Sports drinks, fresh fruit top back-to-school grocery lists
- Spending on sports drinks jumped 35% during the back-to-school purchasing weeks of Aug. 13 through Sept. 10, 2016 when compared to an average week the rest of the year, according to a report from the Nielsen market data firm.
- Topping purchases on the produce side were apples — the biggest-selling category with $243.5 million in sales — along with strawberries and fresh-cut fruit, with sales of $202.8 million and $204.9 million, respectively. Mangoes saw the highest sales growth during the back-to-school season, according to the report.
- Prepackaged items for lunches, breakfasts or snacks also did well, Nielsen reported, with cookie snacks and variety packs, pop-up toaster pastries, hummus and brownies making the list of top sellers in the center of the store.
Parents buying ingredients for school lunches and after-school snacks are closely scrutinizing labels to make sure the products they buy are free of certain ingredients, according to Nielsen. Consumers spend 37% more on sports drinks without artificial sweeteners and 19% more on those without sugar. In addition, sports drinks containing antioxidants and those low in sodium and free of artificial colors were popular, too.
"Parents are also increasingly looking at ingredient lists to ensure they are comfortable providing the products to their children," the Nielsen report noted. "For example, when it comes to sports drinks, discerning shoppers are comparing ingredients across the many colorful and flavorful options and paying close attention to what’s in and not in the items they buy."
It's apparent that retailers and sports drink manufacturers could benefit from focusing on more healthful ingredients when they market to parents, particularly during the run-up to the first day of school.
One brand responding to increasing consumer interest in healthier no-sugar sports drinks is Kill Cliff, which recently attracted new investment from Sunrise Strategic Partners to help it increase product distribution and marketing efforts.
PepsiCo's Gatorade, which controls about 70% of the sports drink market in the U.S., is not immune to the demand for healthier and organic products, and it has responded to this growing consumer interest. It rolled out three USDA-certified organic Gatorade varieties this year sold as G Organic, following Coca-Cola's debut of Honest Sport, a line of organic sports drinks sold under the company's Honest Tea brand.
As for mangoes, U.S. consumption has nearly tripled in the past decade, and importers are increasingly taking note of their spike in popularity around the world. Last year, Mexican producers exported a record 73 million crates of several different varieties worth about $500 million. The National Mango Board in Orlando, Florida projects a 30% increase for the 2017 season.
However, apples still reign supreme among the younger demographic. According to a study published in 2015 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, apples made up 29% of the fruit U.S. children and teens consume on any given day, with about two-thirds coming in the form of whole apples and the remainder in juice.
As consumers gravitate toward fresher, more natural foods, it would not be a surprise to see fruit sales rise again this year. Retailers would be wise to market these items to shoppers through parent-friendly displays and promotions, while manufacturers could continue to look for ways to incorporate more produce in meals, snacks and other items popular with children and the parents who buy them.