Cinnabon's Recipe For Expansion: Licensing and Co-Branding

Sweets Maker's Deals Include Vodkas, Air Fresheners and More

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Cinnabon has long been thought of as the snack for travelers running through airports and shoppers strolling through malls. What started as a single bakery in Seattle's Sea Tac Mall in 1985 has grown into a company with 1,200 brick-and-mortar locations in 54 countries. But the chain's biggest consumer business today is licensing and co-branding partnerships with companies like Pillsbury, Kellogg, Keurig and Pegasus Foods. It also launched a Minibon with Burger King in 2012 and Cinnabon Delights with Taco Bell in 2013.

Cinnabon Vodka
Cinnabon Vodka

Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon said that the company's consumer packaged-goods efforts have "taken off like a rocketship" in the last three years after launching about 10 years ago. "We had the realization that … there was more to the brand than just the roll. There are only so many malls and airports."

Rather than do just straight licensing deals, Cinnabon works with companies to develop products. It also has a robust private-label operation that works with restaurants, applying Cinnabon's ingredients and expertise to develop unbranded treats for their menus.

Last year, Cinnabon hit $1 billion in consumer-product sales, and only 25% of that was from its franchised stores (it has only one company-owned location). The remainder comes from partnerships such as its unorthodox pairing with Beam Inc. for Cinnabon-branded Pinnacle vodka and Reckitt Benckiser's Air Wick for its "Familiar Favorites" air freshener line. Ms. Cole said Beam had been looking to extend into flavor profile and in the case of the latter, a consumer association with comfort made Cinnabon a natural fit.

Of course, there have been some hiccups along the way. Ms. Cole said that some missteps included a lip balm and a movie-theater snack called the Cinnapretzel, which was a soft pretzel with a Cinnabon on top. Both are discontinued.

Here's a sampling of some of Cinnabon's partnership products:

Cinnabon Delights
Cinnabon Delights

Taco Bell
Cinnabon Delights. Launched in 2013, the bite-size pastries filled with frosting are available all day as part of the desserts and sides menu.

Cinnabon partnered with Pillsbury nearly a decade ago, and it's now the chain's longest-running and biggest partnership. Products include its popular line of cinnamon rolls and Toaster Strudel.

Air Wick
Air Wick

Pinnacle Cinnabon Vodka
Launched nationally in January, the co-branded vodka is the first product from Beam and Cinnabon, though another Beam and Cinnabon offering is said to be on the way.

Air Wick
Also launched in January, Ms. Cole said that Air Wick's research discovered that consumers would be interested in a Cinnabon-specific scent for its Familiar Favorites line.

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