Back to school category guide

Making more of the chilled category and food-to-go options will drive back-to-school sales, writes Lindsay Sharman.

September is a busy time for families. Children go back to school and students return to university after the summer break. For wholesalers with customer bases that include retailers and foodservice outlets serving either or both of these demographics, adjusting stock to reflect the time of year is a must.

For the student population, convenience and value are important factors when it comes to deciding what to eat and drink. Chilled is a particularly popular category that ticks both boxes, but is known to underperform in wholesale.

Chilled is in double-digit growth for us and performing well. We work with all our suppliers to make sure our promotional activity is relevant[/pull_quote_right]

John Armstrong, marketing director from Kepak Convenience Foods, says a good way to approach chilled is to understand what students are looking for and then use this to educate customers.

“Students today grow up with snacks in the fridge and they expect a better choice,” says Armstrong. “They’re time-poor when they’re working and want solutions to eat on the go, in-between meals, or to replace meals.”

Kepak’s best-known products, Rustlers, is a microwaveable burger that is stocked in the chiller and takes just a few minutes to heat up. It has also recently launched Rustlers Hot Naans. Kepak’s products, along with others that are similar, such as Pukka Pies, present an ideal opportunity for wholesalers to promote the chilled category to customers at this time of year. Retailers can even have a microwave in-store. 

“Microwaves are the first step towards food-to-go,” says Armstrong. “They are wipe-clean and don’t take up much space, but they will generate footfall.”

Foodservice customers can also benefit from chilled food-to-go products. For example, Empire Dogs’ founding director Mark Yates says university caterers should offer the company’s products to their customers.

“The instant hot snack category generates £197m in sales by value for the foodservice market annually,” he says. “Wholesalers can help university caterers  to benefit from this by providing a variety of options that allow them to serve tasty food quickly to a large number of students during freshers week.”

Wholesalers wishing to improve their chilled offerings should look not just at their product ranges but at the way they merchandise these areas in-depot.

Wholesaler viewpoint

Steve Carter – senior trading controller – fresh, frozen & food service, Bestway

“Chilled is in double-digit growth for us and performing well. We work with all our suppliers to make sure our promotional activity is relevant to back to school and we see good sales uplift as a result.

“We also work with Best-one retailers to market the concept to them. It’s a very effective time of year and a lot of suppliers launch ‘child size’ packs that are for lunchboxes and we support these new launches.”

“Customers buying from wholesalers usually buy ambient, and as a result, chilled areas in-depot are relatively neglected,” says James Logan, commercial director at Refresco Gerber, which owns brands including Innocent Smoothies, Sunny D and Del Monte. “To drive more footfall to chilled areas, wholesalers need to promote offers on their chilled ranges and promote bulk purchases of meal-deal chilled products.”

When it comes to back to school, chilled products are just as relevant to the wholesale channel, but there are some subtle differences in the way the products are purchased and consumed. While students are looking for food to eat immediately or on the go, back to school means parents are looking for products that can be included in lunchboxes or that can be eaten as after-school snacks.

Chilled dairy products, especially cheese, are particularly popular when it comes to packed lunches for school children. Cheese snacks are successful because they appeal to adults and children alike – 60% of Mini Babybels are consumed by children.

“Parents wants to build a lunchbox they know their kids will enjoy, whereas adult snackers see cheese as a treat,” says Steve Gregory, head of category management at Bel UK. “While the snacking market has traditionally been dominated by crisps and nuts, consumers are now branching out for new tastes.”

Back to school is also about a return to routine, according to Kepak’s John Armstrong, and chilled convenience foods fit in perfectly.

“In September, parents and children are getting back into the cycle of work and school and they eat differently during this time to during holiday time,” he says.

Treats such as single-serve cakes and biscuits are also a popular choice for lunchboxes, with the value of the sweet portion of the lunchbox category standing at £1.9bn, according to Premier Foods, which has a portfolio that includes Mr Kipling and Cadbury mini rolls. 

Yazoo’s flavoured milk drink is also a healthier alternative and sales of flavoured milks have increased by 20% in the past year.

For wholesalers and depot managers, both occasions can provide an incentive to look at the chilled category in more detail – and to engage with customers about current trends in the market.

“Chilled has always been a problem area for wholesalers and it’s not the most attractive part of the depot,” says Kepak’s John Armstrong. “There are two main priorities that wholesalers should ensure their retailers focus on in September: one is getting the right range of products and the other is using point-of-sale material to make sure deals are visible.” 

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Lindsay Sharman is a former editor of Retail Newsagent, news editor of Retail Express and account manager in public relations for leading food and drink brands. Lindsay loves anything to do with the arts, including mid-century antiques, and cycles everywhere, even in winter


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