WEB EXTRA: Grocers Gear Up for Back-to-School

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WEB EXTRA: Grocers Gear Up for Back-to-School


Summer may be in full swing, but grocers are already anticipating the fall, when kids return to class, and many believe they know what consumers will want in back-to-school snacks and beverages.

“Parents are looking for convenience and nutrition,” notes Rich Durante, COO of Parsippany, N.J.-based Kings Food Markets. “They want to find products that are accessible but healthy. Particularly as kids head back to school, Kings provides our customers snack solutions, whether it’s through our chef-prepared foods; pre-packaged, unique snack items; or organic and gluten-free options.”

At Reading, Pa.-based Redner’s Markets Inc., better-for-you content is joined by another key consideration. “Parents are increasingly looking for healthy snack and beverage options that fit within the framework of their budgetary constraints,” observes Eric B. White, consumer communications specialist.

This year, Kings plans “to highlight our varieties of pre-packaged items,” says Durante, adding that the grocer’s gluten-free and organic options “are perfect for those parents who are very health-conscious or may have a child with dietary restrictions.” Further, beyond lunch or snack time, “Kings … offers a wide array of gourmet prepared foods, perfect for those hectic weeknight meals,” he notes.

Among the particular products Kings plans to push for the upcoming back-to-school occasion are fruit pouches, like the 100 percent natural purees offered by newcomer Smooch Snacks, Knudsen Organic juices, healthier single-serve snack items such as popped chips, gluten-free pretzels and “a multitude of popcorn offerings,” as Vince Colatriano, VP of grocery/dairy/frozen, puts it; and individual packed items such as Earthbound Farms’ organic apples slices and carrot dippers, which “travel well and can be the perfect snack between school and extracurricular” activities, according to VP Produce/Floral/Seafood Paul Kneeland.

“Our in-store merchandising efforts will highlight our back-to-school products and offerings, potentially showcasing pairings for a perfect packed lunch or quick dinner, making it as easy as possible for our shoppers to get everything they need in a quick shopping trip,” says Durante. “In addition, we will offer tips and tricks to making the back-to-school transition easier on our Twitter (@KingsFoodMkts) and Facebook channels.”

Based on previous seasons, Kings expects this year’s promotion to be successful. “Back-to-school items perform very well,” affirms Durante. “Our stores are located in family-friendly communities, and our wide array of offerings makes back-to-school shopping very easy.”

His confidence is echoed by Redner’s White, who once more sounds the value note: “Our back-to-school items have retained steady movement. We have been able to become much more aggressive with pricing and selection as we have found new channels through which we can procure product,” which has allowed the company’s buyers to negotiate better deals as a result of the greater number of suppliers and products in the market.

What do grocers predict that shoppers will demand going forward, on behalf of their young scholars? “The biggest trend we will see, as it relates to back-to-school shopping, is healthier eating options,” asserts Durante. “Parents will look for options that are low in sugar and calories, higher in fiber, organic, and gluten-free, etc. Healthy options will be the deciding factor when it comes to parents or guardians selecting food for their children. Kings will be carrying lunchbox products to fulfill all of these needs.”

Snap Decision

Harvest Snaps, formerly known as Snapea Crisps, has been busy developing new products and formulating its first summer back-to-school campaign.

Among the recent products from the brand of Fairfield, Calif.-based Calbee North America are 3.3-ounce Snapea Crisps in Lightly Salted, Caesar, Black Pepper and Wasabi Ranch varieties, and 3.0-ounce Lentil Snaps in Tomato Basil and Onion Thyme flavors; as well as 36-count, 0.75-ounce 100-calorie packs and a 20-ounce bag of Lightly Salted Snapea Crisps for limited Costco locations.

“We are also actively in discussions with a retailer about launching a 12-count, 0.75-ounce 100-calorie pack of Snapea Crisps Lightly Salted, specifically for back-to-school,” notes Steve Kneepkens, VP, sales & marketing at Calbee North America. “Timing for that would be late mid-late summer.”

Additional launches planned for summer and fall are 1.75-ounce Snapea Crisps Lightly Salted and Snapea Crisps Wasabi Ranch and 6oz. Snapea Crisps Lightly, according to Kneepkens.

To promote the new items, the brand will provide branded racks for retailers to show off the new items, as well as roll out heavy sampling promotions at various in-store locations and during local events.

Harvest Snaps also plans to get the word out through consumer engagement. “We will launch multiple social media campaigns, including a photo contest in July and tentatively a recipe contest in September,” says Kneepkens, noting that the brand’s products will also be featured on episodes of Lifetime series “The Balancing Act” throughout the month of August.

“‘The Balancing Act’ is America’s premier women’s morning show that is ambitious and inspiring, while illuminating new ways for women to achieve success in all areas of their lives,” he explains, adding that the program “is dedicated to creating trusted solutions for women facing today’s greatest challenges.” Naturally, many the episodes’ intended viewers are bound to be moms on the lookout for wholesome back-to-school snacks for their children.

For Kneepkens, the Lifetime show’s title encapsulates Harvest Snaps’ position in the marketplace: “Our products are a balance of both taste and nutrition.”

Take it From the Top

The latest products from Tree Top are 3.2-ounce fruit pouches in Apple, Strawberry, Mango and Cinnamon varieties, released last month. “Pouches address growing consumer trends, including increasing fruit in diets, sourcing locally and providing convenience,” notes Dan Hagerty, SVP, CPG sales and marketing at the Selah, Wash.-based grower-owned cooperative. “Tree Top Fruit Pouches can add a healthy fruit serving with 100 percent of the daily allowance of vitamin C to a lunchbox without the mess or need for refrigeration. Children love the mess-free fruit. Parents can feel good that Tree Top Fruit Pouches feature BPA-free, resealable packaging and don’t require refrigeration -- so kids can enjoy them at any moment throughout the day.”

Back-to-school success is nothing new to the company. “Historically, Tree Top’s sales of apple sauce, 100 percent juice and fruit snacks are strong during the back-to-school season as families focus on school lunches and after-school snacks,” says Hagerty. “However, we’ve seen a nice trend up as American consumers grow more conscientious about the source of their foods.”

This year, “we’ll be offering a great price point, approximately $1.99 to two for $4 to incent consumer purchases on our new good-to-go fruit pouches,” he adds. “Also, to introduce our new product and incent consumers to try it, we’ll be offering high-value coupons through Sunday paper FSIs, and also at select online locations.”

Further, Tree Top has “created a display shipper merchandising vehicle to drive incremental sales and trial of the new product,” Hagerty says. “The displays are easily shoppable and can be set up anywhere in store to feature Tree Top’s good-to-go fruit pouches.” Each “attention-grabbing” shipper holds four cartons of 12 3.2-ounce pouches, with the flavor mix dependent on the retailer.

Get Their Jollies

Garrett Smith, president of the Sioux City, Iowa-based American Pop Corn Co., maker of Jolly Time Pop Corn, knows a thing or two about marketing snacks for the back-to-school occasion. “Parents today are looking for back-to-school snacks that are easy, healthy, affordable and filling,” he asserts. “Of course, the snack must be something that the kids will actually eat!”

Noting a trend in gluten- and tree nut-free snacks, Smith adds, “Parents are also paying close attention to avoid or reduce trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup in their kids’ diets.”

To that end, according to Smith: “Yummy, high-fiber snacks that are easy to make, convenient for lunchboxes and after-school munching are definitely key.” What’s more, he observes, as well as reinforcing the bond between parent and child through the offering of a “special” treat, “bringing a ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ snack can help kids be seen as cool and trendy themselves.”

Admirably filling the bill on all counts are Jolly Time’s Healthy Pop varieties, which enable consumers to “eat five cups of popped popcorn for only 100 calories and 2 grams of fat,” says Smith. “Compared to other snack foods, these products can really fill you up, and they taste great without the guilt!” The items conveniently come in single-serving bags.

Additionally, in March, Jolly Time introduced Butter and Butter Light Microwave Pop Corn made with the unique Smart Balance blend of oils, featuring zero grams of trans fat and no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Described by Smith as “no-brainer snack,” the line is available in 3-pack 9-ounce boxes and individual trial bags.

“The Smart Balance blend contains a unique blend of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats,” explains Smith. “When used as part of the Smart Balance Food Plan -- which recommends a diet with no more than 30 percent of calories from total fat, no more than 10 percent of calories from other fat, and low levels of cholesterol -- this blend of fats can support healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal range.”

Smith characterizes sales of the brand’s better-for-you items as “really strong,” noting, “People are really looking for those healthier products that fill them up, help them live a healthier lifestyle and taste great.”

Specifically for back-to-school, Jolly Time is joining forces with Chuck E. Cheese's for a unique on-pack back to school offer. Consumers can take three proofs-of-purchase from specially marked packaging to any Chuck E Cheese's location and receive 100 tokens for $18 -- a $7 savings. The brand also employs a header card (above left), used on the majority of its shippers, of a boy enjoying a mouthful of Jolly Time Pop Corn. “We feel the smile on his face says it all!” says Smith.

Along with increased demand for healthier formulations, gluten-free and allergen-friendly foods, and portion-controlled products, Smith predicts, “People will want to buy more from smaller companies versus the mega-food giants. More people will want to know how their food is produced, and where it’s coming from. Companies sharing stories about food growers will be even more important.”

Still, he concedes, “indulgent snacks for special occasions will still be strongly in demand.”

Smith also foresees “that we’ll see more companies bringing back retro product packaging, because it invokes memories of the past and encourages people to buy those products in the present. Legacy brands that have been around a long time will continue to do well. Retro packaging will remind shoppers that this product is worth buying because it’s been around a long time. It’s tried and true and will provide credibility among the primary grocery buyer: Mom.”