The back-to-school period is quickly approaching, and it’s estimated parents will spend up to £915m as they prepare for the new academic year. 

With the government reviewing the criteria for the free school meals initiative, retailers can drive sales and become a one-stop destination with a child-friendly range for parents to stock up on. 

Southampton retailer Meten Lakhani, from St Mary’s Supermarket in Southampton, works with suppliers to offer his customers stationery, lunchboxes and last-minute impulse purchases. “We offer a core range, such as lunchbox fillers, but we like to offer our customers a bit of everything so they don’t need to shop elsewhere,” he says. “We start getting more stock in around August time, and we’ll have an end-of-aisle promotion and maintain high availability throughout – especially stationery, which offers great margins.” 

Knowing when to introduce back-to-school products, such as labels, notebooks and stationery, is key for retailers. According to data by Saputo Dairy, 41% of parents say they begin stocking up on back-to-school items up to three weeks before the start of the term, showing it’s worth getting your back-to-school ranges in early. 

Parents are looking for simple and time-saving opportunities, so independent retailers are most likely to drive sales if they make the category easy to shop. Laura Brickley, product retail manager for stationery manufacturer Avery, says a lot of parents prefer to buy their back-to-school products close to the new term. 

“Convenience stores need to target those parents buying last minute by offering a quick win for mums and dads wanting to save time and purchase items from one location, or those who have forgotten certain products and need a last-minute solution,” she says. 

Impactful displays dedicated to the academic year are important for independent retailers to push sales as parents look for convenience. The lead up to September can be a costly time for parents, so offering promotions for multiple purchases can be an effective way of encouraging customers to buy everything in one location. Consider incorporating lunchbox items into your food-to-go range for parents buying last minute. 

Julie Duhra, from Jule’s Convenience Store in Telford, Shropshire, uses symbol group promotions and says they are effective in driving sales, especially in the last week of August. “Back to school, for us, runs from 7 August to the first week of September on a promotional bay near the front of my store using promotions sent by Premier, from basic classroom items to lunchbox fillers,” she explains. 

Focusing on key periods during the day where families are more likely to visit can help retailers maximise sales, like lunchtime. Filling a child’s lunchbox is a top shopper mission, so maintain high availability on bestselling categories. 

Anca Lazar, Cathedral City Snacking’s senior brand manager, says back-to-school categories need to be clearly merchandised to simplify a customers’ shopping experience. “Stocking a compelling choice of snacks to satisfy hungry school children can be an important footfall driver for retailers,” Lazar says. 

Consider having an end-of-aisle display, and use PoS to draw customers’ attention and maintain high availability throughout the period. 

Healthy alternatives 

With families wanting to lead healthier lives, they will be on the lookout for low-calorie alternatives for their child’s lunchbox. Consider adding a core gluten- and dairy-free range to reach growing shopper missions, such as Pom-Bear. Retailers should also stock a range of juice drinks for last-minute purchases on the morning school run to drive impulse sales.

Five must-stock products during the back-to-school period

Back to school items
Avery name labels: With children often losing their belongings, Avery labels are a vital addition to a parent’s cupboard and a retailer’s back-to-school range. Also available as shoe labels.
Back to school items
Dairylea Lunchables: Kids snacks is a fast-growing category and accounts for 31% of processed cheese. Available in Ham & Cheese, Chicken & Cheese and Streetfood Pizza flavours.
Back to school items
Pom-Bear: Pom-Bear is a household favourite, with 5.4 million families consuming the brand each year. Gluten-free and containing fewer than 100 calories, it’s a healthy alternative to drive sales.
Back to school items
Cathedral City Minis: Six snack-sized portions of real cheddar are a popular lunchbox addition. Cathedral City Minis have grown by 23% in the past year, with triple-digit growth in convenience stores.
Back to school items
Dairylea Dunkers: Designed for aiding customers with portion control, Dairylea Dunkers are ideal for parents picking up a school lunch on the go or as an afternoon snack.