Welch’s continues to expand its licensing program to extend its brand portfolio into categories that promote fruit, health and taste. By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
Family farmers have been at the heart of Welch’s for more than a century. Vineyards have been cultivated for generations to expertly grow Concord and Niagara grapes, which are used to provide families with the 100 percent grape juice and jelly for which Welch’s is known and trusted.
“The interesting thing about Welch’s is that it can play in the health, flavor and fun categories,” Head of Global Licensing Glenn Hendricks says. “Baby boomers and millennial moms love our juice for both the taste and heart health benefits. They grew up with it and raised their children on it; there’s an affinity there. We are a trusted brand and consumers know the quality will be great.”
In 1869, Thomas Bramwell Welch was the first to pasteurize bottled fruit juice using Concord grapes, founding the company and the modern, unfermented juice version we drink today. After debuting at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Welch’s Grape Juice went on to become the national family favorite it remains today.
Over the past few years, Welch’s has been extending its licensed portfolio into other products – ones that have a logical relationship to the brand – through selective licensing partnerships. “There is so much that goes into working at a company like this,” Hendricks says. “The goal is to maintain the quality and that emotional connection while giving the consumer something they want in every product. That’s why we go after the best licensees in the business.”
Welch’s dedicated staff continues to pursue opportunities to expand beyond its walls and vineyards by identifying categories that promote fruit, health and taste. “We have brought on quite a few more licensing partners to identify the white space in retail,” Hendricks says. “We are a manufacturer of juice, jelly, jam and spreads, but where are we not found in the grocery store? That’s my white space.”
The company’s goal has been to develop new partnerships where it can bring its heritage and ingredients to products. Fruit-forward products are Welch’s sweet spot. “We are careful where we go and in understanding the depth of each partner,” Hendricks explains. “When the initial product line shows success we look deeper into each partners’ capabilities and work closely to expand their offering of Welch’s products. It’s the communication and support we give our partners that sets us apart. We are here to help them grow their business and not stand in the way – just be a guiding force.”
Welch’s now features in-store bakery items, including muffins, donuts and cookies. Oat bar baking mixes are on shelves today and Hendricks says they are doing quite well. K-Cups of fruit cider will be launching in summer 2017. “Making the product fruit-forward, is what differentiates us. With the help of our partners, we can bring grape flavor, taste and the ingredient to be more relevant everyday. We always remember the grape farmers and their crop.”
An interesting extension is grape seed cooking oil which recently hit the baking or cooking aisle in grocery stores, opening up the possibility for fruity, savory toppings, glazes and more cooking items. “This will help people look at Welch’s as a cooking item and know the product is top quality,” Hendricks says. “You want to trust the brand you are cooking with – and Welch’s delivers that trust.”
Welch’s has also debuted three flavors of gelatin, as well as powdered drink mixes. Trail mix, dried fruit and freeze-dried fruit have taken the brand deeper into the snack aisle. “We have fruit snacks that are wildly successful, and our freeze-dried fruit is very on-trend,” Hendricks says.
“We have companies approaching us with healthy product ideas and that’s fantastic. Let’s make it work,” Hendricks says. “The licensees are the experts of their business and we are the experts of our brand. That makes for a great collaboration. We work closely with each partner to ensure their vision for the product matches our vision for the brand.”
Although Welch’s is considered one of the big brands in the industry, Hendricks says the company is actually a Co-op of more than 1,000 family farmers and employs a staff of 200-plus in Concord, Mass. “We’re a big brand in a small company. That makes us more nimble and entrepreneurial than most others,” he says. “In regards to our juice, we pick and process our grapes within eight hours making it the freshest juice available. That’s a great story to tell retailers looking for that ‘farm-to-table’, natural and wholesome product line. It’s an important message to convey through our partners as well.”
Welch’s long-term goals is to continue to fill white space which includes the dairy, frozen novelty, front of store, baking/cooking, organic and all natural sections of the stores. “I see these as tremendous growth and innovation opportunities.”
In the future, Welch’s believes there is opportunity to market in the health and wellness space as well. “The value of the Concord grape is heart health and circulation and is rich in polyphenols. It’s kind of cool that our grapes have a similar health benefit to red wine,” Hendricks says. “Our health and nutrition team brings forward relevant scientific findings that allow us to think differently in terms of health and wellness and apply this to products.”
As consumers see us in the many different categories they want more. “Welch’s conveys trust, loyalty and deliciousness," Hendricks says. "Our partners are an important part of this and we cherish their commitment to this vision. Simply put, their Grape!”