Grocers: Creative Frontier for Licenses

Supermarkets, a highly sought-after channel in the licensing world, have the freedom to be more creative than mass merchandisers, said speakers at the Licensing International Expo 2007, held late last month. In discussing licenses for children's merchandise, toy industry executives said there are a number of licenses and products kids relate to that aren't represented at mass merchandisers.

NEW YORK — Supermarkets, a highly sought-after channel in the licensing world, have the freedom to be more creative than mass merchandisers, said speakers at the Licensing International Expo 2007, held here late last month.

In discussing licenses for children's merchandise, toy industry executives said there are a number of licenses and products kids relate to that aren't represented at mass merchandisers.

“Mass-market channel gatekeepers are stringent, but other kinds of retail channels are a possibility for more creative licensed merchandise,” said Nancy Zwiers, chief executive officer, Funosophy Inc., a kids' marketing and design firm in Long Beach, Calif.

Nickelodeon is particularly interested in making further advances in the food channel, according to Joan Grasso, senior director, core toys and activities/hard goods, Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products, Los Angeles. “The channels Nickelodeon is most interested in getting into now are grocery and drug.”

Channels like supermarkets are less “hit or miss” than mass merchandisers when evaluating their customers' preferences, said Adam Beder, vice president of global licensing, Spin Master, Toronto, a children's entertainment and consumer goods company.

At Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., the focus is not just on diversification, but localization. “You'll see different licensed products in our stores throughout the year,” said spokeswoman Maria Brous. “We evaluate licensed items, or anything that we carry, based on where the store is located,” she said.

For example, Publix carries merchandise related to the local hometown sports teams in each of its markets, she said. “When we look at licensed items, all of our suppliers register through an online process and that allows us to evaluate what we currently offer in each area.”

For a national brand like Nickelodeon, one way it is hoping to appeal to supermarket retailers is by keeping its blockbuster property, SpongeBob SquarePants, fresh. “We stay relevant; we put him in unexpected places. We have a SpongeBob toilet seat cover, and a board game called Ants in the SquarePants,” Grasso said.

SpongeBob is the perfect example of why you have to keep an open mind when you look at new licenses, added Jennifer Richmond, senior vice president, licensing and media, Jakks Pacific, a toy and consumer products marketing and design company in Malibu, Calif. “If you told me 10 years ago the top property would be a sea sponge that wears pants and lives in a pineapple, well, there is no way I would've believed you.”