Back To School chalks up the numbers – the comment from the Grocery Trader

chaz2As September approaches, Back To School becomes very big business indeed. The Back To School opportunity for supermarkets and Co-ops takes in food and drink items for the lunch box on one hand and clothing, footwear and home stationery on the other.

Mums buy food and drink for the lunchbox week in, week out, making this the biggest part of the Back To School market overall. Food and drink products conceived for school age children have seen a total transformation in the last few years with the sea change to fewer additives, lower fat, less salt and sugar, natural colours and so on, and in general represent a healthier choice than a generation ago, in the 1990s. Mums still do the bulk of the purchasing for the lunchbox as part of the weekly shop, and these items represent a major opportunity for marketers to offer convenience and quality at affordable prices. As parents of today’s secondary school kids will be aware, the recent limitations on advertising products to children mean the ‘pester power’ of today’s ‘kiddie’ brands is somewhat different to their 1990’s equivalents.

In the non-food area, taking clothing first, even though only 7% of children technically attend fee-paying schools, there is still a substantial cost for all parents associated with sending children to school. On average, parents spend well over £100 per child every year on ‘Back To School’ items. In context, spending on school wear represents around 20% of all spending on children’s clothes.

Supermarkets make much capital out of offering cheap school uniforms, clothing and footwear, but as reported by Mintel these tend to be limited in availability, not school-specific and limited in sizes, with uniforms for specific schools generally available only from specialist retailers. In addition Mintel’s research indicates that price is not the overriding concern for all consumers, and when they are looking for harder wearing, quality garments they tend to go to other retailers, such as department stores. From Mintel’s data, of all the supermarkets Asda attracts the largest number of visits from parents looking to buy clothes for school. The George brand name and ad campaigns mean huge awareness for Asda’s pricing policy and uniform range.

The supermarkets’ increased focus on non-food ranges continues to be extremely successful, encroaching on the sales of traditional stationery retailers like WH Smith. At the same time, with the changing role of technology in the classroom and the need for school kids and families at home to be fully up to date, demand is growing for computer accessories such as bags, memory sticks, printers, ink cartridges and paper. Each of these product areas presents huge opportunities for supermarkets and Co-ops to make profitable inroads into the territory of the office product retailers and PC World, and the brand owners face increasing pressure to do business with the supermarkets or miss out.

The immediate prospect of declining pupil numbers is offset for the retailers by the fact that, the current recession notwithstanding, parents have generally become more affluent and are willing to spend more on their children. Longer term, the birth rate is now increasing again and by the time today’s primary school kids are working in marketing, it will probably be a different story.

The Grocery Trader