BACK TO SCHOOL – Top of the class

As every parent of school age kids knows, the new school year starts in early September. The end of the long summer holidays is bad news for school kids but a happy moment for independent retailers and the wholesalers that serve them.

chazIt’s the welcome return to a steady stream of school-related purchases all day long, every weekday and Saturdays too, by school kids, parents and teachers.

The supermarkets and Co-ops have traditionally taken the lion’s share of the Back To School budget for big-ticket items like school clothes and food, but well-placed independent retailers offering the right range of products have continued to do well.

For stores who serve local communities and independent retailers on the doorstep of schools, and their wholesale suppliers, Back To School is a big opportunity for food and drink, and other items to go in lunch boxes and non-grocery items for use in the classroom and at home.

It’s not just the obvious food, drink, snacks and sweets but stationery and non-food distress needs like batteries, sticking plaster, analgesics, combs and shoelaces.

But that’s not all. The school kids, parents and teachers passing by every day might originally intend to come in for a single item, but the magic of impulse purchasing means many will come out with several products.

With more mums working and pushed for shopping time, plus the resurgence of convenience retailing and the drift from the supermarkets, the prospects are bright for independents and the wholesale sector, with Back To School playing a big part.

But there is a need for caution. In the wake of the obesity crisis, the government guidelines say teachers can confiscate and destroy items from children’s lunch boxes if they deem them unhealthy. Some schools around the country have caused upset by doing so, but things have calmed down somewhat.

Until recently children brought sweets into the playground and shared them at break. Now they have to be more cautious. The soft drinks industry has also been affected in the last few years by the clampdown on sugary and fizzy drinks in school vending machines, which has helped prompt the move to lower sugar levels.

We can expect to see more changes in the regulations about food and drink products targeting school age children. In the meantime, wholesalers and the independent retailers they serve need to ensure they offer a choice of healthy options as part of their range of products to capture the Back To School opportunity.