Epic Food & Beverage Collaborations That Truly Delivered


Like most avid runners, I’m fiercely loyal to my footwear brand. In the past, you would have seen me in full stride wearing a pair of my trusted Asics with my iPod Shuffle and earbuds. But that was before Nike and Apple collaborated and launched Nike+ in 2006. In my opinion, brilliant! I could now use one device to track my mileage, check my pace, and listen to my favorite music. It forever changed my relationship with running and, got me to try Nike.

This story perfectly illustrates the power of product collaboration. Done well, it has the power to drive awareness and engagement, expand your audience, encourage innovation, and even change brand perception with your target consumers.

Pizza Hut, Jim Beam, and Dunkin’ Donuts Are Driving Awareness Through Collabs

The newsworthy collaboration of the Saucony X Dunkin Donuts sneaker, launched just weeks before the iconic Boston Marathon, didn’t quite have the same profound effect on me. However, it did make me laugh, reminded me of how much I love Boston Crème, and got me to look up a brand I haven’t thought of in years. But it did captivate the public as the model sold out a week before race day. There was also a lot of social buzz, and the partnership was featured across most major media outlets including NPR, USA Today, and AdWeek.

Great collaborations like this are tough to pull off, but there have some exciting and notable ones that have happened in the food industry. In addition to Saucony X Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut X The Shoe Surgeon made a lot of noise in February with the launch of their “Pie Tops” in time for March Madness. The shoe can order a pizza with the press of a button and even pause your TV when the pizza arrives so you didn’t miss a second of the action. Celebrating Pizza Hut’s sponsorship of the NCAA with impeccable timing, the shoe quickly sold out and captured major media attention as well.

Another collaboration that arrived on the scene shortly after, that garnered a lot of traction, was Jim Beam X Budweiser. Bringing together two classic American brands in celebration of the 85th anniversary of the end of prohibition, the collaboration revives their relevancy in a time when craft brews are impacting market share. Fueled by nostalgia, Americana, and craft beer trends, the “boilermaker” inspired brew launched this past fall, and both brands have already built a lot of buzz through a joint go-to-market retail strategy.

Photo Credit: Anheuser-Busch

Keys to a Great Collaboration

More than just co-branding, product collaborations work together with an intent to disrupt the marketplace and create a sense of excitement. Whether uber hip like the 2017 Nike X Momofuku sneaker release or the gimmick-driven like Einstein Brothers Bagels “Cheesy Shampoo” and “Wakin’ Bacon Conditioner,” winning product collaborations have several key elements in common. So before you start the search for your next big partnership, here’s a short checklist to keep in mind.

Authentic Unexpected Connections

Tying your brand to another is a decision not to be made lightly. What initially is planned as a limited-release can have a lasting impact on your brand’s reputation. The best partnerships have an authentic but unexpected connection, are aligned with values and messaging, and benefit equally from the project.

What seems more unlikely than shoes and donuts? Well, with “Boston Pride” reaching a peak during the iconic Boston Marathon weekend, the partnership between Dunkin and Saucony makes perfect sense. Both Boston-based companies, the brands have a long history of supporting the running community in their own unique ways. Add to this Dunkin’s long-running tagline of “America Runs on Dunkin,” and it was only natural for this partnership to come together. Good on you Saucony for beating everyone to the starting line.

Burn Fast and Burn Bright

Momentum is the magic behind collaborations and you may have more influence here than you think. Finding the right balance between supply and a pricing strategy that takes into account your positioning in the market is a critical component to success. The goal is to use your collaboration to drive and expand your relevance and, in turn, indirectly boost sales as the brand becomes top-of-mind.

With only 50 pairs of its Pie Tops available, Pizza Hut garnered millions of top-tiered impressions just after they announced the release. While they originally sold for $150, it didn’t take long for some to show up on eBay starting at $2,000 a pair. Similarly leveraging scarcity as a strategy, Saucony and Dunkin manufactured 2,000 pairs of their shoes and sold-out through an online presale. Budweiser and Jim Beam released their new brew, Budweiser Reserve Copper Lager in September but it is only available for a limited time, through the holidays.

SHHH, First Impressions are Everything

Usually veiled in secrecy, there are no soft launches in the game of product collaborations. Great partnerships are announced with a clear communication and go-to-market plan in place well before launch day. Aligning teams on both sides is essential to ensuring your collaboration delivers the ROI you envision. Assuming everyone has agreed on the target audience, whose brand voice will drive communication? Will there be a joint press release? Who will be managing media proactively and reactively? Who are your spokespeople? Have you prepared talking points? Did you give any outlets exclusives? Is your marketing plan timed to honor these exclusives? Are your retail partners equally prepared? Carefully managing each stage of your launch in detail is key to building momentum.

Looking closely at the Budweiser and Jim Beam announcement, you can see that communication is tight at this stage. Through a joint press release they’ve announced key details including why they’ve partnered (85th anniversary of prohibition’s end), quotes from equally positioned spokespeople (VP’s of Marketing), planned release date (September), and a few details about their go-to-market plans. Throughout media outlets, the same message is shared and imagery is consistent. It will be interesting to see how these brands present to the market over the coming months. At this point guys, you’ve got my attention. Well played.

Not a Sure Thing but a Great Tool for Food Marketers

There are no guarantees when it comes to marketing, but product collaborations are a calculated risk food brands should consider investigating. By combining efforts with a like-minded partner, you can leverage shared resources and reach customers far outside of your day-to-day efforts. This can open up a world of opportunity for your food brand and potentially uncover new channels of growth not yet realized. After all, in a world where pizza, donuts, and shoes can come together and make sense, anything is possible. 

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