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Joanna Tilley reveals how you can get ahead of the competition during the crucial back-to-school period
When to get started?
While most retailers update their stock for seasonal occasions, such as Easter and Christmas, those really on the ball will also refresh their store for the back-to-school season.
“I merchandise back-to-school offers for one week before schools start and then two weeks once they are back,” says Faraz Iqbal, owner of Premier Linktown Local in Fife.
“I make sure to have plenty of Fruit Shoot in stock, as well as crisps, and put them at the front of the store in the promotional bays.”
Multipacks are vital for this period. Natalie Lightfoot, owner of Londis Solo Convenience in Baillieston, Glasgow, says: “I notice a shift away from people buying large 2l bottles to multipacks of fruit juice and water.
“People also return to work themselves, so we make sure they are catered for, too. We bring in more food to go and make sure we are stocked up with sandwiches and cereal bars.”
In order to get the word out about back-to-school products, Lightfoot updates her social media accounts so they promote brands that are convenient for packed lunches.
With three primary schools nearby, Lightfoot dedicates more attention to the back-to-school stock between 3pm and 3.30pm, when parents and children will visit on their way home.
“We have a big kids’ corner and sell pocket-money toys. I have a little girl at school, so that helps to know what to promote and what are the latest trends. I am always thinking about the school calendar,” she says.
Healthier lunchbox opportunity
Familiar favourites for the lunchbox include brands such as Babybel, Fruit Shoot, Dairylea Lunchables, Petits Filous and Capri-Sun. With the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy and increased focus on the sugar content in soft drinks, Capri-Sun’s original range now has 50% less sugar.
Healthy options are becoming more popular among consumers and this has seen a flourish of products revolving around fruit and vegetables. Nature’s Finest individual 113g fruit pots are a good option for packed lunches as they are school-approved and allergen-free.
“We’re happy to provide a product that contributes to their daily allowance set by the Government. In our eyes, the more fruit and veg children eat, the better,” says Georgina Edmonds, marketing manager of Nature’s Finest.
Iqbal says the popularity of fruit depends on your location, however, and he gives the option of buying single fruits and baked crisps, rather than normal (fried) crisps.
Lightfoot recommends stocking 200ml multipacks of water, as some schools do not allow fruit juices.
With 54% of cheese snacks consumed at lunchtime, cheese snacking represents a sizeable lunchbox growth opportunity. Cathedral City offers a fun range of products for children that includes Nibbles, Towers, Shapes and Cheese & Toasties.
If you are looking for a way to keep these cheesy delights fresh and intact, food bags and foil are important additions to the fixture, as they offer consumers flexible ways to transport and store food.
Another area retailers should stay on top of is stationery, as the demand will increase during the back-to-school period.
Although packed lunch is the meal where retailers can best drive sales for the back-to-school season, it is also worth thinking about how you can attract purchases for family dinners.
Faraz Iqbal offers a frozen meal deal, which includes five items for £5. In this deal, customers are offered a range of Birds Eye products, a brand that has undergone extensive formulations in recent years to become healthier and more nutritious.
Suppliers like Quorn are planning to capitalise on family dinners, too. The brand is launching a £1.5m TV campaign to encourage people to make healthy family dinners during the back-to-school period.
“Back-to-school gives retailers an opportunity to inspire families to enjoy great-tasting products they love, that are both healthy and easy to prepare, for their favourite meals,” says Peter Harrison, marketing director at Quorn Foods.
Quorn’s back-to-school campaign launches in mid-August and runs until the end of September and will focus on two core frozen lines – Quorn Crispy Nuggets and Quorn Sausages.
Meat-free products are becoming more relevant to consumers, with 47% reducing their meat consumption.
The meat-free category is showing strong growth at 17% year on year, with annual sales exceeding £339m. You should make sure you are offering these choices for your shoppers.
If retailers want to offer healthy drinks for mealtimes, then Juiceburst has a range of juices that give consumers one of their five-a-day.
The brand’s range is free from added sugar and contains no artificial colours.
It is important to be fully stocked and prepared for the after-school run.
Products suitable for after-school snacking should be easy to find and ideally placed at the front of the store. To capture the after-school snacking mission, it is crucial retailers have the right mix of healthy and naughtier options.
Forty-seven per cent of parents are calling for a greater choice of healthier savoury snacking options for kids, so independents have a real opportunity to go after this demand with a dedicated health fixture for children.
Iqbal has been achieving strong sales after introducing the healthy snacks brand Graze. “We have £1 boxes of Graze for adults, but some of the children are buying them,” he says.
“They are good for packed lunches and also for after-school snacks.”
With half of snacks being consumed with a drink, it is a wise idea to consider snacking meal deals that offer a drink and a snack at a price that is competitive.
As well as being good for lunchtime, cheese is a strong option for after-school treats. A new addition to the Cathedral City snacking family is Cathedral City Snack bar.
It is a 30g cheese snacking product available in Mature and Lighter Mature varieties.
These snacks are likely to be popular with parents as well as with older schoolchildren, who are looking for healthier alternatives to chocolate bars or packets of crisps, for example.
Bring in the multipacks: Whether it is juice, water or crisps, multipacks are especially popular for packed lunches and make life a lot easier for parents preparing for the school week.
Offer the whole package: Cross- merchandise products that cater to the back-to-school top-up mission to offer a quick and easy one-stop shop.
Block vertically by brand: Place your top sellers at eye-level and block vertically by brand. If space is at a premium, block horizontally.
Stock the bestselling lines: Many customers come into the store with a product already in mind, so if you do not offer familiar brands, customers may leave empty-handed.
Avoid promoting similar products: When offering deals, avoid promoting similar products and brands at the same time, to limit the risk of your customers spending less overall.
Faraz Iqbal Premier Linktown Local, Fife
“We do quite a lot of work with our local schools. It is important for retailers to be aware of the schools around them and work with them.
“We recently visited a local primary school to promote the importance of having a healthy breakfast to 500 pupils.
“Healthy Living Scotland helped organise this with us and Premier.
“We brought in fruit, Weetabix, honey and toast and recommended breakfasts such as banana on toast. A lot of pupils came into the store to buy some of these products. We also visit our local youth group. It is a nice thing to do in the community, but it also helps build up relationships, which is good for business.”