“Look at the size of that thing,” declared a heroic rebel pilot facing the Empire’s mighty Death Star in the first Star Wars movie. It’s a phrase that could also be applied to the licensed merchandise industry.
In the case of food and beverages alone, global sales of licensed products exceeded $14.8bn last year, according to research commissioned by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA).
And it’s easy to imagine the figure for 2015 will be even larger as the juggernaut that is Disney’s Star Wars franchise gets rolling with the launch of long-awaited sequel The Force Awakens, released globally in cinemas over the next few days.
Two of the largest forces in character licensing, Lucasfilm and Disney, became one in October 2012 when Disney - already owner of brands including Marvel, Pixar and The Muppets – paid just over $4bn for the business founded and 100% owned by Star Wars creator George Lucas.
Disney wasted no time in announcing a new string of Star Wars films – one every year – starting with the one now featuring on food and drink products in stores across the globe.
"Among the top 10 most successful film franchises worldwide, analysts estimate Star Wars is worth around some $20bn so far,” said Darren Brechin, event director of the Brand Licensing Europe show. “It's no surprise then, that the latest release has attracted a host of partners looking to emulate this success - figures touted include an estimated $5bn expected on merchandising deals this time around.”
Set to break merchandising records
"Star Wars is truly a global licensing phenomenon, from beds to birthday cakes - we expect it to break many more records."
In the US, for example, Popchips has rolled out Star Wars: The Force Awakens packaging on three of its most popular flavors in the US, with a bag featuring the bear-like Chewbacca declaring ‘Raarrwwrrr-ing with flavor’. For more examples of current Star Wars food and drink lines see our picture gallery above.
The Popchips are among the products to have come to market in recent weeks to tie in specifically with the new film, but other suppliers have looked to tap the excitement leading up to the release by launching Star Wars branded goods earlier in the year.
Flying off shelves
These include UK business Fox’s, which claims the Star Wars biscuit bars and mini biscuits it launched this summer have been flying off shelves. Fox’s owner 2 Sisters has also this year launched biscuits featuring Disney’s smash-hit Frozen characters and the Little Fella’s range of frozen kids’ pizza featuring licenses including Star Wars, Frozen and Mickey Mouse.
“The relationship with Disney is showing how good-tasting, healthy products can be packaged to appeal to a young audience,” said Fox’s MD Colin Smith.
Health is tipped to become even more important to character-licensed products, according to LIMA, which this year reported that many of its members felt there was a strong move toward better-for-you and organic brands.
Disney introduced nutritional guidelines for children aged three and over in 2006, and implemented guidelines for infants and toddlers in 2010. The company says the standards now apply to any Disney branded food or beverage products, with the exception of a few pre-existing contractual obligations. And the Star Wars product range got a healthy boost in the US recently, when Disney unveiled Star Wars-branded fresh fruit and veg.
Also tipped to shape the licensing industry in 2016 is globalisation, with businesses increasingly seeing opportunities beyond the North American market. Also set to grow in importance are direct tie-ups between licensors and retailers, as these offer retailers something unique while enabling new brands to gain a foothold into the retail market, says Lima.
Already a Force to be reckoned with, licensing is set to play a big role in shaping the baked goods and snacking markets in the years to come.