Kinnerton claims to be the first UK company to seriously base its confectionery offering around the concept of character merchandising.
Kinnerton was established in 1978, named after the street where Clive Beecham, the founder, lived.
Operating with a desk and a typewriter from a small office in Nottingham Place in London, Beecham, together with Andrew Sellers, a business colleague, created and marketed a small range of novelty confectionery products based around the Disney licence they had exclusively secured.
The first brands were Classic Disney (featuring the characters of Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy and Winnie the Pooh) and The Jungle Book. Two ranges were launched, the first was an 'all year round' range featuring products such as Mickey’s Mighty Midgets, Disneyland Fruity Pops and Baloo’s Jungle Sticks. The other was a Christmas range with Disneyland Candy Balls and Mickey’s Bottle Shoppe.
Over the years the character portfolio expanded to the point that well over 200 licensed characters have found their way into Kinnerton’s ranges of products.
Marketing director, Rachel Wyatt comments: "To this day, Kinnerton continues to be the clear leader in the field of character products created around chocolate confectionery."
Wyatt explains that each year, the firm signs one or two licences that fly. She continues: "If we had to chose just one then it would be without doubt Teletubbies, which I suspect would be most businesses most successful license ever.
"Teletubbies launched at a time before digital and satellite TV had penetrated most homes, when the BBC really was the destination channel for children's TV. Ragdoll produced a licensing phenomena, they created a huge number of episodes and aimed for the very young pre-school market – Teletubbies caught the UK consumers imagination and it exploded.
"I believe the success that Teletubbies achieved in its day is the goal that most preschool brand owners strive to achieve today – only today the viewers have much more choice on what and when they watch, there is almost too much choice in the pre-school market so you don’t get the impact you did over a decade ago.
"That said you can still find very very strong properties – just look at how Ben 10, Peppa, Hello Kitty and Toy Story have performed over the last couple of years – you wouldn’t want to be without them in your portfolio."
In 1988, Kinnerton committed itself to a manufacturing base by buying one of its suppliers, Gilchris Confectionery, which had recently relocated its factory to Fakenham, Norfolk.
This move together with an ongoing commitment to expansion, a unique approach to flexible production processes, combined with a ‘can-do’ attitude, allowed Kinnerton to develop as a key supplier of 'own-label' confectionery and to become a supplier to most of the major names in retail, as well as third party manufacturers.
In 1999 Kinnerton took steps to become the world’s first large scale, ‘nut free’ segregated factory. Wyatt comments: "A £1,000,000+ investment [was]aimed at making our chocolates ‘safe’ for the million odd people in the UK whose lives are affected by nut allergies."
In April 2005, Kinnerton became part of Zetar, an AIM listed company, which is a group comprising of two divisions, Confectionery and Natural & Premium Snacks. Kinnerton is the largest company in the Confectionery Division which also encompasses LIR in Ireland and Horsley Hick and Flower in York.
The past year has been a strong one for Kinnerton despite the tough economic conditions and trading platform.
Wyatt tell Licensing.biz: "Our kids character licence is very strong, for example in advent calendars, we increased our number one share position vs our next competitor.
"In adults we are going from strength to strength with both the Baileys brand and the imminent re-launch of the Lir boxed chocolate range. And finally through strong retail relationships, we have seen our private label work grow. The retail market is tough and so retailers are using own brand to drive consumer penetration and loyalty.
Kinnerton also set up a new division last year – The Great Character Candy company, with an aim to grow its all year round business in the kids sugar and surprise egg and bag market, we spent most of last year acquiring licences, developing ranges and launching, setting the foundations for success this year and beyond."
To continue its success, Wyatt says the firm will continue to do 'more of the same' over the next 12 months. Kinnerton plans to build on some of its new market entries, like its character selection boxes, which it launched in a market dominated by big brands
Wyatt concludes the plans: "And finally to invest in consumer research so that we bring to market the best products that meet our consumers needs."
All of this is accompanied by the firm's key to success in the licensed confectionery market, which Wyatt tells Licensing.biz, is down to: "Team work, expertise and passion – we work closely with our licensors and regularly brainstorm range development with them.
"We operate to category management principals and are category champions in most of the major retailers we sell in to. Our design studio works with the brand champions at our licensors, our product developers strive to bring new ideas to market and to constantly improve on existing formats and our sales team is best in field."
Marketing is also a big part of the process, as Wyatt explains: "Communication is our key platform and so we mainly focus on getting our packaging quality and communication message right, it is really important that we look right in-store and ultimately on the shelf.
"In the next few weeks we will be attending a key trade fair (ISM) which is visited by potential licensees and we are also re-launching our website in a format that will re-iterate some of the core messages of our business – Quality, Character and Nut Safety Promise."
With all of the above in mind, Kinnerton also ensures it has a balanced portfolio and can give each brand the width and depth of range it deserves. Ensuring competitive prices our is also key, says Wyatt: "As character does not drive a premium in confectionery, character confectionery has to offer the same value of money to the consumer as the big confectionery brands.
"Ultimately however as great a job as we can do at developing and selling in our ranges, it is the strength of the licence itself that will deliver a longer term successful licence."