jumping on the great Royal Wedding bandwagon. And a veritable wedding party of brands are rushing to bring out limited-edition products whether they think demand has been sparked by genuine royalist fervour or not. But who will the big winners be? And is there a danger that for some the bandwagon will backfire?

A vast array of merchandise, ranging from the surprisingly tasteful through to the tongue-in-cheek to the downright tatty, is hitting retailers now. But this is small beer compared to the opportunities the event offers the food and drink industry. And it’s no surprise that the big drinks brands are leading the vanguard.

For one, Pimm’s o’clock will strike a lot earlier in 2011 than in previous years, according to Diageo.

“The push for Pimm’s starts in the beginning of April (the 4th to be precise) when it would normally start from mid May onwards,” says Diageo’s head of shopper marketing Louise Curran. “We have various brands that have a real relevance to the Royal Wedding. Pimm’s and Gordon’s Gin are obviously Great British brands in the eyes of consumers and we will be driving our whole portfolio with these brands.”

Diageo is expecting a 40% spirits sales surge over the Royal Wedding weekend, putting the occasion on a par with Easter second only to Christmas in terms of the sales opportunity it presents. To maximise their chances Diageo and Schweppes are forking out £2.5m on a joint campaign to promote combinations such as Pimm’s and lemonade and Gordon’s and tonic.

Limited-edition packages for specific retailers will also be unveiled for what Curran describes as the “bank holiday bonanza” and the supplier is planning to spend a total of £10m across its spirits this summer, a significant increase on last year’s spend.

Brewers are also banking on a sales uplift, of around £18m, according to Carlsberg. Overall, 900,000 more shoppers are expected to stock up on beer during the week, buying 2.8 litres each and spending £3.14 more per head. If the weather is good, the uplift could be even greater, adds Molson Coors UK sales director John Heynen, citing a study showing that for every 3C rise in temperature, beer sales climb 10%.

“The hotter it gets, the better it will be for grocers,” he says. “With the weather forecast fair, we expect many people to celebrate the five Bank Holidays over the Easter period and into May in their back gardens, providing a much-needed boon for grocers as customers opt for a cold beer.”

In some ways, the opportunities presented by the wedding are bigger than last year’s World Cup, says Carlsberg UK’s customer marketing director David Scott, and not just because of the fortuitous timing.

“It will be much more inclusive than the World Cup,” he says. “The grocers will be pretty aggressive in this area as they fight for share of trade. We are waiting for the grocers to agree exactly what they are doing in terms of promotions but I would expect their Easter deals to be continued if they don’t differentiate the deals from one week to another.”

The opportunities go beyond simply driving sales during the festivities. By jumping on the bandwagon, brands are hoping to win more consumers and to make existing ones more loyal which is why they are only too happy to exploit the royal link, no matter how tenuous it is.

With some, there seems to be no link at all, but that’s not stopping them. Big D nuts is giving retailers the chance to mark the Big Day with four free packs, for instance; Drambuie has brought out an unofficial royal cocktail and Anchor Butter is offering two for one on afternoon tea on limited-edition packs.

Other brands are wrapping themselves up in the flag, literally. Country Life Butter has added the Union Jack to its packaging, the Queen’s own chocolatier, Prestat, has launched a special range of truffles in Union Jack boxes (though it missed out on providing the favours for the actual wedding that honour has gone to rival Choc on Choc) and Rowse Honey has launched an all-British wildflower honey packaged in a special collectors’ pot.

“As a British company we wanted to be involved with this,” says Rowse marketing manager Kirstie Jamieson. “Easter is a good period for honey and, with the Royal Wedding dovetailing this, it should sell well. But this is more strategic than that and very much about our visibility as a British brand. It’s also allowed us to get greater short-term distribution in retailers like Tesco and Waitrose.”

And what about the retailers? How big an opportunity do they believe the wedding is? Opinions are split. In the pro camp are the likes of Morrisons and Tesco.

“It’s going to be big people will be taking advantage of having the two big weekends together and taking 11 days’ holiday,” contends Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips, adding that the retailer’s Let’s Celebrate campaign, which will be backed by new TV ads fronted by Freddie Flintoff, was specifically designed to encompass Mother’s Day, Easter and the Royal Wedding.

A spokesman for Tesco, which is doing a nice little line in Union Jack Afro wigs for the big day, describes the event as “a once-in-a-generation celebration”.

Not all are in such a celebratory mood, however. “It’s not a sales opportunity in any meaningful way,” said Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King last week at a trading update, citing bank holiday restrictions on opening hours (though this hasn’t stopped the retailer stocking up on items such as a limited-edition Wedding Cake Ice Cream and a special commemorative pie).

Some analysts agree that the extra cost of staying open for a shorter period of time and the wedding’s proximity to the Easter weekend could dampen the occasion for the supermarkets. Others, however, believe King is just covering his back.

“I’d take Justin King’s comments with a pinch of salt; he’s managing expectations after his sales were less than robust in the past quarter,” says Neil Saunders, consulting director at Verdict. “The restrictions on opening hours won’t have an impact. People will just buy their food and drink in a shorter period of time. The supermarkets need to capitalise on that and put effort in to make the most of it.”

As for the brands, even for those with a limited or no presence in the major retailers, there are still opportunities, many of them overseas.

“Nearly everyone in the world is going to be talking about the Royal Wedding, so there are long-term sales opportunities for British brands that have an association with the occasion,” says Nir Wegrzyn, MD of design agency BrandOpus, which worked on the Rowse special edition.

Royal Wedding mania is perhaps at its most extreme in the States, where Britain’s only tea producer Tregothnan Tea is shipping much of its special Royal Wedding blend. According to tea barista Joe Trewellard, the robust blend is “more English than English Breakfast tea”.

“We’ve sent some to our distributors in America they’re going crazy about the wedding in the States,” he adds.

On the downside, the Royal Wedding bandwagon is starting to look pretty full. There’s a real risk that some brands could end up overplaying the patriotism card, believe some experts.

“There’s the opportunity for brands to get it spectacularly wrong,” claims Philip Slade, planning director at Saatchi & Saatchi X. “There are websites like Royal Wedding Tat that are already highlighting the more hamfisted efforts. It’s very important for brands to maintain their integrity and remain true to themselves.”

For those who find it all a little too hard to swallow, there’s always the commemorative Throne Up Sick Bags (available online). But for the rest of the nation, royalist or not, it should be the perfect occasion for a good old knees up.

Wedded bliss… or miss

Okay, so they’re not British bubbles. But then the Royals wouldn’t quaff anything other than real Champagne on such a special occasion.

Now the hoi polloi can celebrate the big day in style with a special limited-edition Prince William Champagne from wine merchant Chalié Richards. Available in Tesco and independent wine shops, bottles go for £25 a pop.

Apparently Wills and Kate are suckers for them. That’s why Haribo came up with its latest range, Hearts & Rings and Other Nice Things, to celebrate the happy couple’s big day. MD Herwig Vennekens says the range - including gummy mainstays friendship rings and heartthrobs, as well as some new treats - “celebrates love and friendship”. How sweet.

Toastabags are calling on royalist toastie munchers to “Toast the Royal Couple” (groan) with this blatant bit of Royal Wedding bandwagon- hopping. Trouble is, the pictures emblazoned on the bags are barely recognisable as the royal couple (Is that Wills or Harry?). And the images don’t even transpose to the bags’ contents either. Unlikely to be the toast of the town.

There’s not much that’s more British than a hearty pie. Pieminister’s special commemorative pie is packed full of British beef, wine, bacon, pearl onions, mushrooms and a dash of (probably not British) brandy. Even if the dish available exclusively at Sainsbury’s isn’t quite to Royal tastes, it’s likely to prove a hit at street parties with some mash and liquor. Lovely.

Not only does Hobgoblin bill itself as the Unofficial Beer of Halloween, it also says it’s the Unofficial Beer of Weddings, claiming it was first made for a local landlord’s daughter’s nuptials. Instead of brewing a special beer for the day, Hobgoblin is running a contest to win a £20k Medieval “alternative” wedding on the same day as Wills and Kate’s. What a subversive little imp.

More beer
While the lager brewers are mostly looking to stack them high and sell them cheap during the wedding weekend, more than a dozen ale brewers from around the country have launched special-edition brews to mark the big day. Jennings’ Kiss Me Kate Ale (4% abv) has been brewed using only British barley and hops and is available in Asda stores across the country.

McVitie’s has already struck marketing gold after Wills asked them to make his favourite chocolate biscuit cake to mark the day. It has also launched a special-edition biscuit tin. Thing is, the design looks more Queen Mum than Kate, “Queen of Style” . It also looks disturbingly like another special product. And you wouldn’t want to mix it up in the dark with the ‘Crown Jewels’ (see below).

Rowse is all abuzz about its new limited-edition honey, which has helped it win greater shelf space in Tesco and Waitrose. The set wildflower honey, gathered especially for the big day from British bees only, is “fit for royalty”, according to Britain’s biggest honey producer. Yet it won’t break the bank. It comes in its own specially designed collectable jar and retails for £3.69.

Country Life brand ambassador Johnny Rotten has been less than kind about Wills’s granny in the past, but that hasn’t stopped the butter brand getting involved with the wedding of the year. Country Life, made exclusively from British milk, is looking to trumpet its patriotic credentials with limited edition packaging with a Union Jack at its heart.

This special edition from Crown Jewels, “purveyor of heritage love sheaths”, come in “heirloom collectors’ boxes” with a portrait of the happy couple, and combine the “strength of a prince with the yielding sensitivity of a princess-to-be”. They’re available only online but take care - if you do decide to lie back and think of England, they don’t actually work for the purpose intended.