Here come the students!

With a new academic year unlike any other now beginning, we survey the products on offer for a brave intake of students hungry for experiences and a new world of cooking not by Mum

Photo: iStock

With many living away from home for the first time, shopping for home comforts and stacking up on the meal deals will become primary instinct for youngsters. Store owners can maximise this opportunity by catering products towards the 18 to 25-year-old demographic.

Snacks for academics

The Crisps, Snacks and Nuts (CSN), category is continuing to grow in 2020, with many brands seeing their sharing packs becoming top sellers. They perfect for c-stores wanting to attract students arranging get-togethers from late all-day study sessions to movie nights in.

British wholesaler KP Snacks has delivered on the biggest single category growth contribution of the year by +£50 million and is now worth £3.3 billion. Matt Collins, trading director, said: “CSN is a resilient category that plays into multiple occasions and missions.

“While the current circumstances may change the way students typically celebrate, as lockdown eases, many students will be enjoying small social get-togethers. These social opportunities remain a vital sales opportunity for retailers, as 24 per cent of consumers want to snack while they socialise.”


Earlier this year, KP Snacks announced a partnership between Butterkist and streaming service NOW TV, a promotion running until late November. Consumers receive a half-price NOW TV Sky Cinema Pass with each purchase of Butterkist microwave popcorn.

For cost-conscious students, price-marked packs are also a particularly important sales-driving tool to help the convenience sector give a much-needed boost with impulse purchases.

Despite the stereotype of students living off cheap alternatives of their favourite brands, research has increasingly shown preference to buying premium options.

According to Favoured, Gen Z are less trusting than Millennials, meaning retailers need to be more direct and fool-proof with their promotion ads to keep students interested.

Flavour is the number one purchase driver in the CSN category with 49 per cent saying that they would choose crisps or savoury snacks over a sugary option.


KP Snacks’ new McCoy’s Fiery Steak crisps is the ideal product to capitalise on this trend and the end of barbeque season.Also packing a punch for tastebuds is hand-cooked crisp-brand Tyrrells driving the growth major within this category, with around 5.9 million UK households now purchasing it.

Mr Collins is also hopeful that single-product packs will pick up as youngsters begin the 2020-21 academic year, as students are well-known impulse/distress buyers.

He said: “We are expecting the singles and food-to-go category to increase as government restrictions ease and people make their return to school and university.

“79 per cent of shoppers say it would be useful to have commonly purchased products merchandised together, and 38 per cent bought something because they saw it in a secondary location.”

Best Sellers by the wholesaler include the Hula Hoops Big Hoops range, with their BBQ flavour becoming the number-one-selling £1 PMP in the Convenience channel.

Other popular brands c-stores must stock for students are Space Raiders Beef and Pickled Onion, McCoy’s Grab Bags, Nik Naks Nice ‘N’ Spicy and Prawn Cocktail-flavoured Skips.

For those focusing on their nuts, KP is also the number one brand, more than six times bigger than the nearest competitor.Not only do nuts make a great sharing option, but they appeal to those seeking healthier options.

Gen Z and millennials continue to be a primary source of influence among brands deemed as junk food to create healthy variants on best-selling products in order to entice this generation.

Recent research found that three in five people are trying to make healthier snacking decisions and meal choices, with health remaining top of mind.

Retailers may also turn to popchips, the number one-rated ‘Better for You’ bagged snack brand in the sharing pack format. Coming in at under 100 calories per serving and with a third less fat than the market leader, this brand provides an option without compromising on big flavour.

Calbee’s better-for you Yushoi oven-baked pea snaps provide another excellent alternative. Jon Wood, Calbee UK’s commercial director says they are “the perfect choice for students looking for healthy alternatives to enjoy.”

The snacks are a source of protein, high in fibre with 90 calories or less per serving,and so an excellent alternative to traditional potato-based snacks. Made from 68 per cent green pea, the complete range is vegetarian friendly with all flavours (except Sour Cream & Chive) suitable for vegans.

“The gluten-free snacks have all green and amber GDA’s and are available in single 21g bags and 6 x 21g multipacks, supporting the impulse convenience market,” says Wood.

The range of baked pea snacks are available in a variety of flavours including Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar, Sweet Chilli with Lemon, Lightly Sea Salted and Sour Cream & Chive. Classic freshman bait.

Something else to attract students from Calbee – in addition to their range of popular Seabrook Crisps, including the launch of a new “Lea & Perrins” flavour  – is the partnership with Alton Towers Resort for the third year running, offering two for one entry at the theme park until May 2021.

“The promotion will undoubtedly attract the younger generation who tend to thrive on adventure and is excellent value for money,” says Wood, who points out that the promotion (across Crinkle Cut Multipacks, 80g PMPs and the core flavours of Seabrook’s 31.8g bags) is worth up to £55 per pack.

Lunchtime of learning

With most students tending to shop for one person, single-serve, quick and ready to go meals are recommended for c-stores reviewing their stock orders.

For many at university, learning how to cook while living away from home is an exciting and daunting time, creating opportunities to experiment with new products. Save the Student discovered that the average student spends £100 a month on groceries, the second largest outgoing next to rent.

While some may think this essential payment is expensive, its actually cheaper than it appears; £23 a week or even more impressive £3.28 a day.By offering money-saving products that compromise on nutrition, portion size and quality, the convenience sector can supply everything a university goer needs within each meal.

Adam Woolf, Brand Director for Quick Meal, Snacks and Soups at Premier Foods, highlighted that it’s important to offer as much variety as possible to suit the diverse lifestyles of students.

He said: “The long-term impact that Covid-19 will have on the industry remains to be seen, but one of the most significant changes in this category that came from lockdown was the move towards convenient options that can be prepared at home.

“As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, there are still a large number of unknowns around how people will choose to adapt.As a result of people eating more meals at home they are turning to convenient solutions that work around their changing routines.”

According to the latest poll by ProSapient more than half of Brits (55 per cent) who are expected to return to work in September said they would spend the same amount on lunch as pre-Covid, while 25 per cent said would spend more.

How can shop owners continue to win over student’s midday munchies over popular choices such as a leading fast food chain or a supermarket meal deal?

Premier Foods said that despite the reopening of restaurants, they have seen strong (+10 per cent) category growth in the lunch time occasion (Kantar, Total Usage, w/e 17/06/20) over the past five months as people continue to work and study from home.

Data from Retail Monitor and Springboard found that between the first week of the scheme traffic across retail destinations all around the country jumped nearly 10 per cent at lunchtime.While a significant rise in dining out, time is still money, especially for university students, and therefore they will look for the best offers wherever possible.

Following Batchelors’ successful launch of their BIG Pots Pasta ’n’ Sauce range last October, the format is now available in a classic student food format – Super Noodles.

Available in three flavours – BBQ Beef, Curry and Chicken – the pots help meet the demand for more filling quick meal solutions.Contained in a 100g pack (33 per cent bigger), the latter flavour is already the sixth biggest pot SKU in the category, perfect for those on-the-go in between lectures and essays.

Premier Foods, which also owns the brands Bisto and Ambrosia, said UK sales were up 15 per cent and shares in the business jumped 17 per cent in March.The drive is mostly due to people seeking dry and frozen foods to reduce shopping trips during the peak of the pandemic.

“Offering a convenient meal solution in large pot snacks are one of the fastest growing formats in the sector due to shoppers looking for products that will satisfy a larger appetite,” explains Mr Woolf.

“Our new BIG Pot format has helped us to enrich the range and will attract a different shopper to the category. Larger pots tend to be bought by younger people, predominantly males, versus the core range.”

With the move towards more filling pot snacks only expected to grow further, Batchelors latest offering allows retailers to give students options from a brand they know and trust.

“This shows us that many of the convenient elements that people look for with on the go options are translating for at-home consumption, something that mirrors shopping habits we witnessed before lockdown, which saw strong growth across noodle pots by +8 per cent.

Assisted cooking and quick food options rose by 103 per cent, and this will be no different for students wanting to socialise and study alongside their peers.

Speaking about this current shopping trend, Andre Burger, Vice President of foods and refreshments at Unilever UK&I, said: “With many students hoping to return to university soon and social lives slowly getting busier, they will be looking for convenience foods, like noodles and pasta, that are quick, easy and live up to the flavour they have enjoyed at home.

“We’ve seen that shoppers have turned to trusted brands during lockdown, who are leading the way with their reassuring familiarity, affordable prices and uncompromising taste.”

Student favourite Pot Noodle has long been associated as a staple brand in university kitchen cupboards, offering quick meals with big flavour at affordable prices.

Block noodles have experienced massive growth during the pandemic, with shoppers three times more likely to have this instant food choice for lunch, now worth £75 million.

This format is especially attractive for multiple people eating together, as the pack can be shared, which makes it the ideal choice for the co-habiting student.

Just time for the new semester, Pot Noodle’s “Lost the Pot” range has been launched, which should prove popular within the convenience sector.

With a choice of trending recipes including Thai Red Curry, Malaysian Laksa, Japanese Miso Noodle Soup and Vietnamese Beef Pho, these will appeal to Gen Z and Millennials love of healthy, international flavours.

“We’re constantly innovating and responding to shopper’s needs when it comes to health concerns,” explained Mr Burger. “which is why our new Lost The Pot block noodle range has been a hit, with over 30 per cent less saturated fat compared to competitors.”

But it’s not all just about noodles: their Italian cousin pasta continues to have its fans among university halls, with lockdown only increasing its popularity.

Nielsen figures showed that the sales of pasta in the UK catapulted to 168 per cent in the week of March 14 compared with the year before.

To improve their appeal to youngsters, Unilever’s Pot Pasta range underwent an entire portfolio makeover, now boasting an improved recipe, low in fat and a maximum of 8.1g of protein.

The range still comprises of four flavours: Creamy Carbonara, Bolognese, Tomatoey Mozzarella and Spicy Arrabbiata ranging in 207-223 calories with a rsp of £1.19 per 55-61g.

Frozen foods for freshers

The frozen food industry has soared during lockdown, in fact by 27.6 per cent in the 12 weeks to 16 May, according to Nielsen data.

This category is traditionally highly valued by uni-goers and with the current generation being extremely money and ethically conscious, retailers should maximise these young consumer demands.

Packaged Facts found that despite Gen Z and Millennials being the prime advocates of the “Better For You movement”, frozen hot snacks and frozen pizzas are still widely consumed (37 per cent and 24 per cent above average respectively).

The Mamode family of Premier, Wych Lane, Gosport
The Mamode family of Premier, Wych Lane, Gosport celebrating the opening of their store and the launch of the new Chicago Town Pizza to Go concept.

Looking to be the prince of frozen pizzas, Dr Oetker’s Chicago Town Takeaway range has seen their YoY growth leap 44.7 per cent, now worth an impressive £4million.

Speaking about the frozen food market, Paula Wyatt, head of marketing pizza, at Dr.Oetker UK, said: “Frozen pizza is certainly a key product area for convenience stores close to universities to stock. Over the last 12 weeks we have seen the growth of the frozen pizza category increase in S&I (+18.6 per cent in value).”

In particular, Chicago Town’s Deep Dish range is very popular with students due to its simple but tasty flavours, with 11.3 per cent of sales being made in the convenience sector alone.

Available at £2 PMP, the range features a unique dough that resembles the freshly-baked pizza takeaway taste that perfectly fit with a student budget.

“This is a key product for student shoppers who aren’t bound by routine and can crave indulgent meal options any night of the week.” explained Ms Wyatt.

Kantar and the British Frozen Food Federations summer reports on frozen food also reflect this trending shopping pattern, with sales jumping £285 million by June.

Retailers should strike a balance between selling new and bestsellers in order to satisfy the unpredicted and spontaneous nature students are well known for.

With many hoping for a fresh start this autumn, we can only hope that the latter half of 2020 fares better for retailers and students alike.