With a little more than a month until the kids return to school, now's a great time to cast your eye over the kind of products you're offering as lunchbox fillers. Add in the growing number of adults keen to provide themselves with a healthier option to tuck in to at work and it's clear the lunchbox category should not be ignored.
It can be a tough category to manage, however, with such a wide range of products to keep a check on. And while there is a growing number of products designed specifically with lunchboxes in mind, it's also vital that basket basics such as bread, margarine, fresh fruit and cold meat are not neglected.
Consumers may be getting more adventurous but there's no escaping the fact that the vast majority of lunchboxes will contain a sandwich or bread roll. Warburtons advises retailers to start planning now to order products for the back-to-school period. The company also points to a growing interest in better-for-you products which retailers should not ignore.
Category director Sarah Miskell says: "As well as looking at the latest market trends, retailers still need to do the basics right by stocking a core range of products backed up by healthier and more premium lines. White bread with the added benefits of wholemeal has become extremely important to the bakery category and now accounts for 9.5% of total bread sales."
However, Miskell adds that 55% of all bread sales still come from white loaves. She also reminds retailers to not to forget to provide a good selection of soft bread rolls in time for pupils returning to school.
Cold meat has an important role to play when it comes to sandwich fillings. Premium packed meat is expected to drive the sector forward, according to Julia Guy, category director at Bernard Matthews. The company recently introduced its Rotisserie range, which is available in three variants - roast turkey, chicken and ham.
"We've identified an excellent opportunity for major growth within the prepacked premium sector, which is a market worth more than £1.5bn," she says. "The cooked meats category is increasingly demanding more flavoursome options and our Rotisserie range is all about flavour. We're extremely confident that the new range will be key in driving more premium and
versatile products into the cold meat category."
In the meat snacks category, Unilever has relaunched its Peperami brand with reduced salt and fat. New packaging is also labelled with a '100% pork salami' stamp. Aimed at mums with children between the ages of six and 16, Peperami is also targeting lunchboxes with its minis range, which is now available in a 'grab bag' format with increased shelf visibility. GDAs are also included on the front of packs.
Cheese spreads and snack products remain a favourite lunchbox filler for children and adults alike. Cheddar continues to dominate the category with a 40% share and this is the reason Wyke Farms has teamed up with Kavli, the company
behind Primula, to offer its extra mature Cheddar cheese in a new and handy squeezy tube format.
Kavli's marketing director Craig Brooks believes the convenient tube format will prove popular for lunchbox consumers. "Cheddar makes up half of the cheese category, with mature accounting for 40% of the sector, so it was a natural progression to develop a spreadable Cheddar for the Primula range. The cheese spread sector is well served in mild tastes but there isn't much which satisfies the more developed palate of our grown-up consumers."
Cheese snacks are also performing well, according to customer director at Kraft Foods, Dave McNulty. He highlights health as a key driver in the lunchbox category. "Consumers are more health-aware these days and this is affecting what they choose to put in their lunchboxes," he explains. "A standard packed lunch used to comprise a sandwich, a packet of crisps and a chocolate biscuit, but now consumers are preparing more nutritionally balanced lunches, introducing fruit, low-fat yogurt and snacks."
the gda revolution
McNulty believes initiatives such as GDAs have made it much easier for customers to understand the levels of sugar, fat and salt various products contain and adds: "As a result, cheese snacks are growing in popularity, with both kids' cheese snacks and adult snacks showing growth of 1.9% and 39.5% respectively. Retailers should always bear in mind that although the adult snacks category is showing massive annual growth, the kids' sector is actually the largest and is worth a staggering £132.4m compared with adult cheese snacks at £18.8m."
Bel UK category manager Ian Hipwell agrees that parents are thinking more about what they put in their children's lunchboxes. He says: "An emerging generation of parents are more aware and knowledgeable about diet and are concerned about the food intake of their children, which means they're more careful about what they include in the daily lunchbox."
Hipwell says that a number of Bel UK's brands, which include Mini Babybel, The Laughing Cow and Cheez Dippers, provide an alternative to high-fat or sugar products and adds: "Our products offer healthy and tasty alternatives to high-fat snacks such as crisps or sugary confectionery, which some children may like in their lunchbox but their parents certainly don't. We encourage retailers to ensure their cheese fixtures are well stocked, are easily accessible and that they give adequate display space to the top-selling brands."
Food Standard Agency surveys carried out in 2003 and 2004 tracked changes in the contents of school lunchboxes over a 14-month period. Over that time, fewer lunchboxes contained crisps, chocolate and confectionery and there was an increase in the number containing fruit, vegetables and dairy products.
Müller UK marketing director, Chris McDonough says dairy was one of the biggest beneficiaries in this period with the percentage of lunchboxes containing a yogurt, cheese or milk-based product increasing by 11% to 59%.
"Müller has taken on board the challenge of developing a portfolio of dairy products which are enjoyable and will help contribute to a healthy balanced diet," he says. According to McDonough, the company's Little Stars range, which includes fromage frais, high fruit jellies, smooth yogurt and yogurt drinks, is performing well. He urges retailers not to forget to provide dairy snacks for adults as well and points to the launch of Müller's One a Day yogurt and yogurt drinks, which contain a daily fruit portion in each serving.
He adds: "Although our focus is very much on children's lunchboxes, industry statistics show that children actually represent only 30% of the £4bn a year market. The broad appeal of products like Müller One a Day will make it a welcome addition to packed lunches."
Yoplait Dairy Crest's Frubes have a 9.7% share of the children's chilled yogurts and desserts market and are worth £24.4m as a brand. The product recently benefited from a nine-week TV ad campaign to support the release of a Doctor Who limited edition. Pauline Vicente, Frubes product manager, says the product is an ideal brand for lunchboxes as children love its unique tube format and fun characters.
Yoplait has also invested in a relaunch of its Yop yogurt drink brand which has seen the introduction of the new four-pack format of Yop Minis, which are available in strawberry and raspberry flavours.
Its Petits Filous brand is also a favourite choice for younger children's lunchboxes, as group brand manager Gemma Baggaley explains: "Research we have carried out revealed that 65% of consumers prefer the taste of Petits Filous products when put head-to-head with the leading competitor. Mums like the brand because it's a source of calcium and vitamin D, helping make their children's bones stronger, and it offers a premium quality taste that
Providing healthy products in a format which youngsters are willing to eat has been the key to many manufacturers' recent successes.
Del Monte's solution to the problem has been its Fruitini range of ambient fruit products. The range was given a makeover this summer which included an improved formulation and new on-pack messaging of the product's health benefits.
Del Monte also extended the Fruitini brand in May with the launch of a 200ml high juice drink. The orange & grape and blackcurrant & grape variants contain 73% juice and 27% water.
Del Monte commercial director Leigh Edwards says: "Time-precious parents face a constant battle to find tasty and healthy lunchbox snacks that their children will like. The success of the Fruitini relaunch demonstrates the popularity of the brand in UK family households. Alongside our Fruitini pots, the new high juice drink offers a convenient lunchbox solution for mums."
Other recent soft drink developments in the lunchbox category include Vimto's Panda Juice, a 100% exotic juice range from Rubicon, and the continued success of products including Robinsons Fruit Shoot, Ribena and Capri-Sun.
Fruit snack manufacturer Whitworths also believes many parents are now having a rethink when it comes to the content of their children's lunchboxes.
Marketing director Neil Hepplewhite explains: "The massive rise in health awareness, coupled with an absolute commitment by many parents to improve the quality of children's diets, are the main motivators behind what's included in a lunchbox. Parents want their children to eat healthily, but they also realise that better-for-you lunchbox foods must appeal to children as well, or they simply won't eat them."
Whitworths has developed a range of products to appeal to both children and adults. It includes a three-strong range of Fruits, Sunny Raisin and low-fat dried apple crisps. Hepplewhite adds: "There's considerable potential to develop the market for healthy lunchboxes even further and there's no doubt that fruit snacks will play a major role in this area."
The Funky Snack Company has extended its portfolio recently with the introduction of the Sooo Fruity range of freeze-dried pure fruit snacks. The snacks come in banana, grape and strawberry variants and have no added sugar, preservatives or colourings.
Marketing director Richard Brewer says it's the first time freeze-dried fruit has been available as a snack product. "Freeze drying, as opposed to air drying, does not damage the structure of the fruit, and the sugar content is natural. With some other fruit snacks, additional sugar as well as other additives are used to reduce costs."
Sun Valley's new Just range of fruit and nut snacks are also aimed at those looking for a healthier snacking options. There are four varieties in the range: Berriez, Raisinz, Fruit 'n' Seedz and Nutz. All contain no additives or preservatives, and the raisin and berry varieties also boast the five-a-day logo.
Manufacturers have also been quick to develop new lines in the adult healthy snacking market. Kellogg's recently launched Special K Mini Breaks. With just 98 calories in each bag, the new product is ideal for lunchboxes and snacking at the desk.
Mini Breaks are available in an original and chocolate variant. They will be supported by a four-week TV advertising campaign in September.
And in the savoury better-for-you snacks market, Ryvita has launched its crispbread product in a more convenient snack pack format. Available in multigrain and sesame variants, each box contains five individually wrapped packs of four crispbreads.
While there's been a clear increase in the number of better-for-you snacks on the market, it's worth remembering that old favourites like crisps are not suddenly going to fall off shopping lists. Even here though, manufacturers have had to respond to the health debate by altering ingredients and lowering levels of salt and fat.
UBUK's customer marketing director Mark Sugden concludes: "The advent of the summer holidays will see independent retailers plan for when the kids go back to school. Items suitable for the school lunchboxes form a vital part of this planning.
"When placing stock orders for September, independent retailers will need to balance parents' desire for nutritional products with children's demand for the essential 'playground' cool factor. UBUK's extensive portfolio allows parents to fill the school lunchbox with a variety of popular snacks."
All grown up - office lunchboxes
Jeremy Fordrey, 48: "I make my own office lunch. I always have wholemeal bread and fill it with something quick like a sandwich filler spread. I usually supplement it with a rocket and tomato salad and have a chocolate bar for balance. I do think about health and use my local
c-store for top-up shops. I think I might use it more if it had a deli counter."
Rikki Mudie, 19: "I make my lunch every day and will usually have something like chicken, lettuce and cucumber on white bread. I also have a yogurt and some fresh fruit, like melon. I like to achieve my five-a-day but I also have an orange Penguin as a treat. I use my local Co-op store quite a lot but I would like to see it stock fresher fruit."
Stuart Gill, 20: "I bring my own lunch as much as I can but usually have a day off each week, when I can't be bothered. I have rolls filled with cold meat and tomato or coleslaw, and a packet of crisps. I don't really think about health that much. I just want something to fill me up. I'd like my local c-store to have a better range of chilled meat to choose from."
Belinda Cole, 26: "I bring lunch most days. I usually make a pitta or a wrap with a tuna filler or flavoured chicken fillets. I'll also have a yogurt and some yogurt-covered fruit flakes. I usually use my local c-store once
a week on top of one supermarket visit. I'd like
it to have a better selection of sandwich fillers and cooked meat."
Raj Athwal, owner of Athwal Spar in Bottesford, North Lincolnshire:
"We get a lot of people coming in for their lunchboxes, especially for fresh products and packets of crisps. We do a lot of multipacks of crisps and things like Kit-Kats which people take home and break down for their lunches. Things like Lunchables and Cheestrings sell well. Fresh products like packs of cut fresh fruit are also very popular with mums, especially if they're on promotion. Cold meats are also popular for sandwiches. We devote three shelves to sliced meats and have three or four local suppliers. I think these days people are looking for healthier things, but products like crisps will always sell."