School Of Thought

By Donna Ahern
School Of Thought

While uncertainty surrounds the reopening of schools, many parents are already beginning to think about starting their back-to-school shop, Donna Ahern reports 

Most parents are usually preoccupied with summer vacations and kids clubs at this time of the year, but 2020 has been a particularly challenging year for Ireland’s mums and dads.

Returning to school this year will be a very different experience for all families following the global pandemic.

However, we know that, like previous years, the nation’s children will return to school in the autumn and this return to education represents a massive sales opportunity for retailers around the country.

According to the Statistical Bulletin Enrolments Preliminary Results, which were published by the Department of Education and Skills last September, the total enrolments in post-primary (secondary) schools stood at 371,455 at the start of the 2019 academic term.

The total enrolments in mainstream primary schools across the Republic of Ireland stood at 559,378 in September 2019.

These figures drive home the importance of the back-to-school period for retailers and suppliers. Now that the frantic stockpiling that we witnessed at the start of the lockdown has subsided, the back-to-school rush is going to be the next biggest grocery selling opportunity of the year, as it incorporates a vast number of food categories, including chilled dairy, drinks, crisps and snacks, bread, and sliced meats, as well as fruit.

Mixed Emotions

While most parents are looking forward to their children returning to the classroom and settling into a more stable educational environment that relieves them of the added pressures of home schooling, many parents are understandably anxious.

Full details regarding social distancing guidelines and hygiene considerations have yet to be fully worked out, and many parents are conscious that if the two-metre rule is still in place in September, children may only be able to attend school on a part-time basis.

This would likely have a major impact on demand levels and shopper behaviour in grocery retail outlets and would have a knock-on effect on suppliers.

Costly Event

The start of the new term is an expensive time of the year for all families. In anticipation of September 2020, some parents will need to start stocking up on the essentials required for their children’s return to the classroom a little bit sooner than normal this year to spread out the cost. Parents are going to be under more financial strain than ever before.

Many have lost their jobs or experienced salary cuts while trying to cope with the the increased costs of keeping their children entertained and fed during the lockdown.

With this in mind, it is highly likely that gradual purchasing is going to be a shopping trend among many parents over the coming weeks.

Now is a key time for grocery retailers to start back-to-school in-store promotional activity and to highlight special offers on non- perishable school staples such as uniforms, stationary, art supplies, and lunchboxes, which could influence shoppers to make a purchase across these categories with immediate effect.

It is likely that back-to- school shopping will build to a gradual crescendo during the first few weeks of August before the big shopping event occurs.

According to a recent Nielsen report, which includes all multiples, symbol groups, forecourts and discounters (excluding Dunnes Stores) for the 52 weeks to the 14 June, sales within the books and stationery category alone reached €323.8 million.

Full Uniform For €5

It appears that Lidl has taken note of the increased financial burden that parents are likely to be carrying this year. Since 6 July the discounter has been displaying its affordable back-to-school range with a full uniform starting at just €5.

Lidl is heavily promoting a high quality, low cost range that offers trousers, a sweatshirt and a pack of two polo shirts for just €5, taking the pressure out of back to school shopping for many parents.

‘With the stress of schools closing suddenly in March, Lidl has made the back to school season even easier for families this year,’ said the retailer.

It appears that Lidl has the kids covered for all their stationery needs too. Early in the summer, the retailer stocked up on a range of stationery such as gel pens and compass sets, as well as lunchtime essentials, including lunch box sets at very reasonable prices.

In a clever move, the retailer has added kids facemasks to the back-to-school essentials mix, as this will be a new, and very important, addition to parents shopping lists ahead of the big return.

September Staples

Kantar figures published on 24 September last year showed that the back-to-school routines boosted sales of breakfast and packed lunch staples for grocery retailers during the 12 weeks to 8 September 2019, as shoppers stocked up on September staples.

“When summer draws to a close people return to their normal routines and their shopping habits shift accordingly," said Charlotte Scott, consumer insight director at Kantar, who was commenting on the 24 September figures.

“Children are back at school and parents needing easy breakfast and packed-lunch options have boosted sales of cereals, yoghurts and bread by 14%, 10% and 6% respectively during the past four weeks, compared with the month before.”

Healthy Choices

During the lockdown the sales of treats sky rocketed as more families occupied themselves with home entertainment. However, the start of the new school term signals the beginning of new healthy eating routines for the year ahead, so the gains to be made by being part of this routine are huge for retailers and suppliers alike.

Once a routine is in place from the start of the academic year, it is likely to be adhered to throughout the school year, which means that parents will be on the lookout for healthy and nutritious lunchbox fillers.

Speaking with Checkout, nutritionist and founder of Eatwell, Sarah Keogh, points out that most schools have a healthy eating policy when it comes to lunchboxes, “but planning school lunches is always a headache for parents, so retailers should make it easier for parents to stock lunchboxes with healthy snacks by making them available in-store.

Having lots of healthy snack options available in-store makes it easier for parents to ensure healthy eating at school.”

Naturally Healthy

Fruit is a long standing and trusted lunchbox staple. According to Nielsen, for the 52 weeks to the 14 June, the sales of bananas were worth €88.8 million, apples were €79.9 million and oranges were €22.7 million.

Considering that fruit is a naturally healthy choice, special offers, visibility, and the freshness of the fruit are the key to increasing sales in this category.

Other Lunchbox Staples

Trusted staples such as sandwiches remain a popular choice for school lunches. Other lunch box favourites includes granola bars, sales of which are currently worth €33.4 million, ready to drink juices, with sales of €35.2 million, kids yoghurt, with a sales figure of €30.4 million, and popcorn, whose sales are worth €25.7 million.

For each category, these figures are set to soar as the new school term begins.

Considering that the back-to-school category is a competitive one, promotions must be easy to find and easy to understand if they are to appeal to the nation’s busy parents, many of whom have been home-schooling and working this year.

© 2020 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Donna Ahern. Click sign-up to subscribe to Checkout.


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