And nowhere are health concerns more pertinent than in the kids' lunchbox market. The new standards for food and nutrition in schools that are being phased in throughout the course of 2009 present the children's packed lunches market with a range of challenges, but also many opportunities.
Following its very public clean-up of school meals in 2005, the government's health spotlight is now firmly fixed on boxes, and the light has proved too bright for many former favourites.
Schools up and down the country are adopting 'whole school' food policies, meaning that edibles which contain high levels of salt, sugar and fat are now banned from most school vending machines and discouraged in lunchboxes brought in from home.
The development is forcing brands to get creative with new, healthier product launches to ensure that they maintain a presence on shelf.
"The baked not fried message is becoming increasingly familiar as shoppers look for healthier alternatives," says Deborah Carter, senior consultant at Dragon Rouge.
"This is giving licence for much greater creativity in the baked area - using bread or wholegrains as a base - and inventing more savoury breadsticks and oven-baked equivalents, especially if they still offer great taste and are in shapes to provide kid appeal," she adds.
Convenience store retailers also have a great opportunity to cash in on the hand-held fruit market which has blossomed since the recession kicked in, as shoppers shun pricey smoothies in favour of fruits in their natural and cheaper whole forms.
For smaller kids, fun-sized packs of grapes, raisins and bananas are a great idea, as are fruit pots. Dole recently launched a Fruit & Rice range to arm mums with a "new and exciting way to smuggle fruit into their family's diet".
Premier Foods has also recently announced the expansion of its Hartley's desserts brand with two new individual pot dessert ranges - Hartley's Frujies and Hartley's Fruit in Jelly. Frujies, which have been designed to appeal to kids, are available in two variants - mandarins in orange jelly and peaches in strawberry jelly - and have a rrp of £1.99.
Meanwhile, Whitworths - the manufacturer of the Sunny Raisin childrens' brand - believes that there is now a huge opportunity to grow the dried fruit snacking segment.
Dried fruit brand Sun-Maid agrees. "Sun-Maid Raisins have been a popular, healthy and portable snack for many generations," says Sun-Maid California Raisins marketing manager Shirley Griffiths.
"Many people have grown up with Sun-Maid and remember their mothers putting the little red boxes in their lunchbox, and they in turn are now buying Sun-Maid Raisins for their children," she adds.
The iconic red 14.1g boxes are ideal for tiny hands, and the company is also seeing growth of its larger 42.5g snack pack aimed at nostalgic adults.
"There are opportunities for convenience store retailers to take advantage of this growing sector by making their food-to-go displays accessible and easy to locate, which will assist time-pressurised shoppers looking to make a quick purchase," Griffiths adds.
Another lunchbox category to be riding high on the health wave is dairy, and yogurts in particular.
Yogurts currently feature in one in five lunchboxes according to TNS Worldpanel Data, with that figure increasing to one in three among children under the age of 10. Chris McDonough, marketing and R&D director of Müller UK, believes that this figure will increase over the coming years as manufacturers expand their ranges and consumer interest in the creamy stuff grows. "Of the top five items most often found in lunchboxes (sandwiches, hand-held fruit, crisps, salad and yogurt), only fruit and yogurt are increasing their presence, with biscuits and crisps, in particular, both in decline," he says.
Offering yogurts as part of a meal deal promotion could be a real sales spinner for c-store retailers, he points out.
Müller has been pumping cash into its Little Stars kids brand, which contains 100% natural ingredients, and is planning a new on-pack offer starting in August.
The dairy snacking sector has also been one of the most innovative in terms of formats, with many manufacturers launching fun and convenient pouch and tube products. Yoplait's Frubes have been around for a while now, but the brand has managed to boost sales further of late by recommending that consumers freeze them overnight so they remain cool until lunchtime.
The great taste and high calcium and vitamin D content of many cheese snacks, and particularly dips, is also helping this category enjoy marked success.
Kraft Foods is planning on showering its Dairylea Dunkers brand with a £2.3m media investment this year, including a high-profile TV campaign, to help support its 2008 re-brand.
Bel UK innovation and research manager Rosemary Tapp believes Bel has got all the bases covered when it comes to the lunchbox market. "Mini Babybel and The laughing Cow are ideal for lunchboxes, while Leerdammer and Port Salut Slices are great for sandwich fillings," she says.
Bel UK has invested millions extending the Babybel brand in recent years, adding a number of new flavour variants to the original little red cheese, including Cheddar, Emmental and goat's, as well as two light options.
It has also been splashing cash on its Laughing Cow Cheez Dippers brand, launching a limited-edition summer design with on-pack games to keep the kids entertained and out of trouble.
However, while toys and games are great for young children, brands face a real challenge when it comes to older kids or young teen lunchbox eaters.
It goes without saying that a product has to taste good, but it's also got to look the part if it's going to play any sort of role in today's image-conscious kids' lunchboxes.
"Kids want the approval of their peers and so it is very important, especially for kids over the age of seven or eight, who are increasingly brand-conscious and want to be seen with the right products," says Carter.
"Thus while it may be acceptable for mum to add a carton of own- label juice for the under-sevens, it is more than likely that an older child will want a known brand such as Fruit Shoot or Capri Sun, in a format with street cred, to avoid any feeling of 'second best'."
One brand which is definitely cool enough for school is Cheestrings. The bendy cheese sticks tick all the boxes: they're made from 100% natural cheese, they taste good, and best of all they can be twisted and played with.
The brand, which is now available in a range of different variants - most recently a mini format - is currently worth £9.7m and enjoys a 23% share of the cheese snacks market.
It's also newly available to cash and carry outlets in single-facing four-pack cases. The half-case format contains 12 packs of single-facing four-packs, making them ideal for retailers with limited shelf space, but still catering for both on-the-go and top-up shoppers' requirements.
Yoplait also relaunched its Frubes Pouches with a graffiti-inspired motif at the end of 2008 to appeal to older children.
The third major challenge facing kids' lunchbox products is to offer greater convenience. As well as being small and fresh, packed lunch items have to be quick and easy to open and close, especially when it comes to drinks.
Most schools now stipulate that lunchboxes contain either water, juice and some healthy dairy drinks, meaning that brands such as Robinsons Fruit Shoot 100% Pure Juice and Fruit Shoot H20 now crop up in boxes on a regular basis. The number one brand, which is currently worth £82m, underwent a redesign in March and introduced two new flavours, orange and summer fruits.
And with summer temperatures expected to soar, Milkshake brand Yazoo is launching a 'Back to School' on-pack promotion giving away 10,000 branded Yazoo bottle coolers. The activity kicks off next month.
Although a lot of focus is given to children's lunchboxes, it's actually adults who account for the lion's share of the market with a staggering 72% of us choosing to bring in lunch from home.
Not surprisingly, however, is the fact that women are the principal lunchbox users. In today's image-obsessed society, making your own lunch allows for a much greater degree of dietary control, a key concern for many women, and the majority of this year's new adult lunchbox launches and advertising campaigns have had this message at their heart.
However, one of the main reasons that adult consumers are making their own packed lunches these days is to save themselves some money.
In today's testing economic climate every penny counts, and with many of the UK's major sandwich chains charging more than a fiver for a processed cheese roll, the attraction of making your own for a fraction of the cost is clear to see.
Rosemary Tapp at Bel UK says that convenience store retailers currently have a massive opportunity to cash in on changing consumer habits. "Retailers need to maximise the lunchbox sales opportunity by putting more focus on key brands and convenient formats as more consumers seek to reduce their day-to-day living costs through adopting a lunchbox lifestyle," she says.
And with adults free to choose what they eat when they want, the grown-up lunchbox opportunity is also of major importance to brands.
The past year has seen a plethora of the UK's leading snack brands reformulate old favourites and launch healthier new ones in a bid to profit from the adult lunchbox opportunity. One category which has experienced its fair share of new product development is confectionery.
Nestlé Confectionery is about to press the go button on a relaunch of its Kit Kat two-finger chocolate biscuit bars with no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. The reformulated chocolate treats will be available to retailers from August in a specially designed two-finger six-pack with a rrp of 99p for independent retailers.
And for those adults keen to steer clear of sweet temptations, dried fruit and nuts are also expected to become increasingly popular additions to lunchboxes.
Hoping to capitalise of this trend is Whitworths, which has recently launched Nibl, a new range of healthier, indulgent fruit, nut and chocolate mixes, which come in 45g bags perfect for lunchboxes.
And while kids' meat snacking products might be having a tough time of late, the same is not true for adult meat snacks, which typically appeal to young men.
The Fridge Raiders brand recently announced that it was to extend its range with the launch of new 75g chicken-on-a-stick Mighty Bite into grocery and impulse sectors from July.
The brand is being positioned as a satisfying substitute for pasties and sandwiches offering Fridge Raiders' core 25- to 34-year-old male consumer a more substantial brand alternative to the existing 'Bites' range, which is more of a light snack.
And when it comes to lunch products, it's important to remember that consumers aren't always after chilled foods. Tinned and packet soup products which can be stored in a desk draw remain popular choices, particularly with female office workers.
Sandwiches remain the most popular of all lunchtime foods and no lunchbox is complete without this lunchtime staple. The market - which is currently worth £4.1bn - is expected to grow in value by a further 17% by the end of 2012, according to predictions by Mintel Oxygen.
Home-made sandwiches are currently giving their ready prepared cousins a run for their money, with seven in 10 consumers now choosing to have these for lunch. As a result the past 12 months have seen an explosion of new product development in the sandwich components market, which can hold lucrative margins for retailers.
Chicken in its many different forms remains the most popular of all sandwich fillings, closely followed by cheese where growth is being fuelled by natural sliced products.
The sliced cheese market is currently experiencing substantial growth as more and more shoppers buy into it to save on time when making their sarnies, and to help them with portion control. As such, manufacturers have been busy launching lower-fat sliced products for sandwiches left, right and centre.
The latest to hit the shelves is Edam's new Light sliced variant with just 12% fat.
Cheese spreads, meanwhile, continue to be a popular sandwich filling for kids and adults alike. Kraft recently relaunched its iconic Philadelphia brand with a new pack design to help the product taste fresher for longer, and Dairylea tubs are currently benefiting from a £1.3m media spend. Both of these products are also available in pricemarked packs to drive impulse purchases.
Cooked meats such as ham and turkey are enjoying growth, with sales of the latter soaring as consumers become increasingly aware of the meat's low-fat, high-protein content.
Bernard Matthews Farms has recently introduced a new range of price-marked packs including Turkey Sandwich Slices at £1 for 12 slices to meet the growing demand for convenient, economical sandwich fillers.
Bernard Matthews Farms marketing controller Tim Ryan says: "Convenience retailers need to be aware that more consumers are now making packed lunches for themselves and for their families."
He also points out another reason for taking the lunchbox brigade seriously: "Another thing to remember is that packed lunches aren't just for work and school. With more people choosing to spend their holidays in the UK this summer and staying at home and taking days out, there will be plenty more opportunity for packed lunch ingredients this summer."
The past 12 months have been an exciting one for the bakery category, which is currently worth £2.9bn and is growing at 6.5% year on year, according to the Kingsmill Bread Report.
Despite a mass of innovation in the rolls and wraps segment, the traditional sliced bread category still takes the biggest bite of the market at 64%, growing ahead of the bakery category at a rate of 10% year on year.
White's all right
Perhaps surprisingly given all the hype about the health credentials of brown bread, everyday white sliced continues to dominate the market and is currently in strong growth, as consumers move back to everyday staples to save money.
As a result, Kingsmill reports that its Great Everyday White is growing ahead of the market at a rate of 16.8% year on year and in May the company updated its packaging to increase communication of its "softness and freshness".
Warburtons is also reporting strong growth for its 800g Toastie Loaf currently being supported by its 'Save Tons on Lunch' promotional campaign running until September, which links up with other well-known brands.
The company also recently launched a new Tasty White loaf to capitalise on the popularity of white bread.
However, wholemeal sliced bread continues to be a key product for many, particularly when it comes to making sandwiches.
The category is worth £252.5m, and still growing ahead of the total market at 6.6% year on year.
And with research suggesting that 58% of parents cut away the crusts from their kids' sandwiches, brands such as Kingsmill Crusts Away, which come ready stripped, are also enjoying growth.
Another sandwich favourite of kids and parents alike are varieties which offer the benefits of both wholemeal and white, and with more people making sandwiches than ever before, the UK's leading bread manufacturers have been focusing their efforts on this.
Hovis has recently improved the nutritional claims for its Best of Both brand with the message that two slices of the bread contain as much calcium as a glass of milk, while Warburtons recently launched All in One in a medium 600g loaf perfect for smaller families and individual consumption.
Increase the range of healthy and nutritious product offerings such as fruit, vegetables, yogurts and cheese
Merchandise all lunchbox products on the same fixture or next to one another where there is both chilled and ambient
Choose big brands that are relevant to the lifestyle of health-conscious snacking consumers and put the display focus on them to encourage impulse purchase
Use pos material to indicate to consumers where the lunchbox products and snacking fixtures are situated
Maximise stand-out with shelf-ready packaging
Guarantee availability of key brands to ensure customers can buy them at peak sales periods.
Offer changing meal deal options
Make a splash
Aimia Foods has extended its Outspan range of juice and smoothie drinks with the launch of Juice Splash. Made with 60% juice, no artificial colours, preservatives, flavours or sweeteners, the drinks are compliant with school regulations and ideally suited for lunchboxes.
The drinks come in brightly coloured wedge packs and are available in apple
& blackcurrant and orange & grape flavours. They are packed in cases of 24, which can be sold as a 24-pack, four-pack or individual unit.
tel: 01942 408600
It's a wrap
Mission Foods is supporting its Deli Wraps brand with weighty TV press and targeted PR activity to drive awareness of the brand and grow the wraps category.
The company believes that consumer education about the versatility and convenience of wraps is key and has enlisted the help of celebrity chef Phil Vickery. New product development and marketing investment is also planned for later in the year.
Mission Deli Wraps come in five flavours in resealable packs with a 28-day shelf-life.
tel: 02476 676000
Sunny side up
The Sunny Delight Beverage Co is investing £2.25m in an above-the-line campaign aimed at tackling some of the old perceptions of its Sunny D brand, which was launched with new 'all natural' credentials earlier this year.
The campaign includes national print media advertising, coupon trials as well as a £1.1m TV and radio advertising to be rolled out nationally in September.
Sunny D now contains 70% fruit juice and no artificial colours or preservatives. It is available in formats including a 1ltr bottle.
rrp: £1.45, 1ltr; 330ml bottle, 95p
tel: 0800 7839741
"Our store is right next to a large urban university, so students are our most frequent customers and lunch products are one of our most popular ranges.
"We sell an unusually large range of chilled soft drinks for immediate consumption as well as multipacks for those who make up their lunchboxes from home. Our best-selling soft drinks are Coca-Cola, Red Bull and still bottled water, and sales are particularly high now that the summer is here.
"We sell a mixture of products with which students can make their own sandwiches, such as sliced bread, ham and cheese, and I have also recently started stocking a more premium range of cooked meats and sausages for those with more discerning tastes.
"I also sell a few ready-made filled rolls and sandwiches with more exotic fillings such as humus. However, the old favourites such as chicken salad and chicken & bacon continue to be the most popular."
Irfan Bashir, manager, Best One, Kingston
Upon Thames, Surrey
At least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables every day
Meat, fish or other source of non-dairy protein such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, humus, peanut butter and falafel, every day
Oily fish, such as salmon, at least once every three weeks
A starchy food such as any type of bread, pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or other type of cereals every day
Savoury crackers or breadsticks served with fruit, vegetables or a dairy food instead of high-fat crisps
Packets of nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit
Dairy food such as milk, cheese, yogurt, fromage frais or custard everyday
The choice of drink should be water, still or sparkling, fruit juice, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, yogurt or milk drinks, and smoothies