The back-to-school season has gotten trickier as increasingly health-conscious parents are busier than ever but are still no longer willing to pack processed and unsustainably packaged foods in their children’s lunches. To boot, a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich will no longer do as more cafeterias outlaw products containing peanuts because of school administrators’ growing concerns over nut allergies.
While the evolution of the school lunch may make things more complicated for many parents, it gives grocers an opportunity to connect with customers by providing guidance during the notoriously stressful time.
Grocers across the country are getting creative during the back-to-school season with programs and promotions that connect with parents gearing up to send their kids off to school as well as teachers preparing for the upcoming year.
While these programs can be great for promoting items on the shelf, they are often rooted in goodwill and are a great way for retailers to act as pillars of the communities they serve.
Grocers Give Back
Food City, a banner of Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas’, hosts a back-to-school fair in which it gives away backpacks and school supplies to children in need. The special day also features activities to help prepare students for the year and a raffle with prizes, such as laptops and other school-related electronics.
Photograph courtesy of Food City
Students and parents aren’t the only ones receiving attention. With the fact that most teachers purchase school supplies with money from their own pockets in mind, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer is offering its largest school discount this year. The regional retailer is treating teachers across the Midwest to a 15% discount—up from 10% last year—on all classroom essentials through the end of September, which Brandon Pasch, director of back-to-school merchandising, says allows teachers to “enjoy their summer to the fullest” and “ save whenever is most convenient, and as many times as they like.”
In addition to back-to-school savings, many grocers make their partnership with schools a year-long commitment. Harris Teeter’s Together in Education (TIE) program allows shoppers to help earn funds for local schools by linking their VIC rewards card to the initiative and purchasing private label items. A percentage of all sales of qualified items goes to the shopper’s school of choice, or up to five different schools of their selection.
Since the TIE program’s debut in 1998, the Mathews, N.C.-based chain, a subsidiary of Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co., has donated more than $24.7 million to participating schools.
Walmart is also joining in on the back-to-school festivities, hosting events such as a Teachers Appreciation Night in July. The event will feature cake and ice cream and activities such as a photo booth. A “swag bag” will also be given to attending teachers. Additionally, the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega retailer held a STEAM Day of Play, with activities such as tie-dying and slime making.
Giving a helping hand to busy parents can also translate to grocers’ online outlets. For example, Eden Prairie, Minn.-based wholesaler and retailer Supervalu provides an online guide to lunchbox recipes that includes step-by-step videos for preparing lunch-friendly items such as ham pizza wraps, fruit and nut bars, and salmon rice spring rolls.
The College Students
Spending on food items among college students during the back-to-school season took a bit of a dip last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), with those about to take off for school planning to spend an average $102.82 on food in preparation.
Mark Mathews, VP of research for the Washington, D.C.-based trade association, chalks it up to college students “prioritizing and increasing their spending budgets in essential categories, including clothing, furnishings and shoes.” He adds that although consumers will still spend on categories such as personal care, gift cards and food, “they may plan to make purchases as needed throughout the school year rather than stocking up for the entire semester.”
However, this doesn’t mean that retailers are leaving them out of the back-to-school festivities altogether.
Walmart, for example, hosts parties for college students at the end of August that includes giveaways, style inspiration and other perks. The retailer is also offering $20 Uber vouchers for its Back to College events to help make it easy for students to transport items from the store to their campus.
Photograph courtesy of Meijer
Meijer is also a friend to the college crowd with its Meijer Mania event, which treats about 45,000 incoming college freshmen to a party that includes a DJ, photo booth and interactive contests. Students can also get some help with grabbing last-minute items that they will need for school.