Today's school lunches don't always mean juice boxes, chewy fruit snacks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Many parents are skipping those items and instead packing lunch boxes with healthier, nutritional products that take less time to prepare during their busy mornings. As this trend takes hold, there is more opportunity for retailers and brands to come up with products, sales and displays that will attract parents to these new, premium products.
It's no surprise that many of these items are launched just before school commences. August is a big month for retailers and fast-moving consumer goods. Brick-and-mortar sales during the second week of August reached a summer high of nearly $15.9 billion, according to Nielsen. Some well-known companies are aggressively working to take advantage of this surge.
Known for its Greek yogurt, Stonyfield launched a new product just in time for back-to-school grocery shopping. A snack pack version of its organic low-fat yogurt is now sold in a no-spoon-required packaging. Instead, pretzels and graham crackers are dipped into kid-friendly yogurt flavors such as chocolate and strawberry.
"With back to school just around the corner, our Snack Packs give families another nourishing, easy snacking option they can trust. The dippable format makes eating on the go a little tastier and more importantly for busy parents and kids, a lot more convenient – whether it's in a lunchbox, on the sports field, or as an after school snack," Natalie Levine, Stonyfield's brand director, said in a statement.
Snacking could be a driving factor behind the rise in back-to-school sales. The snacking category is valued at $89 billion, according to IRI, and growing at a 3% clip. Pre-portioned products are a big seller for parents as lunchtime or after-school snacks. Salsa maker Fresh Cravings, for example, introduced a grab-and-go line of tortilla chips and salsa.
Other new products on the market include peanut-free, chocolate coconut cashew bars from Rowdy Prebiotic Foods, as well as a ranch snack mix and potato chips from Bubba’s Fine Foods. The chips are gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, vegan, contain no added sugars and are non-GMO — hitting all the key areas that parents are looking for in food for themselves and their children.
Premium, better-for-you products tend to have a higher price point that parents are willing to pay. Consumers can’t get enough of clean-label products, and companies are cashing in on that trend. According to Packaged Facts, U.S. sales of gluten-free products are expected to surpass $2 billion by 2019 even though most consumers aren’t gluten intolerant. Parents are introducing the paleo diet to their children, and more consumers are shopping for meat substitutes.
A large part of the shift in clean foods for children comes from the dramatic rise in allergies. Food allergies tend to introduce themselves when children are young, a factor that food brands could take into account by designing lunch box-ready products with peanut-free and dairy-free options.
For food manufacturers, millennial parents are the ones to target. Almost half of American households are composed of millennial parents and 46% of those report that buying nutritional foods is a top priority, according to data cited by Stonyfield. Millennial parents are the leaders in organic and healthy food trends. They’re passing down those traits to the next generation who will likely carry that over into their buying habits as they get older.
Along with millennials comes a busy lifestyle. On-the-go pouches are booming in the snack industry. They’re not just for baby food anymore. Tree Top is among the companies that recently began selling on-the-go applesauce pouches available in a variety of flavors, including cinnamon, mixed berry, tropical and strawberry. Other brands include Serenity Kids, which sells chicken, beef and bacon puree, and Ella’s Kitchen, whose choices include vegetable bake and chicken casserole.
Technology is playing an increasingly bigger role in marketing these children products to adults.
Emmi Roth, a Wisconsin-based company, sells a line of snack cheeses and uses technology to market its products to adults. The food maker will offer mobile rebates and digital coupons during this year’s back-to-school season. The company will push its digital marketing to target tech-savvy shoppers looking for ways to save on premium products, Heather Engwall, director of marketing for Emmi Roth told Winsight Grocery.
Retailers are planning to offer buy-one, get-one promotions for snack products during this year’s back-to-school shopping season. Engwall believes cross-promotion of the snack cheeses with applesauce packets and snack-sized popcorn, would create a meal solution for consumers.