Question: what does the modern school packed lunch contain? If your answer includes a packet of crisps, sandwich, chocolate bar or fizzy drink, then it's the dunce's cap for you. If, however, you included fruit, salad and bottle of water then go to the top of the class.
Guidelines from The Schools Food Trust (SFT) are increasingly being enforced by schools, which means fizzy drinks and chocolate are disappearing from lunchboxes.
The SFT has been encouraging schools to introduce 'Packed Lunch Policies' to support healthier eating. And it seems to be working. TNS data shows that there were 3.8 billion lunchbox occasions in the UK last year and healthy products made up 29% of packed lunches in 2007, that's up from 25% in 2004.
Kellogg's kids and fruit snacks manager Naomi Cosgrove agrees that the average packaged lunch has changed over the past few years. "Lunchbox consumption occasions are growing, but
not all categories are experiencing the same trends - while products such as cereal snacks, fruit, yogurt and sandwiches are growing, fewer lunchboxes contain confectionery, biscuits, cakes and crisps,"
As such, Kellogg's has added a 100% fruit product to its snacking range. Available to convenience retailers from January, Fruitabü provides one of the five-a-day fruit or vegetable portions and comes in Fruit Juices and Apple Crisps varieties.
Kellogg's admits that the SFT's mandatory standards for school dinners and vending machines have knocked the children's cereal bar category. The only Kellogg's product allowed to be sold in schools is Nutri-Grain and this has to be sold as a component of lunch, not as a snack.
Cosgrove says: "Clearly, we have had a reduction in sales as a result - but we are happy that Nutri-Grain is still included and where it's listed it's selling well."
The good news for those with the green light for lunchboxes is that more children are taking a packed lunch to school. And, ironically, a lot of this is down to the Jamie Oliver effect. Sun Valley marketing manager Jonathan Barr explains: "Children have seen, tasted and rejected the healthy alternative as a lot of schools have not embraced Jamie Oliver's recommendations and have gone half-heartedly into healthy eating. This has been a real turn-off for children."
Not surprisingly, manufacturers have been working hard to improve the health credentials of their products to get in on the act.
Unilever has revamped its Peperami range by reducing salt and fat levels and unveiling new packaging with a '100% pork salami' stamp to provide clear information. Other brands, too, have highlighted their health benefits - last year Cheestrings launched a light variant with semi-skimmed milk and a third less fat.
In April Burton's Foods launched portion-controlled Jammie Dodgers Snack Bar, with fruit pieces to provide a permissible treat.
Burton's Foods category controller Sue Garfitt says it's important to recognise that children still want to have products in their lunchboxes that are credible among their friends, and warns that if they aren't the children simply won't eat them.
She adds: "The other thing to make clear is that energy in a children's diet is very important. When you think about how much they run around and the energy they use in terms of brain power they do need permissible treats otherwise their energy levels and attention
United Biscuits head of strategic products Alice Cadman agrees that parents have to balance 'playground cool' with what is acceptable to school rules. As such, United Biscuits has evolved its range to provide different options to meet varying lunchbox policies. Although some of its chocolate range is off the menu, it has created an alternative, McVitie's Lunchers. These jam-centred, individually-wrapped cake bars are free from artificial colours and flavours, and contain no hydrogenated vegetable oil and only 110 calories. The range comes in Simply Smashing Strawberry, Fabulously Fruity Lemon and Terrifically Tasty Blackcurrant.
The ban on some high-fat snacks has also driven innovation in other categories. Due on shelves this August from Glisten is a new fruit snacking concept known as Sun-Maid Fruit Fingers, a 'pressed fruit' bar available dipped in chocolate or dipped in yogurt. They have no artificial colours or flavours and contain one portion of fruit in every bar and are said to provide a good source of fibre and omega 3 and 6.
Dole Packaged Foods has taken a similar tack with Fruit in Jelly pots, to create ways for children to get their five a day but still appeal to their tastes. Dole sales director Andy Coult says: "There is increasing demand for products offering more than one function; consumers are looking for products that provide an 'all-in-one' option. A product that tastes good, is portable and durable to fit their busy lifestyle, but also provides a health benefit,
is a winner."
Sun Valley has gone one step further in championing the UK's lunchboxes by launching National Lunchbox Week to offer advice and ideas to parents to help them move away from fried and fatty snacks such as crisps and chocolate. The week runs from September 1-5.
The company has also been busy developing products to replace crisps. In June Sun Valley launched a range of low-fat baked mini pretzels called Pretz and in 2007 launched the Just range aimed at
the tweens and teens.
The company's Jonathan Barr believes some convenience retailers have been slow to target the healthy eating trend. He says: "My big gripe is that convenience stores have always been led by the big confectionery and snack brands and still tend to focus on chocolate or cereal bars. There aren't many who have embraced healthy snacking and there are very few who have embraced lunchboxes - let alone married the two together. There is a chasm there that needs to be bridged."
Knocking the filling out
The components of a lunchbox may be changing over time, but most still include a sandwich or roll. Warburtons research has found that 77% of all lunchboxes in the UK feature a sandwich and the British Sandwich Association says that some 2.7 billion were prepared for out-of-the home consumption in the UK during 2007. This was up 6% on the previous year.
Again, the health trend is making its mark and the 'for health' bread sector is showing strong growth. Although figures illustrate that white sandwich rolls are still the best-selling sku, AC Nielsen has found the health category was up 4.3% in value terms in 2008.
Bakers have been ploughing investment into healthier varieties. Warburtons' range now includes Wholegrain Goodness, Healthy Inside (with prebiotic inulin) and Wholemeal Fibre Boost 800g.
And where bread goes, the fillings will follow. Elien Zwart-Dijkstra, marketing manager for Holland's largest cheese manufacturer, Friesland Foods, believes sandwiches will become even more popular in lunchboxes as family budgets get tighter. She says: "Our research reveals that half of parents think nutrition was better when they were young, so now that the credit crunch is biting, 65% of parents are giving their children what they used to eat - a simple sandwich."
To promote Dutch cheese, Edam has launched a radio and digital campaign promoting the health benefits of the cheese for children and young adults.
Bel UK head of category management Jean-Paul Pelaez adds: "Retailers need to bear in mind the current emphasis on health and focus on nutritional options for children. Given that cheese is a natural source of calcium and protein, parents may well look to the cheese fixture for lunchbox inspiration."
Pelaez says that brands such as The Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel are perfect for school kids' lunchboxes because the individually wrapped portions offer parents the reassurance of portion control.
New from Bel is the
pod-format The Laughing Cow Giggles, which is described by the company as a mess-free, hand-held snack designed specifically
for younger children.
The healthy eating trend has also affected the drinks market. The SFT's ruling that only bottled water, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, pure juices or yogurt or mild drinks with less than 5% added sugar can be sold in schools has reflected in lunchbox trends.
As such, juice drinks have seen strong growth. Market leader in lunchbox Capri-Sun (AC Nielsen) is now worth £73m and is enjoying 35% growth. In April Coca-Cola Enterprises launched Capri-Sun Fruit Rush with 75% juice and
Paul Martin, managing director of Waterbrands, says a growing number of parents and students are becoming aware of the benefits of keeping liquid levels topped up, and with the move towards healthier eating and the restrictions on carbonates imposed by schools, water is increasingly the drink of choice.
Another beneficiary of the change in consumer attitude has been the yogurt and milkshake drinks category. Recent launches include Müller UK's introduction in April of two new High Fruit smoothies under the Müller Little Stars brand. The drinks contain 20% fruit.
But although there are plenty of health drinks on the market, Campina UK director of marketing Chris Collis says retailers still have to be aware of what satisfies in terms of taste.
"As a retailer you could fill your shelves full of really good quality food and highest standard ingredients with added vitamins and minerals, but if it doesn't taste nice no one is going to buy it."
Yazoo has escaped the SFT's health axe and is allowed in schools and Collis says it has a 40% market share in the impulse sector.
But he says some retailers make the mistake of viewing flavoured milk as a brand in itself and devote only a small amount of room to it compared with four varieties of cola and five varieties of fruit carbonates. "And then they are surprised when they are constantly selling out and the soft drinks aren't."
Collis advises retailers to look at the entire lunchbox section as a whole. "I recommend approaching lunchboxes the way some of the big multiples are. Put sandwiches along the bottom two shelves and drinks along the top two, rather than putting all drinks in one area and sandwiches in another. It makes sense to put all the lunch components together."
Garfitt from Burton's Foods agrees. "One of the major grocers has re-segmented based on our recommendations and that has proved very successful. Basically, everything that was 'on the go' was merchandised together and this means the shopper sees the choice in one area. It is absolutely something convenience store retailers can replicate."
When choosing what to stock it's worth bearing in mind that lunchboxes are not just for children. TNS research for last year showed that 67% of lunchboxes were consumed in the workplace and just 25% by children in schools. Of the total 94%, were consumed during the week.
The adult lunchbox looks set to grow even further. Sun Valley's Barr says: "Seven years ago they weren't a big trend and it was all about dashboard dining, but people are paying more attention to lunchboxes."
Although some of the products may vary, the same trends towards health and convenience still dominate. Mattessons marketing controller David Warren says: "Over the past seven years there has been a shift away from formal eating in favour of grazing and eating out of home, so lunchboxes are now an integral part of the day for many people."
The Fridge Raiders brand, targeted at 16- to 24-year-olds, was extended in April to include Southern Fried and Sweet Chilli.
Shirley Griffiths, marketing manager at S&B Herba Foods, which manufactures Sun-Maid raisins, agrees. "Adults should not be ignored as most lunchbox foods are consumed by adults at work. More workers now eat lunch at their desks and with people starting to feel the pinch in the current climate, there is a growing trend for home-prepared lunches."