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Heads of the Class


With school starting again in a matter of weeks, parents are girding for a flurry of activities related to that time of year, among them meal planning to enable busy students to grab a quick bite — or something more substantial — amid lessons, homework, team sports, band practice and any other scholastic obligations.

Smart grocery manufacturers are making sure that their products are top of mind to help harried back-to-school shoppers make easier decisions.

One key insight from a major CPG company was to tie the occasion to an exciting event occurring at roughly the same time. “As kids head back to school this year, Team USA will be heading to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games … and Kellogg’s will be on the bus and on the medal stand,” asserts Dave Jones, VP, industry initiatives at Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. “Our back-to-school programming will capitalize on the excitement and energy around the Olympic Games — which started with the announcement of Team Kellogg’s in April, 100 days out from the Games.”

Adds Jones: “Like the athletes in Rio, consumers will also be encouraged to ‘Win Gold’ through on-pack messaging and in-store displays. The promotion will give thousands of moms the chance to instantly ‘win gold’ — a $100 Visa rewards gift card — to help get their kids what they need for back-to-school through specially marked packages of cereal and Pop-Tarts. Specially marked packages of snack products, including Keebler cookies, Nutri-Grain bars and Pringles will give 25 lucky families the chance to win $10,000 in Visa rewards cards to help build an even brighter future for their children.”

Meeting Natural Demand

At Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, the watchword for back-to-school is “natural.” According to Associate Brand Manager Aamna Farooq: “Snack Pack Naturals offer the same great taste of Snack Pack and are made with all-natural ingredients like real milk, cocoa and sugar, and nothing artificial. As with the original Snack Pack, there’s no preservatives and no high-fructose corn syrup. Snack Pack Naturals are available in three flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate and Chocolate Vanilla Swirl.”

Farooq notes that the new additions, introduced in June, “satisfy a growing consumer demand for natural snack options. Thirty percent of Snack Pack consumers said they wanted a more natural pudding. The product is especially appealing to Millennial moms with children in the 6-to-9 age range.”

In the realm of merchandising, she notes, “Support for Snack Pack will include mix-ins-focused in-store displays and a national FSI,” explaining that “mix-ins are combinations or recipes to reinforce simplicity, customization and fun.” The fun pudding recipes to be featured in this year’s back-to-school promotion include Easy S’mores Pudding Cup and Dirt Cup, both of which Farooq describes as “created from the hottest food trends,” adding, “This approach will build on last year’s momentum.”

Additionally, Snack Pack will employ “social media activation and targeted media buys executed by our shopper marketing team,” she notes.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Healthier back-to-school fare is also important to smaller companies.

“Snacks that provide kids with a great-tasting product and benefits like added protein or vitamins are on trend for the back-to-school season,” affirms Nola Martin, VP marketing and innovation at Calgary, Alberta-based Go Gourmet, which offers “superfood snacks” through the Slammers line.

The company’s latest offering is Slammers + Protein Creamy Banana Chocolate, which Martin calls “a fantastic combination of fruits, and vegetables, [with] 7 grams of protein. This new variety continues to provide school-aged kids with the fuel they need, in a delicious, creamy pudding-like snack.”

For the back-to-school occasion, given the brand’s current niche positioning, she notes: “Our in-store merchandising will be focused on leveraging end displays to drive awareness of our line.” Go Gourmet’s approach also includes collaborating closely with grocers. “There are so many products to choose from, and back-to-school is such a busy time for families, that we work with our retailers to participate in their programs,” explains Martin. “Most retailers create distinct programs around this theme to drive traffic, and with our size, it makes the most sense to collaborate with them to feature our products.”

Additionally, Go Gourmet has “determined that sampling is really important for our brand,” says Martin, “and to support in-store merchandising, we provide the families that sample our products with a list of retailers where they can buy Slammers.”

Joe Lupica, of North Haven, Conn.-based SuperSeedz, which provides several varieties of no-shell pumpkin seeds, says that “the back-to-school period is an important time for us because SuperSeedz is allergen-free and a healthy snack — two characteristics consumers [say] are currently very relevant to parents. We will continue to roll out our 5-ounce Maple Sugar & Sea Salt and our 1-ounce Mini Pouches in select retailers. The 1-ounce Mini pouches will give consumers an on-the-go option to drop in lunches.”

He sees the rise of plant-based foods like pumpkin seeds and of natural foods in general as positive developments, observing, “The shift really points to the on-the-go lifestyles of families, a growing awareness of the benefits of plant-based foods, diet and the availability of good-tasting, nutritious natural snacks. Never before has there been such a good selection. It is very exciting.”

When it comes to preferred placement, SuperSeedz’s back-to-school strategy bears some similarity to Go Gourmet’s. Lupica notes that “we typically try to leverage end cap space and tie into fall themes. For us, it is important to leverage our inherent nutritional virtues as well as the allergen-free benefits.… Typically, we overlay some social media and media relations activities highlighting the natural and allergen-free benefits. We also try to coordinate retail demo events.”

Year-round Inspiration

Of course, one of the best ways to drive back-to-school grocery purchases is by having as many complementary products as possible displayed side by side, thereby offering greater convenience for time-pressed parents. As Go Gourmet’s Martin points out, “Making it easy for Mom to buy healthy lunch and snack options together will maximize back-to-school sales for retailers.”

Still, it’s not just about the start of the school year. Whatever the season, supermarkets and suppliers alike should be looking to spark in families a creative approach to food. While noting, “Back-to-school foods inspire fun-filled action in meal planning and incentivize in-store purchases,” ConAgra’s Farooq also emphasizes, “Shoppers are seeking lunchbox and snacking solutions throughout the year.”

“There are so many products to choose from, and back-to-school is such a busy time for families, that we work with our retailers to participate in their programs.”
–Nola Martin, Go Gourmet

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