Me and my box
"Freya's primary has a 'healthy school' status so lunch boxes full of crisps, sweets or biscuits are frowned upon. The children are very aware of what's healthy and what's not because of this and actually don't mind the good-for-you stuff. Freya's lunch boxes usually contain a Babybel cheese, roll or sandwich with ham or Marmite (she loves it), plus chopped veg. Frubes go down well, as does fruit. She drinks plain water but has a smoothie if they are on offer. The only difficulty in providing a lunchbox everyday is remembering to get enough food in to last the week. I'm for ever nipping to the local shop on Sunday night to stock up on food, wrap and bags." Gill Heath, mum to Freya, 5
If we can help it, here at Convenience Store we avoid calling on retailers between the hours of 12 and 1.30pm. That's because we know the lunchtime rush is one of the busiest and most profitable times of the day and that's why so many store owners are investing their time and money in improving their offers.

These offers have been subject to quite significant changes in the past few years as the issue of health has crept further up the government and consumer agenda and so, by default, the manufacturers'. In fact, 'healthier' lunchbox products have been jumping out of the new product development kitchens faster than you can say "low-fat snack pack".

However, with the credit crunch still gnawing away at people's spending power, and with the recent budget announcing even tougher times to come, many are predicting that, when it comes to grown-up lunchboxes, our old pal health will take more of a back seat, while his cousin value steers the wheel.

Sun-Maid California Raisins marketing manager Shirley Griffiths explains: "In these tough economic times it has definitely become more important for shoppers to watch the pennies than make sure they are eating healthily. This is probably more so for adult lunchboxes as parents are still concerned about what their children eat."

It's a view that Kanna Jeyamungunthan, owner of Budgens Stoneleigh, Surrey, wholeheartedly agrees with. "Shoppers definitely look much closer at prices now and particularly so with their lunch products such as sandwiches and snacks as it's an area in which they can make savings. One range that has done particularly well in our store is prepacked tubs of fruit salad. which we sell for just £1. They offer incredibly good value and as an added bonus they are also healthy, a real win win," he says.

So at just 65p a pack it's also easy to see why Florette's apple and grape 80g prepacked snack pack has proved to be such a hit with both retailers and shoppers.

The nation's penny-watching consumers have also spawned a resurgence in the popularity of ambient sandwich fillings and pastes, as people opt to make their own sandwiches and wraps, points out Ruth Simpson, marketing director for Princes Foods.

Deals on meals
Value for money looks set to continue to be a key concern for adult consumers this year, but it's a trend that retailers can take advantage of by offering cleverly promoted meal deals, including sandwiches, single portions of fruit, crisps and a soft drink. This year Walkers is launching a high-impact marketing campaign to leverage the lunchtime occasion and drive sales. According to the brand, 91% of consumers enjoy a sandwich at lunchtime, but only 26% have crisps as part of their lunch. By closely aligning the Walkers brand with sandwiches and influencing lunchtime purchasing, it hopes to drive significant incremental sales for retailers and itself. As a result, it is advising stores to ensure that the top 10 selling crisps and snacks brands are always available and included in any meal deal offers they have. However, getting a Meal Deal right is about more than just stocking the best-sellers, Britvic sales director Murray Harris says. "When we talk about value, this doesn't simply mean a low price; it means offering consumers what they want and packaging it up at an attractive price, so consumers feel they are getting value for money. One way that retailers can do this is to make sure that they pass on the deals they receive at cash and carries. It's also important to remember that consumers' needs vary throughout the day and so, therefore, should the Meal Deals. Products on offer at breakfast, for example, should be different to those at lunch. "The deal should also be communicated on entry to the outlet, as there's no point telling customers about it at the till point once their main purchasing decisions have been made," adds Harris. "However, it's worth noting that flooding customers with deals can sometimes dilute the impact of a carefully targeted deal. Consumers can become desensitised to deals if they are constantly offered, so it might be the case that the retailer puts on a deal on a specific day, once a week. This then becomes established and known to their customers, so that they come to expect a deal on a Friday lunchtime, for example."
As such, the company has recently launched a new range of flavour-infused ambient tuna cans. "The new line-up, available in lemon & cracked black pepper, chilli, and basil, combines the flavour of value- added products with the versatility of standard tuna," she says.

"The long shelf-lives and value for money of ambient lunch products such as canned tuna and sandwich spreads make these a low-waste, good-value option for many shoppers. These products are therefore ideal for consumers who are looking to shake-up their usual lunchbox choices as they work equally well on a sandwich as they do with a cold pasta or a salad."

The past few months have also seen the company investing in its Princes sandwich spread brand. "Changing shopping habits have given us a great opportunity to attract new consumers to the category," adds Simpson. The Shippam's sandwich fillings range was recently extended with five new gourmet options which still offer shoppers value for money.

And despite the fact that they are slightly pricier than their ambient counterparts, npd has also been rife in the chilled spreads and fillings segment, as more people opt to make their own sarnies at home. Hardly surprising given that shoppers can make at least three days' worth of sandwiches for the price of one prepacked one.

On the cheese front, Bel recently launched Deli Snacks under its Laughing Cow umbrella. The Deli-Light range of spreadable cheeses includes flavours such as blue cheese, onion, and tomato & basil.

The lunchbox occasion is still the biggest driver of sandwich meats, which make up just over 70% of the cooked meats market, according to Bernard Matthews.

Chunky sandwich meats such as turkey and chicken breast pieces are also continuing to show strong growth as shoppers get more creative with their lunchboxes, making up salads and cold pasta dishes as well as sandwiches.

And, just as with fruit salads, there is also strong demand for £1 pricemarked packs, Bernard Matthews says.

Of course, we couldn't mention sandwiches without delving into developments in the bakery aisle, which has been toasting the rise in home-made sandwiches. Sandwiches or filled rolls feature in three-quarters of lunchboxes, according to KantarWorld Panel data for the year to February 2010, and lunchboxes account for 13% of all bakery occasions.

While white bread remains a core lunchbox product, new launches from all the brand leaders are helping to keep the category fresh and exciting. Kingsmill launched its Oatilicious brand in January, and just a few months later Hovis followed suit with new Hovis Hearty Oats. In April it was Warburton's turn with an extension to its Farmhouse range with a new 800g grained loaf.

And the major bread brands aren't the only ones looking to jazz up the category. A significant investment in TV advertising this year has seen Mission's Deli Wraps brand go from strength to strength with sales up 33.6% in the year to January 2010.

Kiddie capers

It might be all about the round pound when it comes to adult lunchboxes, but when their kids are in the equation it's a square meal which is by far the most important driver for parents many of whom now have to conform to stringent school lunch policies. Fortunately for them, the nation's manufacturers are helping to make their jobs easier.

"The children's arena has seen by far the greatest concentration of health-related new product development in the past couple of years, with manufacturers removing artificial flavours and colours and reducing sugar and salt in their products," says Shirley Griffiths, marketing manager for Sun-Maid California Raisins.

Experts at food research agency Leatherhead Food Research believe that naturalness in products will become increasingly important, as will the addition of good-for-you ingredients such as vitamins, calcium and wholegrains.

Two products which are already ahead of the curve here and reaping the benefits are Weetabix's new Oaty Bars which at just 85 calories tick all the boxes of low fat and high fibre, and Yazoo's recently reformulated milk drink which now includes real fruit juice in the strawberry and banana variants.

Yazoo belongs to what is still a rather exclusive club of drinks that meet the School Foods Trust guidelines on drinks in schools, a fact which it hopes will help it achieve an additional £10m-worth of sales to £95m in 2010.

Marielle de Jong, marketing director at Yazoo manufacturer FrieslandCampina UK, explains: "The government and the School Food Trust have long been leading the way in the fight against childhood obesity, and one of their key initiatives is the ban on sweetened fizzy drinks. They now allow only bottled water, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, pure juices and yogurt or milk drinks with less than 5% added sugar to be sold at schools."

But its healthier credentials aren't the only reasons behind Yazoo's success as with any kids' product it has been cleverly tailored to also hold a large degree of kiddie appeal, a key element for any aspiring lunchbox staple.

"In an ideal world, children would be happy to drink a plain glass of milk everyday, but research and brand experience shows that this is not likely to prove realistic. Adding flavour to milk can be an effective solution, providing a healthier alternative that is attractive to both children and parents," Jong adds.

Another brand that appears to have got this delicate balancing act right is Feel Good Drinks. The brand uses 100% natural ingredients and no added sugar to please mums and dads, but has the taste and refreshment that active kids want. The kids range also comes in 'cool' new tetra wedge packaging, hitting another important ace: design.

"Lunchbox brands definitely have to have a certain level of 'street cred' to appeal to kids. They need to look visually appealing and fun," says marketing director and co-founder Steve Cooper.

"That's why every one of our Feel Good Kids drinks has a Feel Good doodle on the back which has been drawn and sent to us by kids via our feelgooddoodle website."

One lunchbox category which is meeting all three requirements of nutrition, taste and appearance is cheese. Recent bad press about its high fat, salt and colourings contents has seen virtually all of the major players step up their efforts to improve the health image of their products, with most now shouting loudly about their much more "natural" positionings.

Dairylea, for example, recently launched a "great new taste" earlier this year, but it's been keen to stress that the new recipe contains a shorter list of ingredients and is free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

Most popular
5Cheese & ham 

5Cheese & tomato 

Source: Kantar Worldpanel Usage Foods 12 months to February 2010
Bel UK, meanwhile, recently reduced the fat content of its Extra Light Laughing Cow triangles from 3% to 2%. Both this and the Babybel brand are to appear in high-profile advertising campaigns stressing their natural credentials and high calcium contents this summer.

Kerry Foods has also been beating the natural drum loudly and proudly on its website, which has two clearly defined sections, one designed for adults and another for kids.

Health aside, with the jigsaw puzzle of different shapes and sizes from stringy to circular and triangular, it's clear to see why cheese snacks are also favoured by kids. In fact, so favoured are they that the cheese snacks category grew by a staggering 17% in the past year to November 2009, Kantar Worldpanel data shows.

However, it's important to remember that no matter how health-focused parents and schools are, kids will always crave the occasional sweet treat, and that's why biscuits still remain key lunchbox accompaniments alongside cereal bars, cheese snacks and fruit. For obvious reasons, products that offer clear portion control are the big winners in this category.

Burton's Foods category controller Jon Sandy explains: "The lunchbox category is extremely competitive, with a multitude of brands competing for a share in a more diverse snacking environment. Those that succeed are those that meet category trends: portion control, price, portability and permissibility and nutrition."

Burtons has recently invested in turning its two most iconic brands Jammie Dodgers and Maryland into cereal bars and 'mini' formats as a result.

The Jammie Dodgers brand was further expanded in 2009 with the launch of a new out-of-home product called Splat Snacks, an on-the-go format of splat-shaped biscuit and cereal snacks.
ones to watch...
Fox in a box 
Fox's Biscuits is extending its Mini Moos kids range with the launch of new Mini Moos Choc Chip. Available now, the mini malted milk biscuits are packaged in individual 25g bags and in a multipack of six. The individual bags are the perfect size for lunchboxes and enable mothers to give their children a simple and tasty treat while maintaining portion control, Fox's says. The launch will be supported by in-store price promotions and PR activity. rrp: £1.29 for 6x25g pack.
 tel: 01924 444 333 

Taste of summer 
Ginsters has expanded its savoury wraps offer with two new summer recipes: BBQ beef and fiery cheese. The two new SKUs offer alternative flavour experiences which Ginsters says are perfect for spicing up lunchtimes and on-the-go snacking. Both wraps can be eaten hot or cold. The launches will be supported by the Ginsters brand's national TV campaign which forms part of a £3.5m media investment for 2010. rrp £3.39 tel: 01579 386200 

City slickers 
Cathedral City has launched a new look for its snacking range that more clearly communicates pack contents. The revamped range of snacks now incorporates Cathedral City with Crackers & Pickle and Cathedral City with Pickle. Cathedral City Mature Minis and Snackpack will also feature the new look. The packaging redesign includes the brand's new logo and deeper burgundy colour, ensuring clearer standout on shelf. rrp: Cathedral City snack pack, 49p tel: 0800 783 7281 

For little angels 
Goody Good Stuff, a new range of gummy kids' sweets made using only natural ingredients and without meat-based gelatine, is launching in the UK this summer. The range, which is also certified vegetarian, vegan, kosher and halal as well as being E number and fat free, will tick many boxes with health-conscious mums. Gummy Good Stuff consists of eight flavours and is available in 100g snack packs. rrp: 99p-£1.49 tel: 0845 643 9333
top 10
1Walkers cheese & onion 2Walkers ready salted 3Quavers 4Walkers salt & vinegar 5Walkers cheese & onion grab bag 6McCoy's flame grilled steak 40g 7Mega Monster Munch roast beef 8Walkers prawn cocktail 9McCoy's cheddar & onion 40g 10McCoy's salt & malt vinegar 40g AC Nielsen MAT 52 weeks ending November 28, 2009
retailer’s view
"Our store is in quite a busy town centre location so the lunchtime trade is important to us. I don't sell a great deal of kids' products, but quite a few things for adult meals. There is quite a lot of competition in the area with delis and sandwich shops, so wherever possible I try to offer Meal Deals. They are always popular, particularly when I include single portions of fruit and vegetables as part of them. Interestingly, single tomatoes have become quite popular in the past few months. People like to buy them and add them to the pre-packed cheese rolls and sandwiches after purchase so that the bread doesn't go soggy. Twin-packs of Babybel cheese are also really popular with female office workers who like to share them." Julie Gerrity, Spar Emlyn, Newcastle