Brand licensing

Cameo role in ‘Parasite’ sees sales soar for a Spanish snack

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

'Parasite' has been a game-changer for Bonilla a La Vita's Patatas Fritas. Pic: Bonilla a La Vita
'Parasite' has been a game-changer for Bonilla a La Vita's Patatas Fritas. Pic: Bonilla a La Vita

Related tags Bonilla a La Vita brand licensing Brand Licensing Europe Oscars Parasite The Point.1888

The story of how a relatively little-known Spanish producer’s canned Patatas Fritas snack was thrust onto the world stage after appearing in a Korean Oscar-winning film is a prime example of the effect brand licensing can have on a product.

Bonilla a La Vita has been dominating international headlines recently after it saw its sales surge by 150% following the potato chips silver screen debut in Parasite.

The movie became the first non-English language film to win an Oscar in the Best Picture category earlier this month.

It also snapped up awards for Best Director (Bong Joon-ho), Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature, and was the first South Korean film to win the Palme d'Or in Cannes last year.

The trajectory growth in sales has forced Bonilla a La Vita to add to its 100-strong workforce to cope with demand.

The family-owned company, based in northwestern Spain, makes 540 tonnes of crisps annually, exporting 60 tonnes to 20 countries. South Korea accounts for the bulk of exports – around 40 tonnes – where the crisps are popular with high-end consumers.

“I’d say to him (Joon-ho), a thousand thanks for being on target. I have tears in my eyes when I think about it,”​ 87-year-old Cesar Bonilla, second generation owner of Bonilla a La Vita, told Reuters.

“It was a mystery how this movie showed this can of Bonilla a La Vista, made with so much affection and hope, and then the movie got so distinguished. My hope has been fulfilled.”

The power of brand licensing

Will Stewart, founder and MD of The Point.1888 – a London, UK-based brand licensing agency that boosts brand awareness by creating new avenues and products – told BakeryandSnacks this sort of free advertising from luck is invaluable for brand owners.

“There must be an exciting story to trace back to how this happened. Did one of the producers like those crisps? Did some random purchase happen on the day that scene was shot?

“There is no way of knowing for sure, but the impact it can have on a brand and the surprise it can cause them can be both amazing in the long term (awareness, sales and brand love) but devastating in the short term (stock shortages, disappointed loyal customers and stockists),”​ he noted.

“In this case with ​Parasite, nobody could have predicted the astronomical success but a lot of brands do use product placement specifically to grow their brand awareness and reach.”

He added brands need to seize on these opportunities as soon as they become aware of them, although because unplanned, the sales peak may not be sustainable.

With some clever marketing and strategy, though, “all the glories of the free brand association can end up at your doorstep and into your bank account.”

“Acting fast is key. “The exposure means you now have a brilliant story to tell.”

Stewart recommends the brand owner finds a partner they like, trust and respect to pitch the latest element to the brand story to get the product into the hands of a huge number of new fans.

“Building the fanbase of your core product and the subsequent sales growth allows you to extend your brand beyond its traditional boundaries and achieve all of your wildest dreams.”

In an interview with BakeryandSnacks at Brand Licensing Europe 2018, Stewart said brand licensing in the UK alone is a £5.8bn ($7.49bn) industry, growing at 4.5% per year.

“It’s a game changer,”​ he said.

Balmain 2014 autumn-winter campaign
Balmain 2014 autumn-winter collection

Bonilla a La Vita was started in 1932 by Salvador Bonilla as a market stall in Ferrol in the province of A Coruña in Galicia, selling potato crisps and churros made by his wife, Lolita. He also opened his first Churros Coffee Shop that year.

In 1950, the company started delivering the crisps – now packaged in its legendary reusable 1kg can, which preserved their flavour and crunch – on a motorbike to the city’s coffee bars.

Production was halted in 1958, but restarted 30 years later in a new factory based in the Poligono de Sabón, Arteixo.

Bonilla started exporting its crisps in 2010 to countries like Spain, the UK, the US, Korea and France. They crisps have also made their appearance on the high end fashion scene: Parisian fashion house Balmain featured a bag in its 2014 autumn-winter campaign, according to the brand’s website.

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