How is Smiley conquering the European food trade?

One of the most recognisable icons of modern life, the ‘Smiley’ is fast becoming a trusted brand and emblem in the European food retail trade. Licensing.biz chats to The Smiley Company CEO Nicolas Loufrani about how it is seeking to capitalise on this further in 2018.
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From the ‘Smileys’ that pepper every Instagram post to the catwalks of Milan, there’s no avoiding that ubiquitous, happy yellow face.

Some 45 years on from the first Smiley appearing in a French newspaper to encourage readers to look on the brighter side of life, the brand is now a household name, and is increasingly creeping into the food aisles as well.

Licensing.biz caught up with Nicolas Loufrani, the company’s CEO and son of the creator of the very first Smiley, Franklin Loufrani.

“We have more than 3,000 Smileys in our collection,” he explains, “and each of them has a different orientation, and a different approach. With this sort of flexibility as a licensor, we are able to support brands in many different ways, particularly when it comes to food and beverage.”

The Smiley Company is currently enjoying success with its Smiley Foods programme, with around 20 licensees selling a wide range of products and enjoying significant success. Beverage licensee L’Abeille has created Smiley Fruity, an all-natural sill fruit juice, which sold more than 3 million cans through numerous European supermarket chains in the last nine months. Meanwhile, Intersnack expanded its Smiley Snacks line into a range of new products including stacked chips with a trademarked 3D Smiley shape. Even Italian licensee Zaini has capitalised on the buzz for Smiley Foods, having sold over a million chocolate eggs. The Smiley Company takes one of two approaches to food licensing, either operating as a national brand or offering private label ‘enhancement’ to an existing product range.

“With private label, what you find a lot of the time is that products adhere to a certain ‘standard’ positioning, at a value price point,” says Loufrani. “What about presenting something that offers excitement for consumers; that still has the appeal of a big brand, with strong brand values, yet maintains a competitive price? Our pitch is that we have the ability to ‘pimp up’ your private label.”

It’s an approach that really has worked for Smiley Foods, which saw a greater than 200% increase in retail sales from 2016 to 2017 and food accounting for 32% of the brand's retail turnover at $134.26 million. As market research undertaken by the group indicates, the Smiley brand 'amplifies stand-out on shelf, improves the positive perception of a brand and increases purchase intent.'

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“We offer our licensees a level of support that you don’t get from other licensors,” says Loufrani. “We have a dedicated in-house team to evaluate all the possible support mechanisms we can put behind a brand [in the case of Smiley Fruity, for example, this includes an interactive mini-site and ‘design your own Smiley’ app], while maintaining the same brand look, and the same ‘fun’ approach. Whatever category we work in, you will be guaranteed to see the Smiley on the packaging.”

As SmileyWorld expands, so Loufrani and his team are looking to other categories, while trying to stay as true to the original Smiley concept as possible - ideal products need to be round (and yellow if possible), to best project the Smiley imagery. Thus, we have Smiley pasta, Smiley cereal, Smiley ice cream, Smiley nuggets and so forth.

“One of the key elements of our strategy is to develop ‘shaped’ products,” he says. “When you go for generic shapes, such as stars, anyone can copy your design, but there’s only one Smiley.”

This also involves looking for opportunities outside of the kids’ market, which is currently the brand’s primary area of focus. “With some of our products, such as Smiley Snacks, these have an appeal to all sorts of consumers, particularly adults looking for an alternative snack. There are plenty of opportunities to develop products that still retain the Smiley sense of fun and adventure, but in more ‘serious’ packaging.”

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Smiley bills itself as a proven sales motivator as well, with the company regularly approached by manufacturers and retailers alike to inject some fun into existing product campaigns.

“We have done a lot of work with [Nestlé-owned water brand] Vittel, where we appeared on 130 million bottles of water last year and helped lift the brand’s sales by 11.5% during the course of the promotion,” says Loufrani. “Similarly, we had a big promotion with Carrefour in France, where if a shopper buys a Unilever product, anything from ice cream to Dove, they can win Smiley prizes.”

The Smiley Company is always looking at ways to add value to its partners and the brand's latest venture Smiley Candy Store showcases this approach perfectly. Launched as a popup at Carrefour stores in Belgium, the new Smiley Candy Store pulls together the best and brightest products from Smiley’s licensees in the snack world. The candy station contains a range of Smiley sweets from licensees including Trendy Foods, Lutti and Zaini, biscuits from licensees L’Abbaye and Helema, savoury snacks from Intersnack and beverages from L’Abeille.

“We are always reinventing ourselves, and we realise that as retail adapts, we have to adapt. As new trends emerge, we plan on being at the forefront of them.” Loufrani concludes.

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