Talking Brands: McDonald’s footwear, KFC handbags, Taco Bell luggage… Is this a heyday for fast-food brand extensions?

The Opinionated Designer’s Emma Horton, Pink Key Licensing’s Richard Pink and Start Licensing’s Ian Downes share their thoughts on the potential of fast-food brands.

2022 has already brought with it several eye-catching collaborations centred around fast-food brands.

McDonald’s is continuing its partnership with adidas and streetwear designer Eric Emanuel with the Eric Emanuel x adidas Forum 84 High McDonald’s All-American sneaker, set to launch later this year.

The shoe boasts McDonald’s branding, with the brown hue taking inspiration from McDonald’s’ brown takeaway bag.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

Elsewhere, KFC partnered with Pillow Pets on a giant Chicken Sandwich Snuggler plush. The limited-edition KFC Chicken Sandwich stuffed pillow plushie is close to a metre long and has been designed as ‘the perfect napping accessory’.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

More recently, KFC launched a high-end handbag to mark the arrival of its Twister Wrap deal.

Priced at £198 – a nod to the £1.98 Twister Wrap deal – the KFC Wrapuette Handbag was ‘created with expert craftmanship, with KFC Artisans working tirelessly to craft an unmatched level of perfection.’

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

Another somewhat left-field partnership saw CALPAK launch a Taco Bell luggage collection.

Each item in the range was inspired by the fast-food chain’s four types of Hot Sauce; there’s Fire! Carry-On Luggage, a Hot! Duffel Bag, the Mild! Five-Piece Packing Cube Set and a Diablo! Crossbody Bag.

“We’ve seen our fans express their Taco Bell fandom through so many avenues like make-up, fashion, tattoos and now they have the opportunity show their brand love on their next adventures,” said Tracee Larocca, Head of Brand Creative at Taco Bell.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

To find out more about the potential of fast-food brands in licensing, we asked The Opinionated Designer’s Emma Horton, Pink Key Licensing’s Richard Pink and Start Licensing’s Ian Downes for their thoughts.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian DownesEmma Horton, The Opinionated Designer
I live for brand collaborations and the hype that they bring, whether it’s a design house mash-up or link-up between an obscure art licence and a streetwear brand… They always have a strong impact in shaping the market and inspiring new ways of thinking about licensing.

This aside, the more these flash conceptual capsules are released, the more I think the industry and brands themselves see these more as marketing tools – and ways to disrupt the market – than a category that has longevity for the brand.

For example, KFC does a great job of all-year-round DTC product with constant small collaborations and has done so now for a couple of years. Has this suddenly inspired the High Street to jump on KFC as a licence and make it mainstream? No. I know from personal projects that the brand owner is very careful about licensing out their assets and I think they are right to do so.

Would something KFC’s £198 high-end handbag – launching alongside a new wrap – ever get the publicity they would hope for if the market was saturated with their IP? Probably not.

I think it will be interesting to see how the future pans out in the fast-food brand extension market and if we’ll hit a point where the dollar signs of mass retail become too much for the brand holders to resist.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian DownesRichard Pink, Pink Key Licensing
Fast food restaurants have benefitted from a broader trend of food brands moving themselves into the non-food space.

It’s great to see that these brands are willing to be flexible with their assets. It has allowed them to move into products that – on the surface – seem to be unrelated to the core business, add value to the brand and enable consumers to view these IPs in a new light.

It’s certainly an active trend, but whether its sustainable or not will rely of how far these brands are willing to go to adapt themselves to fit into a long-term strategy in the licensing space. The brands who recognise this will be the ones who are able to sustain the momentum of a fully-fledged programme, rather than just one-off novelties.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian DownesIan Downes, Start Licensing
Given the popularity and omnipresence of casual dining restaurants and food delivery services, I guess it isn’t a surprise that they have popped up on the licensing and collaboration radar. In many respects, brands and locations such as KFC, Nando’s and McDonald’s are part of the pop culture movement and are lifestyle brands.

I would say for a commercial licensing programme to flourish, the normal licensing rules have to apply. The brand needs to be licensing ready with design assets, consumer insights and a licensing vision. I think licensees and retailers would want to be assured that there’s a long-term commitment to any licensing programme – and that the brand owner understands their role.

Beyond this, there is of course the potential for short-term collaborations that are more about creating cut through and consumer engagement. I can see how this sort of thing could appeal to fashion brands and retailers, particularly those looking to develop a product lead marketing campaign; think window displays, social media campaigns and experiential activations.

That said, I think a potential pitfall is that activity like this could be seen as a gimmick and there may be a challenge around consumer purchase. An emphasis would need to be placed on trends and relevant design. A point to consider here could be that there might be scope for retro and vintage designs, particularly for the US owned brands opening up themes such as 1950s Americana.

Overall, there is probably scope for more licensing and it could go into categories like food – thinking about sauces and flavourings for example. The retailer Iceland has shown what can be done with restaurant brands within a food retailer.

We also need to acknowledge that platforms like TikTok can create overnight ‘sensations’ of fish and chip shops, so we need to be open minded about licensing opportunities, but conscious of the longevity of such opportunities… I always thought my local fish and chip shop in Waterloo was ahead of its time. It opened in the Seventies – the Fishcotheque.

Talking Brands, Emma Horton, Richard Pink, Ian Downes

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