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Breakfast foods, packed lunch items on the menu for back to school

95% of Canadian moms say they plan to pack a lunch for their child this year

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School lunches, snacks, and breakfasts are “big business” when it comes to back-to-school shopping, says a new study from Field Agent. The research firm predicts that sellers of produce, breakfast cereal and dairy products will be among the “real winners” during the key sales period.

In Field Agent’s survey of 500 moms of children entering grades K-12, 95% said their child’s meal/snack plans for the year ahead included packing a lunch, while 24% said their child would purchase lunches in the school cafeteria.

The findings are drastically different from the U.S., where just 69% of respondents indicated they would be packing lunches for their child and 48% indicated their child would purchase lunches in the school cafeteria.

Field Agent Canada’s general manager, Jeff Doucette, said the Canadian findings suggested a marketing opportunity for grocers, particularly as moms struggle to find ways to keep lunches interesting—and not traded or thrown away—as the school year progresses.

One possible tactic, he said, was creating an end cap display of interesting lunch solutions that could be updated weekly. “[Shoppers] can come back to that same place for inspiration,” he said. “We saw in the commentary that moms get tired of sending the same thing. They run out of ideas.”

Asked what items they were most likely to pack in their child’s lunch, 90% of respondents said fresh or packaged fruit, while 81% said fresh or packaged vegetables. More than three-quarters (78%) of moms said a sandwich or wrap with meat, 78% said water and 74% said dairy-based foods such as yogurt and cheese.

This question also produced marked differences between Canadians and Americans. While just 44% of Canadian respondents said that they would pack salty snacks such as potato chips in their child’s lunch, for example, that number rose to 79% among American moms.

And while 15% of Canadian moms said they would pack candy or chocolate in their child’s lunch, that number rose to 28% among American respondents. “When Canadians put things in lunches, they tend to be much more health conscious,” said Doucette.

There was also a wide discrepancy when it came to nuts or nut-based foods, with just 12% of Canadians saying they would pack those items in their child’s lunch, compared with 52% of Americans. “It’s probably a bit of a culture thing where Canadians are polite to a fault, with nut-specific bans for an entire school versus specific classrooms,” said Doucette. “It’s amazing to see that sort of disparity between the two.”

Eighty per cent of moms listed dry cereal as the item their kids were most likely to eat or drink prior to school, followed by milk at 74% and fresh fruit at 65%. Four per cent of moms said coffee.

Walmart is by far the leading destination for moms when shopping for back to school food items, cited by 80% of respondents. Sixty-six per cent of respondents said they would shop at Costco—which Doucette called an “emerging force” in grocery—followed by Superstore (57%). Sobeys/Safeway/IGA was the leading conventional grocer at 54%.

Nearly one-third of respondents said they would use online ordering for pick-up at the grocery store to purchase packed lunch items, while 14% said online ordering for home delivery. Five per cent of respondents said they would use voice ordering through a speaker such as Amazon Echo or Google Home.

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