Back to School. Really?

In the middle of the strangest school break ever, the nations steels itself for September and a promise that at last children will be back in the classroom – and hungry, too!

Photo: iStock

What to put in a lunchbox for a theoretical return to school? What does a kid’s lunchbox look like under a pandemic when the schools are closed and we don’t know when they are opening again?

Looking on the bright side, the government is saying that all schools will be open come the end of the summer vacation and children will be back in education by September.

But they don’t say whether that will be for a whole week of even a full day, and it probably won’t be either.

That still means the demand for lunchbox items will be back, if it ever went away (snacks are doing just fine under the lockdown), and the irregularity of schooldays might well mean more frequent trips by parents to replenish supplies, and therefore more varied purchases than when making a packed lunch is a routine activity – and because of resultant impulse and distress purchasing conditions, probably more custom in the Convenience channel.

This is speculation, of course, but it is also a highly probable scenario.

Biscuits and bread

Above all, the kids need to get moving again, after an enforced and over-long period of relative inactivity. Burton’s Biscuits are very keen on this idea and have timed their “Minis Get Moving” campaign to coincide with the migration from the couch to the classroom (and playing field).

Last year Burton’s introduced the “Under 100 Cal Club”, the UK’s first and biggest range of reduced calorie biscuits, giving consumers an increased choice of permissible biscuits and snacks under 100 calories.

Maryland Minis and Jammie Dodgers Minis, because of their size and portion, are perfect for lunch boxes because they come in at just 100 calories per pack and march under the “permissible snack” banner. They have been very popular during the lockdown and will be a welcome sight when the lunchbox is pried open at school.

Kate Needham, Marketing Director at Burton’s Biscuit Company says: “Despite Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, which has resulted in a lack of out-of-home occasions, synonymous with the consumption of biscuit portion packs, stockpiling has had a positive effect on the category, growing 22% YoY in the last 12 weeks. Although 42% of Maryland Mini’s are usually eaten out-of-home, it remains the No.1 Kids Mini’s brand during lockdown (£11.6m RSV), with Jammie Dodgers Mini’s experiencing 30.2% growth over the last 12 weeks.”

There is a growing feeling that lunchboxes can be fun as well as healthy, and that healthy doesn’t just mean carrots. Burton’s Minis Get Moving campaign is all about adding biscuits to exercise and achieving a balanced diet and lifestyle for children: outside, running around.

An instant win mechanic will give families the opportunity to win an array of prizes, redeemable through online vouchers, including FitBit Ace 2s, bikes, scooters, skateboards and family prizes such as trampolines, garden play equipment and games – perfect for back-garden fun during lockdown. What’s more, everyone who purchases a promotional pack will be eligible to claim a free “Kids Go Free” voucher, valid against hundreds of sports and leisure activities around the country and redeemable for a year after the promotion ends.

Having first hit shelves last summer, Cadbury Joyfills has recently extended its range with the launch of two smaller 75g packs – the perfect snack for the lunchbox occasion. Joyfills Oreo Vanilla Creme are sweet crispy wheat pillows with cocoa and vanilla soft filling, while Joyfills Cadbury Milk Chocolate Creme feature the same crispy pillows filled with a milk chocolate soft centre.

“Savoury biscuits are by their very nature more permissible,” says Susan Nash, Trade Communications Manager at Mondelēz International, “so consumers are looking for exciting tastes, new textures and light options in this area. Ritz Original cracker, the number one best-selling savoury biscuit, and Ritz Original Breaks have a new recipe with 70% less saturated fat. Ritz Cheese crackers also have 50% less saturated fat. This makes Ritz the perfect choice for parents looking for a healthier choice for their kids’ lunchboxes.

In the interest of packed-lunch fun, consider some of St Pierre Groupe’s bread product offerings instead of standard white. The Baker Street Rye Breads (the range includes Seeded Rye Bread and Rye & Wheat Bread), are ideal for sandwiches and delicious.The St Pierre brioche varieties of buns (burger and hot dog), and their brioche loaf, is beloved of minor citizens as I can testify from family experience. Maybe even slip in a waffle – or a chocolate-filled crepe – as a dessert treat.

The other thing about St Pierre Groupe’s products is of course their longevity: “Cleverly packed to be fresher for longer, Baker Street guarantees a minimum life of 35 days from delivery to depot to help ensure on-shelf availability and reduce the risk of wastage,” says founder, Jeremy Gilboy. Such versatility is a big advantage when doing a weekly production-line of packed lunches – the savings could be significant.

And people are already figuring it out: Baker Street’s core range of wrapped bread has grown by 34% to the end of May this year compared with the same period last year. This follows an already impressive double-digit growth for three consecutive years, with the St Pierre brand also a must-stock for retailers, as it continues to rapidly grow, also up 34% year on year.

Protein Boost

Along with sandwiches and the bread element of the lunchbox typically goes cheese. 650 Mini Babybel are unzipped, eaten and enjoyed every minute in the UK, and Gaelle Vernet, Group Marketing Manager for Mini Babybel, says that they are the “No.1 value contributor to the Lunchbox category”.

After decades being afraid of dairy fat, medical science is now starting to recommend it again, and the protein that comes with it is being recognised as vital for children’s … vitality.

Cheese is the perfect protein-rich snack, and Saputo, makers of Cathedral City, are banging the protein drum loudly. In fact they have been behind the push to make cheese itself, simply and of itself, a delicious lunchbox element. It is a food infinite in variety and a real appetite-quencher which can keep the kids running around not thinking of supper until well after they get back home.


Nickelodeon design for Cathedral City kids range

Anca Lazar is senior brand manager of Cathedral City Snacking and testifies that “Consumers are becoming more mindful of the quality of calories, which means that naturally nutritious, protein-rich snacking products such as dairy-based snacks have become increasingly popular with shoppers.”

The fact that cheese is suitable for most vegetarians makes its protein doubly valuable – especially for growing children.

“Choosing the perfect at-school or after school snack is a tough decision for parents,”says Anca. “In an ocean of confusing mixed messages on what constitutes a ‘healthy’ lunchbox, Public Health England’s Change4Life campaign, which recommends two 100 calories snacks a day maximum, acts as a beacon of lucidity.”

The Cathedral City Kids’ Snacks portfolio, which includes Nibbles, Towers and Cheese & Toasties, is currently worth £4.7m and offers little ones an exciting way to enjoy delicious real mild cheese, whilst reassuring parents that they are getting a 100% natural kid’s snacking product, high in protein, a good source of calcium, with 30% reduced fat and with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. Cathedral City kids snacks now feature a prominent front of pack flash conveying key nutritional information to the parent in one glance for quick and informed product choice at shelf. Lunchbox heaven, for parents as well as children.

Cathedral City is also expanding its range of ‘Cheddar Minis’ with a five-pack format, available exclusively to Convenience and Discount stores, with an RRP of £1, to make the choice even easier.

“The Dairylea brand has unveiled a range of innovation over the past year to help retailers tap into this significant demand as parents look for kids snacks on-the-go or for their lunchboxes,” says Susan Nash.


Dairylea Snackers launched in 2018, combining savoury cheese with a sweet treat to fuel kids during the day and tide them over until the next meal. The brand is building on this success in 2019 with the recent launch of a new Snackers variant, Dairylea Snackers with Cadbury Giant Buttons. The new packs are available now and contain Dairylea cheese slices and crackers, with Cadbury Giant Buttons to create a delicious sweet and savoury snack. They will also be available in price-marked packs to help independent retailers drive value perception and shopper loyalty – the first Snackers pack to be available in PMP.

Dairylea is also growing the Snacking Kits segment with a new Streetfood sub-brand for its Lunchables range. Combining Dairylea with mini pizza bases and tangy pizza sauce, Dairylea Lunchables Streetfood Pizza are available in 65g packs now.

New Dairylea Dunkers Cheesy Cones have also launched in packs of 4x 40g. Each portion is less than 100kcal, reflecting the growing consumer focus on health and balance.

And if there isn’t cheese the chances are that protein is represented by meat – which very often means Peperami, for decades now an essential element of any self-respecting lunchbox.

“Peperami, is the number one meat snacking brand and is showing no signs of slowing down, with 55% market share and 17.2% penetration in the category,” says Pavan Chandra, Peperami’s Marketing Manager.

“Perfect for the lunchtime snacking fix, Peperami’s range of protein packed products include the brand’s classic meat sticks, Peperami& Cheese Snack Box, Beef Bar Original, Pep’d Up Chicken Bites, and new Smokin’ Chicken Bites”

Lunch liquids

Staying on the subject of dairy for a while, Joanna Goodman, Head of Marketing, Yogurt (Northern Europe) at General Mills, makes the point that kids’ yogurt in general, and the Yoplait kids’ portfolio specifically, have experienced growth in the last few months since lockdown. She says that prior to lockdown, the category had seen a turnaround because of successful innovation (for example in lunchbox favourites such as Petits Filous Mess Free and No Added Sugar platforms in particular).

Kids’ yogurt value sales have increased 1.3% since lockdown began. Yoplait brands have seen value sales growth of +5.6%, with Petits Filous and Frubes both growing +9%.

“This growth has accelerated during the past three months as families turn to kids’ yoghurt for a healthy snack for their children and as a result, we’ve seen bigger packs performing particularly well,” says, Goodman, and the habit can easily be carried over into the new back-to-school period.

She agrees that the lockdown period has actually been potentially good for the lunchbox  market: “We believe that having kids at home has introduced more snacking occasions. This has led to an increased focus on health and nutrition and has therefore reinforced the interest in kids’ yogurt and the Yoplait kids’ portfolio specifically.”

Milk drinks such as Yazoo also perfectly suit the lunchbox occasion.

“Back to school is a key occasion for milk drinks,” says Wayne Thompson, Business Unit Controller for Out of Home at FrieslandCampina, “and as the UK’s number one traditional-flavoured milk brand, we’ve solidified our position within this.”

With its high milk content (≥95%) and calcium, protein and vitamin B2, YAZOO helps to keep students fuller for longer. Plus, exempt from the sugar levy, this has raised the profile of YAZOO and we’ve made the most of reminding consumers about the goodness of dairy drinks as an alternative to carbonated soft drinks.


Alternative but still good-for-kids refreshments include the fruit drinks, all of which are by now lower in sugar and working at being more healthy while still tasty.

Capri-Sun is a perennial favourite, and kids love to squeeze out the last juice from the packet.

“Capri-Sun is currently worth more than £62 million, and is the no.1 branded kids drink in GB – loved by parents and kids alike for its great-tasting range of fruit juice drinks,” says Amy Burgess, Senior Trade Communications Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP). “We know that health is a top priority for parents  and to tap into this demand ahead of children returning to school this autumn, we have reformulated our No Added Sugar Capri-Sun range to include Stevia – a plant-based sweetener – in combination with natural fruit sugars.”

“This means by the start of school term, the entire Capri-Sun portfolio will contain nothing artificial and only ingredients from natural sources. A packaging refresh will highlight Capri-Sun’s ‘nothing artificial’ credentials clearly on-pack, supported by a £6 million marketing campaign which will include TV advertising, digital advertising and social media content to help retailers maximise sales.

“Our 200ml pouches come in multipacks of four and eight and are available in Orange and Blackcurrant for Capri Sun and Orange and Apple & Blackcurrant for Capri-Sun No Added Sugar,” says Burgess.

Britvic, meanwhile, is bringing back its highly successful on-pack promotion with Robinsons Fruit Shoot – ‘Fruit Shoot for the Moon’ – running from 1st July to 30th September 2020 – perfect for Back To School purchases.


This year, Fruit Shoot is introducing the simplified competition entry mechanic of scanning an on-pack QR code to enter, providing children with the chance to win their dream ‘thing’. There are five top ‘Moon’ prizes worth £5,000 each up for grabs, as well as one hundred secondary prizes, including tickets to Warwick Castle, Harry Potter Studio Tour and a one-year National Trust membership .

The Apple & Blackberry and Orange variants have an MRSP of 4 pack £2.00 , 8 pack £3.00.

Low sugar Vimto, as well, is aimed at the lunchbox crowd, according to Becky Unwin, Senior Brand Manager: “Students have always been a key back to school target,” she says. “Our RTD Vimto remains popular in the grab and go lunch market – purchased primarily by students. Our Vimto Remix range also adds breadth to our range and the wider category, it’s worth an incredible £9.2 million in incremental sales. Vimto Remix Orange, Strawberry and Lime is a deliciously refreshing, citrus-based newcomer to the range, crafted from a mix of three real fruits and the top secret Vimto blend of herbs and spices.”

Water, of course, is probably the parents’ preference, and Highland Spring is making it easier for them by designing bottles that will have appeal for children.

For primary school children Highland Springs’ eco bottle Wild-Life 6 x 330ml Kids’ Pack is an ideal option. The perfect size for lunchboxes or for children to take into the playground to ensure they stay hydrated while playing. Additionally, the pack helps educate children on the importance of healthy hydration and recycling as well as helps to make hydration fun. Each bottle is made from 100% recycled plastic and features one of six characters including Annie, Archie or one of their friends – the Wild-Life Gang. Each character has a thirst for adventure and enjoys regular hydration top-ups before recycling their bottle for an adventure of its own.

eco bottle

Nichola Grant, Channel Marketing Manager, points out that with potential changes to how water is made available for consumption in schools, it will be increasingly important for them to arrive “with their hydration needs already catered for.” She says sending children to school with a ready water supply not only reassures parents that their children will have access to the water they need, but also gives them greater control over what their children are consuming during the day.

“Older children also have the opportunity to experiment with sparkling water,” Grant adds. “Research shows that many parents struggle to get their children (of any age) to drink water and they often rely on sparkling water to encourage hydration as the fizziness makes it more exciting option for children . A healthier alternative to fizzy drinks, the plain sparkling water subcategory is now worth over £16.1 million in convenience.”

The increased interest in sparkling water makes it a must stock for retailers as parents look to offer a more exciting, but equally healthy alternative to plain still water.

Have a quick snack

Every kid eagerly looks for the crisps in the lunchbox, and permissible snacks are the concern of every snacks supplier. Jon Wood, commercial director of Calbee UK, says that “With children snacking at home more often than usual, it’s been crucial for many parents to introduce snacks that are appealing yet healthy and substantial. Many also depend on routine and consistency so it’s important that parents maintain healthy eating habits when schools return.”

Through Yushoi and other lines, Calbee has developed and expanded in the processing of vegetable and pulse-based snacking products. “Yushoi’s oven-baked pea snaps are a great solution for parents seeking healthy alternatives to include in lunchboxes, high in fibre with 90 calories or less per serving – an excellent alternative to traditional potato-based snacks,” says Wood. To this can be added the new Minions, Trolls and Paw Patrol snacks – not to mention Seabrook’s Crisps: the Fish & Chips flavour is now to be joined by a Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce variety. Best of British lunchboxes!

Asian flavours are also deeply British and Debbie King, Director of Commercial Sales & Marketing at Cofresh, notes that “The back to school season and packed lunches are huge opportunities for c-stores to target and while demand for authentic and exciting taste adventures continues to grow, there’s also an increasing appetite for healthier versions of traditional favourites.” These ware what parents will put into their children’s packed lunches: “This is underlined by the significant growth in sales of Cofresh’s popular potato-based Chilli & Lemon Grills now containing 30% less fat and available in multipack format.”

And last, but not least, would any back-to-school lunchbox look complete without a bag of KP Snacks’ iconic children’s treat, Pom Bear, or maybe its stable-mate Hula Hoops in there?

Pom-Bear returns to TV

Pom Bear is a perfect gluten – and guilt-free – snack, and Hula Hoops Puft is a great popular permissible snack option for those parents seeking a healthier packed lunch for the littl’uns.

Since the launch of Puft, the Hula Hoops brand saw a rise in RSV by +11%, clearly stating the demand for healthier options.

Roll on, September!