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Getting Back to Basics for Back-to-School Lunchtime and Snacking Needs
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Getting Back to Basics for Back-to-School Lunchtime and Snacking Needs

As the start of a new school year creeps up, parents and caregivers are enjoying the last days of summer while also wondering how they’re going to get back in the swing of preparing creative and healthy lunches for their kids every day.

With the rise of online lunchbox hacks to help parents pack creative and healthy lunches, it’s easy to forget that many simple foods, like snacking produce, come in their own packages and require little more prep than a quick rinse in the sink! And as parents head to the stores this year in search of items for lunchtime and snacking variety, they’re causing a rise in produce sales in the five weeks surrounding the first days of school.

Apples represent the top-selling produce category with $243.5 million in sales, and strawberries and fresh cut fruit aren’t far behind, with sales of $202.8 million and $204.9 million, respectively. Mangoes, on the other hand, are driving the most sales growth in the back-to-school season. From 2015 to 2016, mango sales in the five weeks around back-to-school grew more than 73%, topping sales of $22.5 million, as kids are looking for new flavors just like their parents.

But it’s not just produce that sees an increase in sales during the five-week back-to-school period. Sales of items found in the center of the store also pop above average as the school bell rings. Sports drinks experience a sizable jump, with sales 35% higher than the average week of the year. Prepackaged items that help make packing lunches, breakfast or snacks a quick affair are also seeing a boost as kid returns to school. Cookie snacks and variety packs, pop-up toaster pastries, hummus and brownies round out the five top over-indexing products in the center of the store.

Parents are also increasingly looking at ingredient lists to ensure they are comfortable providing the products to their children. For example, when it comes to sports drinks, discerning shoppers are comparing ingredients across the many colorful and flavorful options and paying close attention to what’s in and not in the items they buy.

Specifically, products that are free of certain ingredients are landing in more grocery carts and backpacks. In fact, consumers spend 37% more on sports drinks that are either free of artificial sweeteners and 19% more on those free of sugar in the five weeks surrounding the first days of school across the country. Sports drinks with antioxidant properties (29%), low in sodium (29%), and are free from artificial colors (25%) also benefit from the back-to-school period with higher weekly sales. Across the U.S., retailers and manufacturers looking to bolster sales in the sports drinks category may want to focus on driving awareness of healthful ingredient attributes parents may not be aware of.

As the back-to-school season heats up and parents look for both healthy and convenient items to pack in today’s lunchboxes, retailers and manufacturers can help by reminding consumers of both the health benefits and convenience factors of both perimeter and center of store products.