Bon Bon Buddies was established in 1993 by Chris and Pauline Howarth at their kitchen table.
It’s moved on since then though. Chris moved into a small office with one admin assistant, before Pauline joined him after the first year to represent licence and product design. After a steady build up of staff, the company moved to a larger head office and separate design studio (managed by Pauline). These two offices, based in Crumlin, South Wales, were combined in 1998 and the workforce grew to its present total of 94.
All licensing, design, sales, marketing, logistics, purchasing, product development and finance departments are still based in Crumlin, with sales and marketing offices also in France and Benelux.
It was always the aim to work with licensed characters, admits Pauline Howarth. The first to be signed were Popeye and Thunderbirds, closely followed by Polly Pocket, Pogs, Pokémon and Monopoly. In total, the company now boasts 26 licences, some of which are territory specific.
All are popular – “we wouldn’t sign and develop them if they weren’t” says Howarth – but currently the most in demand are In the Night Garden, Dr Who, High School Musical, Hannah Montana, Star Wars and Wall-E. While the majority of licences the firm works with are aimed at children, it has recently moved into the adult sector, signing up the likes of Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives and Torchwood, which are all proving popular.
New biscuit products – Scooby Doo Jameroos, AYR candy with Wall-E and Fun Buddies – have recently launched, too, while the firm is planning to roll out more products in its Dr Who, High School Musical, Dora and Winnie the Pooh lines this year.
“We pride ourselves on innovation, best product design capability and knowing our consumers and shoppers,” says Howarth. “On this basis, the right brand or character designed to the right product will always work well regardless of the brand target. But, obviously the greater market opportunities are for pre-school children and tween products.”
Completely off limits, however, are licences targeting babies below the age of 18 months and any risqué or offensive licences.
Supplying primarily seasonal ranges has meant that Bon Bon Buddies’ business has not been profoundly affected by the new healthy eating message and food guidelines, according to Howarth: “Our all year round products and confectionery and biscuits have always been in portion control packs that meet the requirements of licensors’ nutritional guidelines. We also develop products that are low in saturates, use non hydrogenated oils and are nearly all natural colours and flavours. We produce responsible quality products for kids.”
Howarth is confident about the future. Even though the firm shares the same worries as other companies within the licensing business – such as the increased cost of raw materials and the predicted recession – Howarth believes the forecast is generally bright. “Even in times of recession people still want to cheer themselves up with low cost gifts,” she says. “BBB ranges fit this need totally and we will work hard to make sure we have the best, most exciting ranges in the market.”