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How Lunchboxes Are Growing Up

Move over, peanut butter and jelly: Parents are increasingly sending their children off to school with premium and better-for-you food options
Photographs: iStock, courtesy of Tree Top, 3 Green Moms

The school cafeteria that was once a trading post for Pop-Tarts and Lunchables now sees children swapping organic gummies for fancy cheese as lunch boxes continue to become healthier and more gourmet.

It’s no secret that premium and better-for-you options are on the rise, and children’s eating habits, as implemented by their parents, are not exempt. As the back-to-school season hits retail, grocers have a unique opportunity to highlight these on-trend items for parents who are starting to worry about what they pack their children for lunch every day.

This opportunity is especially great for retailers, says Kimberly Pia, director of digital marketing for Stamford, Conn.-based gluten-free candy manufacturer YumEarth, because organic and better-for-you products “typically have a higher price point than conventional items.” So if retailers are able to provide discounts, “they will get consumers who want to try something new but aren’t ready for a full spend commitment,” she says.

“Additionally, the use of displays and shippers can help provide product education, which can in turn help consumers understand the higher price point,” Pia says.

Tech for Tykes


Out-of-aisle displays are one of the best ways to get these highly desired but lesser-known products into the spotlight, says Bryce Godfrey, director of marketing for Selah, Wis.-based Tree Top, makers of on-the-go applesauce pouches. Technology is also a great way to get premium, lunch-friendly products on parents’ radar, he says.

To that end, Tree Top will offer mobile rebate offers and retailer-specific digital coupons during the back-to-school season, and Fitchburg, Wis.-based specialty cheese producer Emmi Roth has started collaborating with retailers on social media ad programs to push items for back to school.

“We’ve done things like unique bento box-themed videos with our cheeses on retailers’ social platforms in the past,” says Heather Engwall, director of marketing for Emmi Roth. The company will soon launch a large digital marketing push for its snack cheese that will target shoppers at specific retailers that carry its products, she says.

Engwall says she also has seen retailers planning two-for-one promotions in August to boost interest in its snack cheese line during the back-to-school season and advises cross-merchandising shelf-stable snacks such as applesauce and small bags of popcorn next to snack cheese in the deli to “suggest easy lunch box flavor combos.”

Moving back-to-school promotions to the digital stage is crucial in this day and age as children’s tastes are being influenced by factors such as social media. “Children are exposed to new cuisines and cultures more than ever before,” Engwall says. “This will open up some flavor doors for children and may make them more willing to try new things.”

Children’s Tastes are Evolving

As children increasingly become more engaged in their parents’ shopping patterns and parents are more often involving their children in the food preparation process, retailers must stay abreast of children’s changing taste buds. Children still tend to be picky, Engwall says, and one doesn’t typically see children “bringing kimchi, quinoa or beet salad to lunch at skyrocketing rates,” but better-for-you snacking is predicted to be a hit with the younger crowd, especially among 9-year-olds and up. “We’ll see continued shifts away from chips, cookies and processed foods to ‘whole foods’ that are still easy to pack for lunch, such as hummus, bean dips, alternative nut spreads such as almond butter, popcorn, cheese, olives, veggie chips and more,” she says.

Scott Baker, president of McKees Rocks, Pa.-based 5 Generation Bakers, makers of Jenny Lee breads, says non-GMO, organic and minimally processed foods are trending particularly in households with younger children, but “cost, flavor and the eating experience will still be the No. 1” consideration.

Godfrey of Tree Top says he’s also seeing texture starting to drive lunch box selection, with “‘crunchy’ to satisfy the snack cravings and ‘smooth’ as a descriptor of special treats.”

Tempting the Picky Eaters

Mindful that many children tend to be picky eaters and shy away from foods they’re unfamiliar with, parents can be easily discouraged from picking up an item they have not yet tried; ditto for a healthier alternative to their child’s favorite snack. Retailers have a golden opportunity to ease parents’ fears and promote new products through in-store sampling.

Baker of 5 Generation says the company has seen success with in-store sampling programs at its retail partners during the busy back-to-school period. “Frankly, it comes down to educating the consumer on what features a product has, how it can be used and why it’s good,” he says. “Many customers love the idea of a quick and different breakfast for their children” once they see it demonstrated in-store.

SQFI Launches Food Safety Solution for Manufacturers

The Safe Quality Food Institute’s new Fundamentals Program helps small to medium-size food producers boost food safety.

The solution, which meets the technical requirements of the GFSI Global Markets Programme and was developed using the GFSI Global Markets Programme Toolkit, integrates “robust” food safety standards into companies’ existing practices and creates a pathway to help them achieve globally accepted GFSI certification.

The program has two separate codes—Manufacturing and Primary Production—and also offers both basic and intermediate approaches. While both programs include essential food safety requirements, Basic SQF Fundamentals focuses on developing good implementation tools for food safety, and Intermediate SQF Fundamentals builds on the requirements of the basic approach, which includes implementation tools and additional requirements regarding documentation.

“The goal of the SQF Fundamentals Program is to help protect the brands of small and medium enterprises from the risk of a recall and satisfy their buyer’s requirements,” says Robert Garfield, SQFI’s chief food safety assessment officer and SVP. “The SQF Fundamentals Program helps to facilitate retailer acceptance of entrepreneurs, providing food safety and acceptance along the supply chain.”

Lunching Sustainably

lunch skin

They say beauty comes from within, but there is just as much to be said for what’s on the outside of a student’s lunch. Following along with the better-for-you, better-for-the-environment trends are numerous lunch box and lunch packaging companies that are striving to create more sustainable options.

Here are a few of the companies that are pioneering responsible lunch packaging:

  • Blue Avocado: Touting “solutions for greener, simpler life,” this company offers an array of reusable lunch bags that allow parents to ditch the disposable zipper bags. The bags are leakproof and offer a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate anything from sandwiches to carrot sticks.
  • Cool Gear International: Reusable water bottles and straws are an increasingly popular way to cut down on plastic use, and Cool Gear offers a variety of kid-friendly options, such as stainless-steel products and water bottles that light up. The company also offers a line of nifty light-up lunch boxes featuring characters such as sharks, unicorns and dinosaurs.
  • 3 Green Moms: The women-owned creator of Lunch Skins recyclable sandwich bags provides a paper solution for avoiders of plastic. For those who want to reduce their lunch box waste even further, the company offers a line of reusable, dishwasher-safe fabric sandwich bags.


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