The new school term might seem to be miles away, but many parents are already thinking about starting their back-to-school shop. Donna Ahern reports.
Those weeks leading into the start of the new school term can be an anxious and expensive time of the year for many parents, and this year most parents will be under further financial strain because of cost-of- living pressures.
Research conducted by Spark Market Research on behalf of out-of-home agency Talon in Ireland reveals that, despite the government’s introduction of its new free primary schoolbooks scheme, parents still envisage an increased level of spend for the back-to-school essentials in 2023. Plans for increased spending are being reported across the board in comparison to the same period in 2022. Most respondents (56%) plan on spending between €100 and €499.
Nearly a quarter (24%) said they would spend between €500 and €999, followed by 11% answering between €50 and €99, with 8% revealing they would spend upwards of €1,500.
The survey also found that consumers will be shopping across a variety of stores, with Tesco retaining its position as the most popular retail store (65%), followed closely by Dunnes (60%). Just over half (52%) of Irish respondents are once again choosing to keep things local by spending in local school supply stores in their area.
Bricks-and-mortar stores are the preferred means of shopping in September rather than online channels.
The study shows that 58% of consumers anticipate doing their back-to-school purchasing in shopping centres and 40% said they would choose local shops. A further 21% will be shopping on the high street, while only 35% of consumers said they would be heading online.
Moreover, when shopping for the back-to-school period, most Irish shoppers anticipate a later start, with August being the most popular month at 36%, followed by July at 30%. Only 27% of respondents have begun already and 5% expect to wait until the week before term starts.
This is very different to last year when just 1% left it to the last week before beginning the back-to-school shop and 42% had already started at this point last year.
The Trusty Sandwich
Despite the numerous options available, trusted staples such as sandwiches remain a popular school lunchbox choice across Ireland. According to new research as part of the national Healthy Heroes School Programme, in association with the Irish Bread Bakers Association (IBBA), 42% of adults with children in primary or secondary school include a sandwich in their child’s lunchbox every day, with a third (33%) making it a ham and cheese.
Not only is the ritual of the lunchbox sandwich alive and well, the findings also show that almost a quarter (23%) of adults with school-aged children add an extra sandwich to their child’s lunchbox on days that are particularly busy with physical activities, which is especially common during this final school term. Nearly six in 10 (55%) parents report their children participating in two to three physical activities per week during this last week of school.
The survey also delved into the what adults remembered and preferred the most about their own school days and their favourite sandwich fillings from childhood. Ham and cheese emerged as the most preferred sandwich filling, with 42% of respondents claiming it as their top choice.
Corned beef also evoked strong memories, with almost a third (28%) of respondents saying it was always in their top three preferences of lunchbox sandwich options when they were growing up.
Research conducted by NIQ for the eight weeks to 4 September 2022 on behalf of Checkout shows that sliced cooked meat still proves to be a popular sandwich filler. According to the data, pre-packed sliced cooked meat was worth €25.3 million in total NIQ Scantrack value sales* during the period.
The biggest sub-category in pre-packed Sliced Cooked Meats is premium (such as traditional/crumbed meats etc) at a 37% share of sales of total NIQ Scantrack. The everyday sub-category is 21%, value is 16%, speciality is 12%, wafer thin is 7% and pieces is 7%.
After Christmas, the back-to-school rush is the next biggest selling opportunity of the year for the grocery sector as it incorporates a vast number of food and drink categories. These include dairy, drinks, crisps and snacks, bread and the aforementioned sliced meats, as well as fruit.
During the eight weeks to 4 September 2022, cheese snacks was worth €1.5 million in sales value, while buns/rolls/baps was worth €5 million. Private label only makes up 17% of the products sold, so this category is mainly driven by brands.
The total children’s Ready To Drink (RTD) category was worth €3.9 million in the eight weeks to the 4 September 2023.
Fruit is a long standing and trusted lunchbox staple.
According to NIQ, the total fruit market during the period was valued at €46 million.
The share of sales of some of the top performers in fruit are as follows: strawberries 18%; bananas 15%; apples 10%; blueberries 9%; grapes 8%; easy peelers 7% and raspberries 5%. Given that fruit is a naturally healthy choice, when it comes to encouraging customers to choose items in this category, it is all about special offers, visibility and the freshness of the fruit.
These figures are set to soar for each category as the new school term begins.
Given that the back-to-school period is a competitive one, if retailers are to appeal to busy parents their promotions must be easy to find and easy to understand for more effective shopper engagement.
Packing Healthy Lunchboxes
Dr Colette Reynolds, child nutritionist and fussy eating specialist, established Growing Healthy Eaters to help create happy, healthy eaters. She does this online from Galway by using her background in psychology and nutrition, and her experience with her own two boys. She talks to Checkout about what makes a child’s lunch healthy and what parents are likely to put in to their shopping trolleys ahead of their children’s return to school.
“Ideally in a child’s lunch box, there are three food groups – carbohydrates, protein and fruit or vegetables,” she says.
“This is based on the ‘Kids Healthy Eating Plate’ (Harvard, School of Health 2015). Packing more of a balanced meal like this means that our children are more likely to be fuelled well for the next while, rather than being hungry quickly afterward. Wholegrains are the best type of carbohydrates, and these include wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta. Some examples of healthy proteins include chicken, turkey, and peanut butter (or a nut-free equivalent).
“The addition of fruit and vegetables is a great bonus and can include fresh fruit, smoothies, and cooked vegetables, such as in soup or pasta sauce.
Raw veggies, such as carrots, cucumber, peppers, or various types of peas such as sugar snaps, may be more popular with children due to their crunchy texture.
“We should aim for variety and avoid the same lunch every day so that children don’t get tired of the same foods and want to stop eating them. Changes may be small and include offering a different fruit or type of bread. Not all lunches need to have a sandwich, so think of a lunch more like a picnic and include other types of carbohydrates such as crackers and pasta.”
Children are often very distracted and have a small amount of time to eat their lunch, so it is important to offer foods that are quick and easy to eat. “Homemade muffins are a great option to incorporate a number of food groups together such as some wholemeal flour, proteins such as cheese, and fruit and veggies,” says Colette.
“Examples of a lunch include omelette in wholemeal pitta, with cucumber slices on the side, or wholegrain crackers with cheese and hummus, and raw carrot sticks on the side.”
Affordable School Uniform
On 28 June, Marks & Spencer announced the return of its popular back-to- school offer, with 20% off school uniforms.
Available in store and online for a limited time only, the back-to-school offer also commits to holding prices on school uniform for a third year in a row, with prices held from 2021.
The M&S school uniform is designed to be ‘durable’ and ‘pass the hand-me-down quality test’ to ensure that even when it’s outgrown, it’s too good to waste and can be handed down to family and friends.
Prices in the range start from just €9.50 for a multipack of three 100% responsibly sourced cotton unisex polo shirts. When the additional 20% back-to-school offer is applied, prices start from just €7.60 for early shoppers.
“The school uniform is an essential purchase for millions of families and now more than ever, parents are prioritising value when it comes to making purchasing decisions,” says Alexandra Dimitriu, director of Kidswear at M&S.
“We believe that a great price shouldn’t come at the expense of great quality, and by continuing to protect prices, we are ensuring that affordable school uniforms – that also pass the hand-me-down test – are accessible to all families this back-to- school season.”
*All data sourced from Total NIQ Scantrack (made up of multiples and convenience channels). With some breakouts of multiples and convenience. Except for fruit.