Big brands have struggled to cast a spell on licensing deals. Simon Mowbray reports
What a difference a year makes. In our analysis of confectionery this time last year, Harry Potter was the buzzword for massive sales potential and speculation was rife about who was going to magic a deal with impending blockbuster The Lord of the Rings.
Backed by comments from marketing experts, we boldly predicted Masterfoods' tie-up with the schoolboy wizard was on the verge of making "confectionery merchandising history".
Cadbury later joined the fray by winning the rights to Tolkien's fantasy epic, but apart from one minor dalliance into this year's Easter market (see page 74), its performance remains impossible to track as yet.
Masterfoods, however, has now had more than enough time to generate some data, although critics suggest it does not make great reading.
Indeed, sales figures so far appear to suggest that Masterfoods' association with Hogwarts' star pupil has not been anywhere near as magical as predicted, although it should be noted the company itself was cautious not to make any predictions at launch.
The latest number crunching from Information Resources shows that sales of Harry Potter Bertie Botts Beans in the 52 weeks to August 11 edged just over the £3.2m mark across all outlets, with Harry Potter Chocolate frogs coming in at just under £4.4m. Latecomer Harry Potter Sherbert Lemons, launched earlier this year, has yet to pass the £1m mark.
Masterfoods, however, insists that it is more than happy with the range's progress and stresses that it is still in for the long haul with Harry Potter.
During its five-year deal it will aim to be up to speed with new products as each new film and book is released.
"This has been our first major licensing deal so we are still on a learning curve," says Sam McElligott, Masterfoods' trade relations manager. "We still believe Harry Potter is a perfect vehicle for us."
Meanwhile, Nestl駳 Willy Wonka range can't exactly be accused of bombing.
Yet all but one of the Wonka offerings has experienced a downturn in fortunes, according to Information Resources, with even second bestselling line Willy Wonka Nerds suffering a £140,000 dip at the checkout as sales fell to just under £1.15m.
Again, Nestlé £laims the Wonka licence has been a long-term success for the company and, indeed, it has the figures to back its claim.
Yet, while neither Masterfoods nor Nestlé £an be accused of getting its distribution or marketing pushes wrong, there is an apparent downturn, or at least a slowdown, in consumers' hunger for licensed products.
Market analyst Mintel has just completed a study of the world of licensed goods and points to trends that retailers and manufacturers will have to take notice of if they are to stay ahead of the game.
First, it highlights the fact that the hike in the child population as a result of the baby-boomer era peaked in 1998 with the numbers of character-friendly five to nine-year-olds having declined between 1998 and 2001.
Also, it points out that children today are "qualitatively different" from previous generations in terms of their attitudes and motivations, with today's kids having more mature tastes.
The trend, dubbed Kids Growing Older, Younger (KGOY) suggests that today's children may be just as likely to seek out a perceived adult treat, such as a Mars bar, as they are a character-licensed alternative.
"A possible downside (to this trend) is that KGOY may entail children rejecting character concepts as passé ¡s they aspire to more grown-up fodder," states the Mintel report. "Characters such as Winnie the Pooh or Tweenies are likely to be reviled by five to nine-year-olds as for babies'," it adds.
Looking ahead to 2005, the report admits the future is "even less encouraging" on the demographic front with the baby to 14-year-old population set to drop below 11 million for the first time in years.
However, Mintel is boldly predicting that the forecast need not necessarily lead to grim reading in licensing sales ledgers, although it admits that a projected 7.8% decline in the numbers of five to nine-year-olds over the next three years is "certainly not a positive trend".
Indeed, although admitting that manufacturers will have to "work harder at increasing spend per child", Mintel is actually forecasting that the UK market for total character-licensed and merchandised goods could still grow above its current estimated level of £4.5bn, of which confectionery undoubtedly accounts for a major share.