Beams International’s Emma Coote on making great gifts with brilliant brands

Emma Coote, Brands and Licensing Director at Beams, on building brand partnerships grounded on innovation, collaboration and respect.

Emma, it’s great to catch up. Can you tell us a little bit about Beams and the focus of the business?
Beams International is a composite gifting company, with food and beverage gifting being our primary focus. We were founded 25 years ago and specialise in branded gifting in the alcohol, hot drinks and food sectors.

How has the composite gifting category evolved over the years?
When our company was founded in 1997, the category was largely driven by major high street chains such as BHS, Boots and Woolworths. These were all ‘destination stores’ for gifting at the time – and when we entered the category, gifting propositions in market were almost exclusively retailer own-label.

Within our first couple of years of trading, we identified the huge incremental value that well-known brands could bring to the category. From this point onwards, our product offering has been predominately branded gift packs supplied to retail under licence.

“We need to consider both the gift purchaser and the recipient – and they are often very different types of consumer!”

In recent years, the closure of many high street chains has changed the gifting retail landscape considerably. It’s now the major grocers who are leading the category for our product type, but we are starting to see steady growth in retailers such as Primark and House of Fraser on the High Street, and B&M in the discount channel. Since Covid, we have also seen a huge up-turn in sales to online channels as you might expect, most notably Amazon and Moonpig.

You work with a range of well-known, well-established brands. How easy is it to maintain a brand’s identity across the products you’re developing?
After 25 years, I would like to think we have this down to a fine art! It is really a case of us bringing our in-depth knowledge of our own product category to the table, while being fully respectful of the brand’s core identity with the products we develop. And, of course, working collaboratively with the brand at each stage of the process.

One thing that’s crucial for licensed product in general is that the brand’s creative identity must be adapted and optimised for the category in question – in our case, gifting. If the key brand assets are just rolled out across any and all licensed products, it’s very easy for things to look ‘badge-slapped’ and promotional.

A lot of the work we do with our brand partners is to reach a creative route that’s true to the brand, while also having the giftability cues to ensure the end product is attractive to the gift purchaser.

Emma Coote, Beams International

How does Beams approach product development? What kicks off the process?
For branded gifting – our main focus – there are two key elements to this. Firstly, we get under the skin of the brand… What is the core brand identity? What is the current brand strategy? Who is the brand trying to appeal to? How is the brand usually enjoyed or consumed?

Great questions to ask. And secondly…
Secondly we undertake extensive research into consumer trends – it’s essential that we always keep the consumer at the heart of everything we do. With gifting this is especially complex, as we need to consider both the gift purchaser and the recipient – and they are often very different types of consumer!

“A good gift should be easy to understand for the purchaser, attractively, sustainably packaged and represent a logical brand extension.”

We then dovetail these two elements together to ensure the final product proposition meets the needs of the brand, retailer, purchaser and end consumer – not always an easy feat, but ultimately very rewarding.

The brand, the retailer, the purchaser and the consumer… In the quest to make them all happy, what ultimately makes a good composite gift product?
This is arguably quite a subjective thing, but to me the ideal gift gives the recipient something they don’t already have – and something that isn’t readily available at general retail.

A good gift should be easy to understand for the purchaser, attractively and sustainably packaged and, if branded, should be ‘on brand’ and represent a logical brand extension. The ‘why’ must be obvious.

Emma Coote, Beams International

From a licensing point of view, how do you decide which brands to work with?
Again, this is generally led by consumer trends. Our product development team will undertake a comprehensive research process to identify categories and brands that are trending. We will then often liaise with our retail contacts to align with them on new brands and licenses to pursue.

Our strong, long-term brand partnerships are absolutely central to what we do at Beams. We make sure as far as possible to partner with brands and companies that share our values of innovation, collaboration and respect. Put simply, we pride ourselves on being a really nice group of people to work with, so we gravitate towards brands and companies that share this ethos.

If you were selling your category to a brand owner, what would be the key benefits you’d highlight to them ?
I spend a lot of my life doing this! The key benefits of licensing food or beverage brands for gifting are as follows:
• To generate trial of product and recruit new consumers into the brand.
• To promote brand loyalty and encourage repeat purchase.
• To give existing consumers additional opportunities to engage with the brand.
• To capitalise on the emotive impact of your brand being given as a gift to somebody.
• To achieve brand presence in retailers and/or channels where the brand would otherwise not have representation, or to gain brand presence at additional ‘touchpoints’ within existing retail outlets.

A proper list! I’m glad I asked! You work closely with a range of retailers. How do you involve retail buyers in your product development process?
We tend to start our development process each year with a ‘blue sky’ meeting with retail buyers to establish categories and brands of interest. Then, as we go through the development season, we have multiple range review meetings to gain the buyers’ thoughts and feedback on the products and adapt the propositions where necessary.

We really welcome buyer engagement on the development of our product range, as they of course have the best understanding of their own customer.

Emma, before we wrap things up, what can we look forward to from Beams this year?
We have several fantastic new brands on board that will be launched into retail in the autumn, in time for Christmas 2023. One that I am particularly excited about is our range of Van Gogh Museum gift packs, which will be available at retail from October. It is a beautiful property and both the brand team and the licensing agent – Licensing Link – are a real pleasure to work with.

Finally, if you could sign a brand you currently don’t work with, which brand would it be?
We’ve had our eye on Tony’s Chocolonely for a few years! We love their vibrant creative and their strong ethical culture.

Good pick! Emma, this has been great. Huge thanks again.

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