In the (food and) drink with Richard Pink – Pink Key Licensing and the moveable feast of F&B licensing

Published on: 6th August 2020

Richard Pink and his Pink Key Licensing business has become almost synonymous with the food and beverage licensing market, with a portfolio ranging from Kellogg’s, Colman’s, and PG Tips through to the likes of Pringles, SLUSH PUPPiE, and who can forget The Laughing Cow?

But it’s by Pink’s own admission that this was never a deliberate move, but moreover a natural gravitation of the firm towards the kind of brands that have a story to tell. There’s a rich history of cultural affinity with brands like Kellogg’s, Colman’s, and PG Tips that is shared the world over that arguably places this particular trio in the bracket of heritage licensing, while Pringles, SLUSH PUPPiE, and The Laughing Cow (La Vache Qui Rit for our French speaking friends) certainly tap into today’s demand for brands of pop culture status.

No, it may not have been a deliberate move in Pink’s part to find the common thread that ties all of these brands – and the extended Pink Key Licensing portfolio of those outside of Food and Beverage licensing – together, but it was certainly a very smart one, curating a central hub for some of the most iconic brands to have dominated the supermarket aisles and homestead across the decades.

Here, catches up with Richard Pink, MD or Pink Key Licensing to talk about the latest trends in the Food and Beverage licensing space, the strength of the Pink Key Licensing portfolio within it, and what the future holds for the market.

It’s always enjoyable looking at the Pink Key portfolio for its Food & Beverage brands and those iconic names with real history. How would you summarise the Pink Key approach to F&B licensing?

Our focus on F&B licensing is a strategy which has evolved organically rather than deliberately. I think people have seen what we have done with Kellogg’s and SLUSH PUPPiE and begun to associate us with these types of brands. Having said that, we have developed a bit of a mantra as we’ve grown: we have to love the brand – genuinely; if we don’t love it, I don’t think we can make anyone else love it and we have to want to keep it in our portfolio forever.

Kellogg’s, Colman’s, and PG Tips arguably straddle both F&B and heritage/vintage thanks to their history and cultural role across the decades, while Laughing Cow, Pringles, and SLUSH PUPPiE are iconic in their own right. Is there a common theme for all of these brands? What do you look for in a brand?

That’s probably the third part of our mantra and something all our brands have in common: they all have a story to tell. Sometimes, as you say, this comes from the heritage of the brand but with a brand like SLUSH PUPPiE, although it plays on people’s memories, it’s still very much a contemporary brand and its story is all about what the brand is going to do in the future, where we can go and how it can develop. This is exactly the same as Babybel, The Laughing Cow and Pringles.

What are some of the key trends in F&B licensing at the moment, and how is the Pink Key portfolio tapping into these right now?

The trends for food and beverage licensing tend to be around particular eras, and luckily, we have access to a broad bank of artwork for each of our brands. As a result, we are able to allow licensees access to artwork by particular decades, for example.

Additionally, with SLUSH PUPPiE, we are very fortunate to work with the licensing agency in America, Design Plus, run by Carol Janet who has managed the brand globally and developed the style guide and assets for many years. As a result, we can be really proactive in developing artwork very quickly to reflect any trend that comes to the market.

What is the strength of the F&B licensing market like right now? Have you seen it evolve and grow over the last year, and how have events of recent months affected or influenced this market in particular?

The Food & Drink licensing market has been very strong now for a number of years. I think this is principally down to the depth and breadth of available assets. Retailers and licensees have become more aware of the amount of amazing artwork that is available because of the rich heritage of many of these brands. I think this is why the trend towards brands with strong logos and a large body of available art has been sustained over the last few years. The fact that interest in these brands has maintained has been extremely exciting for us and, although the lockdown has ‘paused’ things for everyone, I don’t see this changing.

What do you think the future looks like for the F&B licensing market coming out of this peculiar period? How responsive to this sector is retail at the moment, and how will this look going forward?

It’s very hard to say how the market will be affected by Covid and the lockdown, in the same way that it is difficult to predict this for any market sector. However, because of the rich heritage, I believe that consumers are likely to gravitate towards things they find familiar, and I believe inevitably this will have a positive effect for the food and drink licensing sector.

Can you talk us through some of the latest updates for the F&B portfolio, what have been some of the key partnerships you’ve lined up this year? Anything that’s taken you by surprise this year?

We’ve had an extremely strong year with all of our brands. I don’t think we are alone in looking into the possibilities of getting closer to the consumer through Direct to Consumer Print on Demand websites, to try and give ourselves an all year round presence as an additional distribution channel that will support our main business through licensees.

I always say that the brand in our portfolio that completely took me by surprise is SLUSH PUPPiE: we have been amazed by the consumer response and it seems to go from strength to strength driven primarily by the amazing work done by Fizz Creations and their ubiquitous SLUSH PUPPiE machine (available at all good retailers!) along with a range of accessories.

We have also been really pleased by the sales of Manchester Drinks frozen pouches, and we have some very exciting new licensees lined up for the brand who will be bringing product to market later this year.

There seems to have been plenty of activity surrounding The Laughing Cow over the course of 2019/2020 – why is this brand resonating the way it is, and what is the UK strategy for this one?

It’s still early days but the initial response we’ve had has been very positive, particularly in apparel. I believe it resonates because of the heritage and people’s positive associations with it, and the graphics are incredibly strong, but principally because the brand is so positive – it’s all about laughing, and we all need a laugh these days.

Also, we are delighted that our partners for SLUSH PUPPiE and ICEE in the US, Design Plus, have also been appointed as the US agent for the Laughing Cow – we work so well together and I think it’s going to be hugely positive for the brand and its programme.

What further developments in the F&B space can we expect from Pink Key this year and next?   

We are always looking at ways to strengthen our portfolio, but it has to meet the criteria that I outlined at the start. We do have a couple of ongoing conversations which are proving to be very positive indeed and hope to be able to make an announcement nearer to BLE about an addition to our portfolio.



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