Back to school is the third biggest retail period in the year after Christmas and Black Friday, worth over £1.16 billion, according to Mintel.

The school catering industry is also worth £1.2billion a year.

The British Educational Supplies Association says that there are more than 10.3million full and part time pupils at school in the UK and it is no secret that demand for school places is rising, which only increases the opportunity for efficient and effective catering solutions.

“The beauty of back to school is that wholesalers have two markets to target – schools and academies and convenience retailers preparing to stock up for parents. Together, this makes it a huge opportunity,” says Jeremy Gilboy, founder of St Pierre Groupe.

Sandwiches will always be an important part of the back to school food category and figures from November 2020 showed that the UK bread market was set to end last year back in growth despite the challenges of COVID-19, up 3.5% in value sales compared with 2019.

Sliced breads, rolls and buns are a staple in lunchboxes, offering a wide range of cost-effective meal options such as sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs. White bread continues to be the star performer, with UK retail value sales up 5% MAT to £771million. Malted granary, 50/50 and white plus have also experienced growth in the last 12 months. It’s worth noting the continued rise of rolls and baguettes – enjoying strong growth ahead of all other sub-categories in bread and morning goods, according to Nielsen, and worth almost £330 million to the overall bakery market.

More than half of us eat a sandwich every day, so it is inevitable that they will be central to packed lunches. If health is particularly popular, white bread can be switched for brown or seeded options, while healthy fillings are limited only by imagination.

Buns and rolls also offer limitless options beyond burgers and hot dogs, with plenty of flexibility including brioche for more adventurous caterers or parents who want to serve alternative options, such as buttermilk chicken or halloumi burgers. Buns and rolls also provide opportunities to appeal to the growing number of British school children who want vegan and vegetarian options.

“Parents will be looking for lunchbox foods that are convenient, versatile and will keep their children satisfied throughout the day, such as ingredients for tasty sandwiches,” comments Gilboy. “Retailers should therefore stock products that meet this criteria, as well as capitalising on consumer trends, like minimising food waste.”

“More than ever, shoppers are actively seeking out longer life bakery products and brands, such as Baker Street,” Gilboy continues. “Cleverly packed to be fresher for longer, Baker Street guarantees a minimum life of 35 days from delivery to depot to help ensure on-shelf availability and reduce the risk of in-store wastage for retailers. This is a benefit that has never been so relevant, as shoppers look for products that have a generous shelf-life to make sure they have key items to hand for lunchboxes.”

Research shows almost three quarters of consumers want to reduce their food waste, but often lack the time and means of doing so. Bread remains a staple product at home and school, but a huge amount of bread is wasted every single day.

The Baker Street brand is up 30 per cent year on year. Its range of sliced loaves and soft rolls lends themselves perfectly to the back to school occasion, meeting consumer needs around convenience and variety, whilst catering to a health conscious audience. Baker Street’s Sliced White Loaf is up 31 per cent in comparison to last year and Baker Street Sliced Brown Loaf is up 27 per cent (Nielsen Value Sales – MAT Feb 2021). This is the result of customers looking for staple products that can be used for multiple meal occasions.

“This versatility makes the entire Baker Street range a must-stock for the back-to-school occasion,” adds Gilboy. “Extended-life means availability for retailers but means that consumers will always have bread on hand for those last-minute lunchboxes.”

Due to the pandemic there has been a huge shift in needs and behaviours when it comes to food and as restrictions ease, these behaviours won’t suddenly ‘return to normal’. Bread has continued to remain popular throughout the pandemic, with sales of sliced bread growing by 4.6 per cent (Nielsen Value Sales – MAT Apr 2021).

Baker Street Sliced White Loaf and Sliced Brown Loaf sales are also increasing, with the brand growing 30 per cent year on year. Bread remains a key staple for the vast majority of households and, at the start of this year, there was particular growth in the trend towards staple white bread, which has increased 9.3 per cent (Nielsen Value Sales – L4 weeks MAT Feb 2021) and is still driving sales. This is due to the fact it is a versatile and convenient staple for the whole family which can be enjoyed at any time.

Sandwiches remain a popular choice because they are incredibly versatile and can easily be tailored to meet the tastes of the whole family. The market currently hosts a selection of innovative sandwich fillings and breads, all of which provide a vast option to keep lunchtimes varied for both children and adults.

“The financial implications of the pandemic on families, will mean that pre-prepared meals will remain popular for many, looking to save money rather than spend on weekday lunches,” says Gilboy. “Retailers will, however, need to provide inspiration for shoppers who will be needing to get back in the habit of school and work meal prep. Clever merchandising, recipe inspiration and demonstrating multiple uses of key products – especially bakery – will help capitalise on sales opportunities.”

“Retailers should look to merchandise back to school products together, especially if they want to offer back to school deals, in order to make the process as easy as possible for customers,” suggests Gilboy.

“Attractive and eye-catching displays of back to school products will encourage both impulse purchasing and upselling. Grouping products together will help inspire food choices for those looking for back to school items, so Baker Street sliced loaves and soft rolls should be positioned alongside sandwich fillings and snacks.”

“Children will start to go back to school in early September, with parents planning for their return from mid-August,” Gilboy continues. “It is therefore important for retailers to ensure they are fully stocked up before this time. For bread and bakery items, the longer shelf life of Baker Street means you can stock up with minimal risk of waste.”

“This is where ‘availability’ matters and Baker Street is designed to help convenience retailers ensure they are ready for peaks in sales,” adds Gilboy. “As an extended-life product, Baker Street is perfectly placed for the top-up shops that consumers often turn to convenience, for. By ensuring on-shelf availability, convenience stores can make sure parents can rely on a fully-stocked shelves for any last-minute top ups.”

Charlotte Hulbert, Retail Sales Manager, Brioche Pasquier. comments: “With Brits enjoying dishes from across the world, the lunchbox has become more adventurous in recent years. Chicken or fish in chilli sauces, hummus, nachos, spicy beans and even sushi are bringing the mid-day meal up to date for today’s multi-cultural children.”

Brioche Rolls can complement any type of filling, and because of their slightly sweet taste, add a unique flavour which makes a sandwich special. Croissants can be split and stuffed with traditional fillings like ham and cheese or egg mayonnaise with cress or consumers can go for the more adventurous hummus and grated carrot or jerk chicken and cucumber.

Snacks and bakery are sure fire bets for the back to school lunchbox. Most lunchboxes contain bread of some type, be it sliced white, seeded brown, wraps, flatbread or a crusty roll.

“Children love sandwiches made with our soft, slightly sweet Brioche Rolls which are easy to eat and the perfect size to fit neatly into a small hand,” says Hulbert.

When it comes to snacks, individual baked items can offer a more satisfying and wholesome alternative to a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps.

Brioche Pasquier’s PITCH chocolate snack brioche are perfect for a little boost after sport or at the end of a school day. They were the brand’s most popular products before the pandemic, and they have continued to gain traction over the last year. In the 52 weeks until 18 April 2021 buyer frequency rose 26% and the number of PITCH packs each buyer bought went up by 30.6%.

Brioche Pasquier is the nation’s favourite brioche brand and market leader in brioche branded products. Its long lasting -products contain no preservatives, artificial flavours or hydrogenated fats.

Brioche is increasingly part of the British bakery landscape, with Croissants and Pains au Chocolat providing breakfast inspiration, plain Brioche Rolls and Sliced Brioche Loaf perfect at any time of day and its PITCH products pleasing children with a sweet treat after school or sport.

“Wholesalers need to think about their customers and how they can best meet the needs of busy parents who would like their children to come home with an empty lunchbox having eaten and enjoyed the contents,” suggests Hulbert. “Health, convenience and affordability will all be high on the list of parents so retailers need to deliver this and wholesalers need to make sure they offer retailers options and ideas that to meet those needs.”

A back to school display which includes lunchboxes themselves, as well as ideas for filling them will be attractive to retailers.

“Healthy guidelines are mandatory at many schools, so the ideal is to tempt parents with wholesome products that are also practical and cost effective,” Hulbert continues. “Also think about what needs to go into each box – a piece of fruit, carrot/celery sticks or baby tomatoes, a roll or sandwich filled with fish, meat, cheese or beans, a small yogurt or sugarless jelly and perhaps a healthy drink.”

“Retailers will be interested in buying all these different components so that parents can make up lunchboxes,” Hulbert believes. “Some retailers may be interested in offering child-sized meal deals which include all these elements for busy parents who need a readymade option.”

Parents making lunchboxes at home like to have security of supply for at least a week on their shelves so there is no Friday panic with nothing to put in the box. Brioche Pasquier’s market leading brioche products stay fresh for up to 21 days allowing families to plan and resulting in less waste.

Over the pandemic longevity became a very desirable quality for bakery as people liked to have long-lasting bakery product in the cupboard as a standby, and this remains true now that Covid is easing. Brioche Pasquier is the nation’s favourite brioche brand and its long lasting -products contain no preservatives, artificial flavours or hydrogenated fats.

The brand’s packaging is also practical and hygienic, for example, its PITCH products come in packs of four or six, and its Croissants are twin wrapped in packs of six. This means the elements within will remain fresh in their individual packing, so there can always be a brioche in the cupboard.

Victoria Southern, Marketing & Category Director at Kerry Foods, comments: “2020 was a year like no other, changing the way we live, work and shop. With a year of restrictions which saw schools closing and consumers working from home we naturally saw changes to the way shoppers were consuming products. For example, despite a decline in food to go, especially in the first half of last year, wholesalers have benefited from a boost in back-of-store sales as retailers stock up on items that shoppers can snack at-home.”

This is replicated across kids snacking, where sales remained strong, despite schools being closed (Kantar).

Whilst the decline of packed lunch occasions was unprecedented, the growth of cheese and meat snacking in the home meant sales remained steady throughout the last year. Overall, we saw the number of out-of-home lunchboxes halved in the past 12 months, down -49.2%, dropping to 1.06 billion occasions from 2.09 billion: a loss of over 1.03bn (Kantar).

Yet regardless of schools being closed, Strings and Things RSV was up 2.5% vs last year, an increase of £1.3 million (Nielsen).

“With more kids at home, we’ve seen growth in at-home lunches, and through a strong innovation pipeline, combined with championing fun and adventure in snacking we’ve been able to tap into more occasions,” adds Southern. “Our mission as a brand to ‘make good food fun’ solves a real problem: we know kids want exciting snacks so we strive to reduce the guilt for parents struggling with the stress of “lunchtime boredom”. With lockown restrictions parents have struggled to break the monotony with kids not getting stimulus from other sources – our products play a role in here.”

Covid-19 has also made us more aware of what we are putting in our bodies and the added health benefits from certain foods.

Snacks that have a perceived health benefit or are known to be ‘healthier’ than others tend to be favoured by parents looking to fill lunchboxes (Mintel).

Kerry Foods is looking at how it can make additional benefits to its products. Strings & Things’ newest launch Frollies are smoothies on sticks that are made with real fruit and fortified with Vitamin D to give added immunity to snack time.

Consumers are looking for larger pack sizes as they bulk buy products to top-up lunchboxes throughout the week (Kantar). Strings & Things Cheestrings are available in a pack of eight, making them a perfect option for a week of school lunches and something wholesalers should consider stocking.

In terms of behaviour going back to normal, 77% of people plan to take a lunchbox to work or give one to their children when they return to school (Kantar). Generally kids being at school (or not) determines the growth of in-home occasions; when schools are open, ‘normal’ behaviours return (Kantar). For example, in the September 2020 back-to-school period, kids’ lunchboxes returned to ‘normal’ levels. Lunchboxes can therefore be expected to make a return as kids go back.

Children across the nation continue to be treated to their favorite miniature biscuits, despite the recent absence of school lunchboxes and on-the-go snacking occasions.

Burton’s, the No.1 manufacturer in the £54.4m Kids Minis Biscuits market (Nielsen) is encouraging wholesalers to stock up on biscuit portion packs, as retailer demand continues to meet the increasing shopper need for more permissible lunch accompaniments and snacking options that can be enjoyed both at home or on-the-go, as part of a balanced diet.

Kate Needham, Marketing Director at Burton’s Biscuit Company, says: “The easing of lockdown has seen the number of consumption occasions rise dramatically, with Maryland Mini’s and Jammie Dodgers Mini’s perfectly placed to once more meet consumer needs for a permissible treat on-the-go, in the car, after school sports and leisure activities, as well as in lunchboxes or as an afternoon snack.”

Many of Burton’s best-selling brands such as Jammie Dodgers and Maryland Cookies are available in mini bite size or individual portions, as the company leads the way in portion-controlled biscuits, offering the strongest ‘less than 100 calories per serve’ range in the UK’s £3 billion biscuits category.

With the majority of kids portion packs now under 100 calories, parents’ buying decisions are likely to also be influenced by additional health cues.

As part of the brand’s ongoing initiative to promote the role of portion-controlled snacks as part of a healthy balanced diet and active lifestyle, Burton’s ‘Minis Get Moving’ on-pack promotion has returned, helping families to get active in fun and accessible ways.

“This generation of kids is the LEAST active ever,” says Kate Needham, Burton’s Biscuit Co’s Marketing Director. “It is our mission to change that with return of our ‘Minis Get Moving’ on-pack promotion which highlights our ongoing commitment to promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, helping families to get active in fun and accessible ways.”

The Minis Get Moving campaign which coincides with the summer holidays and back to school occasions, will run until 23 September.

Joanna Goodman, Head of Marketing, Yogurt (Northern Europe) at General Mills, comments: “The total children’s packed lunch occasions have fallen this year by 47.9% (Kantar), mainly down to school closures because of the pandemic. Despite the school closures, Yoplait have generated a lot of forward momentum because handheld consumption occasions have proven so popular with parents. We have seen strong growth in kids’ yoghurts in portable, handheld formats.”

The kids’ yoghurt market is up 0.6% in value, with Frubes up by 10.6% and Wildlife up by 6.2% (Nielsen).

Health and convenience have been the two key trends kid’s brands have tapped into in the past year.

Recognising the increasing importance of convenience for modern parents, last summer General Mills introduced the Petits Filous Mess Free format – the first of its kind in the UK. Today, it is the number one Kids Drinkable Yogurt, providing children with the goodness of Petits Filous, but with less mess thanks to an anti-spill cap. In the past 12 months it has achieved £3.7m value sales, totalling 1.7% market share within Kids and 45% market share within Kids’ Drinkable (Nielsen). It is now the #1 kids’ innovation of the past three years.

In October 2019, General Mills launched its very first Petits Filous no added sugar range. Made with naturally sourced ingredients, it has 4.9g of sugar per 100g. It is now the bestselling no added sugar product in the market. Since launch it has achieved £0.7m value sales, totalling 0.5% market share (Nielsen).

Petits Filous introduced a total renovation of its core range, which saw a new and improved recipe that has seen a series of step changes since nearly 2007, while maintaining the great taste kids love. The new recipe was supported by a packaging refresh – the real fruit images were transformed into fun characters to demonstrate the brand’s playfulness. It was also made clear to shoppers that the brand had reformulated its recipe thanks to a new on-pack sticker. To ensure that consumers were engaged with this, the brand launched ATL activity this summer with its largest investment in 2020.

“While consumers are searching for health and convenience, taste remains a key purchase driver within kids’ yogurt,” adds Goodman. “As a result, only the new products that can deliver on the new trends without compromising taste are successful and still on shelf today.”

 

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