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With a new school year in the offing, Wellesley, Mass. Roche Bros., which operates 18 stores primarily in the greater Boston area, is busy anticipating the needs of returning students and their parents.
?The biggest trends we?ve seen developing are a preference for more natural or ?clean label? products,? notes Bob Annand Jr., director of grocery for the chain. ?Parents are increasingly choosing those over snacks with artificial colors or flavors.? He has also observed the rise of products targeting kids with dietary restrictions. ?Increasingly, schools also require food brought in to be nut-free, so snacks labeled as such and other products that accommodate food allergies see growing demand.?
In keeping with this consumer interest in healthier products, ?we expect packs of natural single-serve snacks like Stacy?s Pita Chips, Pirate?s Booty and Skinny Pop to be especially popular? in center store, Annand predicts. Category promotions at Roche Bros. for the back-to-school occasion will include a Quaker feature on healthy breakfasts for a good start to the school day, and programs with Keebler and Kellogg spotlighting lunchbox favorites.
In the crucial area of store placement, ?we will dedicate our general merchandise seasonal aisles to back-to-school food offerings between the end-of-summer merchandising through to Halloween,? Annand says, adding that the grocer will feature lunchbox-friendly foods and familiarly themed graphic elements like school buses, chalkboards, lunchboxes, backpacks and pencils, while signage and displays throughout the store will call out additional back-to-school items, including nonfoods such as hand sanitizer, hand wipes and facial tissue, all of which students are typically required to bring to school.
Not surprisingly, health is also a big focus at PCC Natural Markets, a Seattle-based operator of 10 stores in the Puget Sound region, although convenience runs a close second. ?Once school starts, life gets busy again, so healthy, nutritious food to begin the day is a must,? affirms Scott Owen, PCC?s grocery merchandiser. ?Oatmeal and cereals, both packaged and bulk, fit the bill. For lunches that kids actually will eat ? parents and kids will have a wide choice of on-sale pantry staples that includes boxed juices, snacks, cookies and sandwich makings: nut butters, jams and preserves.?
As for portability, ?anything for back-to-school has to be easy and convenient to purchase, carry and use,? Owen says, adding that kid-oriented items like the aforementioned aseptic juice boxes, along with apple and vegetable sauces in pouches, bread-and-spread combinations, crackers, fruit leather and dried fruit, come in ?in sizes and packaging that work in lunch bags and boxes.?
To make sure back-to-school shoppers find what they?re looking for, PCC puts ?fast-moving advertised items on our end cap and lobby displays to offer a cluster of items with a related function,? he notes. ?All-things-for-breakfast and all-things-for-lunch make effective displays.?
As well as the pantry staples named above, PCC?s end caps will showcase meal solutions for time-pressed families, according to Owen.
Building Better-for-you Sandwiches
Since lunch and after-school snacks are perhaps the ultimate back-to-school season eating occasions, however, it makes sense to focus on some of the activities of brands offering the types of foods eaten during those times of day.
When making lunch, many parents or other meal preparers start with bread, but Santa Rosa, Calif-based La Tortilla Factory would like them to keep their options open in that regard. For back-to-school season, the company ?will be highlighting the Low Carb Whole Wheat Tortillas to encourage healthier lunch choices for parents and their families,? says La Tortilla Factory spokeswoman Denise Olliffe. ?Shelf life for these tortillas is 90 days.?
According to Olliffe, La Tortilla Factory?s back-to-school strategy ?includes the use of visually appealing shippers that will grab shoppers? attention with a theme that resonates during the back-to-school time. They will have themed header cards with visually appealing photography that will inspire shoppers to make room in their cart for tortillas.? Further, the company is ?encouraging stores to drive additional traffic to their produce sections by offering fresh savings: Buy one pack of La Tortilla Factory Low Carb Whole Wheat Tortillas, Original Size and save 55 cents off any fresh produce.?
Of course, sandwiches of any kind need to have fillings, so that?s where iconic peanut butter brand Skippy, now owned by Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, comes in. ?We are very excited about a partnership with Welch?s to offer in-store displays that feature Skippy, Welch?s grape jelly and coupons for free bread to promote everyone?s favorite sandwich, PB&J,? says Mike Guanella, senior product manager for the Skippy brand. ?The creative display offers consumers an easy way to get everything needed for a tasty meal and will be in stores nationally around the back-to-school timeframe.?
Beyond just lunchtime, in response to parents? need for convenient yet nutritious anytime snacks for their kids, Skippy Singles rolled out this past May at grocers nationwide in two varieties: Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread and Creamy Peanut Butter. The SKUs ?not only address the need for portability with the individual 1.5-ounce cups, but our master packaging with a resealable canister makes storing and transporting multiple cups easy,? notes Guanella. ?The single-serve packaging is also great for portion control, and the cups serve as the ideal vehicle for dipping fruits and vegetables, or spreading on crackers as a protein-rich snack.?
Once the sandwich has been eaten, most kids enjoy a snack, but parents looking to provide an alternative to sugar-laden candy or salty chips might consider an all-natural alternative like the Crunchies line of freeze-dried fruits and veggies.
According to Jessi Brennan, brand manager at Westlake Village, Calif.-based Crunchies, the company is launching three new products with a back-to-school slant: a 16-count variety pack of its single-serve 0.33-ounce ?Munch Paks? in lunchbox-themed packaging, and two 5-count variety packs, one organic, the other non-organic, to enable kids to have a school week?s worth of Crunchies in their lunches.
The 16-count item, which features the company?s strawberry banana and grape varieties in single-serve format for the first time, is rolling out at Costco the first week of August, with distribution to other retailers expected eventually, notes Brennan.
The organic item offers Little Crunchies ? featuring diced pieces for pre-schoolers through third-graders instead of the product line?s larger slices ? branded with lovable Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, Tasmanian Devil and Daffy Duck, in two new flavors, apple banana and strawberry mango, along with strawberry banana. The fun flavors and cartoon character tie-in provide ?a little more fun way to get kids excited about what they have in their lunchbox,? asserts Brennan, as well as encouraging them to start eating fruit at an early age.
To showcase its Munch Paks, Crunchies offers a colorful shipper, which, although available year-round, comes with a 10-for-$10 back-to-school deal. Next year, the company hopes to create a similarly eye-catching display for the organic Looney Tunes-branded Little Crunchies items and introduce veggie Munch Paks, adds Brennan.
Meanwhile, Fairfield, Calif.-based Calbee North America is ?planning programs with various retailers to spotlight our four flavors of Snapeas: Lightly Salted, Black Pepper, Wasabi Ranch and Caesar,? says VP Sales and Marketing Steve Kneepkens. ?They will be the 3.3-ounce bag as well as our 100-calorie pack. The 100-calorie pack (1 ounce) is a great lunchbox item.?
When asked about merchandising strategies, Kneepkens responds: ?We work with our individual retail partners to develop programs that target their specific consumers. We believe in reinforcing the retailer?s message rather than just our message. We place our products in drive aisles to reinforce the value proposition. We place our items in the produce aisle with secondary displays to reinforce that our Harvest Snaps are minimally processed and made with whole peas. And we place our items at checkout to build awareness and trial.?
Outside of the store, the company is developing ?a digital and social media campaign that emphasizes trial for kids? he notes.
At Coral Gables Fla.-based Buddy Fruits, the back-to-school focus will be on ?promoting our start products, the blended fruits, along with our new Fruit and Veggies organic products, which are perfect items for a healthy lunchbox, as a side or even as a snack,? says VP of Marketing & Communications Daniel Connors.
For back-to-school, the brand will deploy dumpbins with a school bus design in produce sections, notes Connors. ?In the produce section, seasonal displays are not very common,? he says. ?This strategy definitely boosts sales, but also generates a greater leverage towards incorporating [the product into] consumers? daily routines and healthy behaviors.?
Cross-merchandising has proved a real winner for Buddy Fruits, according to Connors: ?We have seen great results with our past seasonal displays in produce, grabbing parents? attention and making it easy for them to see all the flavors we have to offer.?
Down the Healthy Hatch
Since every complete meal includes something to drink, Good2grow is angling to be the beverage of choice this back-to-school season. For the occasion, the Atlanta-based company ?will be highlighting our line of V-Blends juices ? while ?sneaking? in the nutrition of vegetable and fruit juices,? says Brand Marketing Manager Katie Bennett. Vitamin C-rich V-Blends contain carrot, beet and apple juices, with each bottle offering one combined serving of fruits and vegetables. The brand also has 100 percent apple juice, organic apple juice and fruit punch available in a variety of sizes.
In stores, Good2grow will introduce mega pallet displays featuring a BOGO special and conveying the company?s ?collect ?em ? rejoice ?em? messaging. ?Since Good2grow is ideal for everyday use in lunchboxes, we are promoting our economical six-serving refill packs that allow mom to purchase the juice in bulk and reuse their child?s favorite SippaTop cap,? notes Bennett. ?The large billboard space of the mega pallets, paired with the center off-shelf location, is ideal to reach our target consumer during this cluttered shopping season.? The BOGO special will be for a free refill 6-pack with the purchase of a single-serve bottle, she adds.
Additionally, the company will employ Ibotta, a Denver-based mobile advertising platform, with the goal of engaging moms with the Good2grow brand. Ibotta ?allows consumers to perform activities in order to receive cash back,? explains Bennett. ?In order to earn a free refill pack, Mom must participate in some informative activities that Good2grow has implemented. For example, one of the activities includes viewing a video to learn about our nutritional information in order to ?unlock? the rebate. Redemption is quick and easy. Mom can simply take a picture of her receipt, scan the UPC after purchase, and within minutes, the money is deposited into the user?s account. We believe this innovative platform will promote awareness and trial among new consumers.?
?We put fast-moving advertised items on our end cap and lobby displays to offer a cluster of items with a related function.?
?Scott Owen, PCC Natural Markets
?We work with our individual retail partners to develop programs that target their specific consumers. We believe in reinforcing the retailer?s message rather than just our message.?
?Steve Kneepkens, Calbee USA
?We have seen great results with our past seasonal displays in produce, grabbing parents? attention and making it easy for them to see all the flavors we have to offer.?
?Daniel Connors, Buddy Fruits