The start of the new school term last September was shrouded in uncertainty following the lengthy lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. However, this year, many parents are already beginning to think about starting their back-to-school shop. Donna Ahern reports.
The pandemic has put both parents and pupils to the test over the past year and a half, but this year, despite some uncertainty about possible future lockdowns, it appears that it will be education as usual when the new school term starts in September.
Also, while higher, further and adult education was primarily online last year, recent Government announcements suggest that students will return to college and university at the start of the academic year, which is a very positive sign that normal service is likely to resume across the entire Irish education system.
According to the Statistical Bulletin Enrolments Preliminary Results, which was published by the Department of Education and Skills last September, total enrolments in mainstream primary schools across the Republic of Ireland stood at 553,003 in September 2020.
Total enrolments in secondary schools stood at 379,183 at the start of the 2020 academic term.
This means that those few weeks before students go back to school are a crucial sales period for retailers and suppliers alike.
While the frantic Christmas grocery shopping rush is the biggest selling opportunity of the year for grocery retailers, back to school is the second biggest grocery selling opportunity.
This is because it incorporates a vast number of food categories, ranging from chilled dairy and drinks, to crisps and snacks, bread, and sliced meats, as well as fruit.
A report published by Kantar on 22 September 2020 showed that all retailers across the country benefited from the reopening of schools.
Referring to the run up to the new school term for the 12 weeks to 6 September 2020, Emer Healy, retail analyst at Kantar, said, “Parents preparing for their children’s return to the classroom stocked up on easy breakfast and packed-lunch options, with sales of baked morning goods up by 11% and lunch box staples like yoghurt drinks and juices growing by 17%."
"One marked difference this year is that facial tissues and wipes have become a must-have for children’s backpacks, growing by 2% and 15% respectively,” she said.
While parents are likely to be less frantic in their purchasing of hand sanitisers and wipes than they were 12 months ago, some extra vigilant parents might still consider this to be a new norm, which is something that grocery retailers should bear in mind when they are stocking up on back to school essentials as they prepare for the new term.
It is likely that the back to school shopping will build in to a gradual crescendo during the last few weeks of July and the start of August before the big shopping event occurs.
The start of the new term is an expensive time of the year for all families. Some parents will start stocking up on the essentials required for their children's return to the classroom a little bit sooner in order to spread out the cost.
It is important to note that parents may still be under financial strain due to a job or salary cut.
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, so 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, stationery, art supplies, and lunchboxes.
In-store promotional activity on these items could influence shoppers to make a purchase across these categories with immediate effect.
According to a recent Nielsen report conducted on behalf of Checkout magazine, which includes all multiples, symbol groups and forecourts (excluding Dunnes Stores) for the 52 weeks to the 23 May 2021, sales within the books and stationary category alone have reached €24 million.
The start of the new school term signals the beginning of 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 that it will be adhered to throughout the school year.
Speaking with Checkout, nutritionist and founder of Eatwell Sarah Keogh says, “Portion packs, such as boxes of raisins, is a handy solution for parents."
"A lot of parents are looking for healthy pre-packed items that are high in protein such as sliced cheese, that they can easily pop into a sandwich or a lunch box on a busy morning," she adds.