SBJ/February 6-12, 2017/In Depth

Sweet tooth: NHL deal pays off for U-Vend

The NHL signed a five-year agreement with California-based consumer products and technology company U-Vend Inc. to create branded desserts, complete with puck-shaped ice cream bars and mini hockey stick-shaped wooden handles. The deal calls for a total U-Vend commitment of at least $5.8 million through June 2020 in sponsorship fees, royalties, media commitments and product-in-kind.

Who did the deal? Raymond Meyers, U-Vend chief executive; Paul Neelin, U-Vend founder and chief operating officer; Mark Chapman, president of U-Vend America Inc.; and Barry Monaghan, NHL vice president of retail sales and marketing.

How did the discussions get started? The NHL deal arrived very shortly after the introduction of U-Vend’s proprietary Pucks Premium ice cream featuring the puck-shaped bars and hockey-stick handles.

How did the activation work? The ice cream is sold through speciality self-serve vending machines and electronic kiosks that include digital content and branding, including a red light that illuminates when product is purchased. The program has since been expanded to a similar deal with MLB through 2018 featuring baseball-shaped ice cream bars. The NHL deal covers both Canada and the U.S.

Why was it unique? Many pro teams have had some sort of ice cream licensing deal to create a themed flavor, particularly Pennsylvania-based Turkey Hill, which has worked with the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Steelers, among others. The U-Vend deal carries the concept a step further by dispensing the product in themed environments with content as opposed to a standard freezer case. Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne sits on the U-Vend board of advisers.

Why do we like it? The early-stage firm, with less than $1 million in 2015 revenue, has made a splash by landing big league partnerships in a largely unexploited category. The NHL and MLB relationships represent a fundamental part of U-Vend’s overall corporate growth strategy. U-Vend totals sales in its most recent quarter were up by more than half and profits were up about 140 percent, with company officials crediting in part the NHL relationship and a successful entry into Las Vegas, also an expansion market for the NHL.

— Eric Fisher

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