September Strategies

Back to school merchandising and products have changed – for the better

By Robin Brunet

Traditionally, the back to school season has been a merchandising bonanza for grocers, with several weeks prior to the September date spent heavily promoting anything that can be crammed into a lunchbox.

But the dynamics of the event have changed, partly due to Covid, and also due to natural evolution, with parents last year spending less on supplies overall than in 2019: $727 per household versus $919, according to a Retail Council of Canada Back-to-School Shopping Survey.

Derek Dewolf, vice-president, fresh & store operations at Quality Foods says, “As an event, back to school is not as grandiose as it used to be, so we take a slightly different and far more effective approach to promotions.”

Specifically, Quality Foods does not conduct any advance marketing, and during the actual back to school week it confines itself to flyer teasers. Then, during the second and third weeks, “We hit harder, when kids are settled in and parents are less hectic,” says Dewolf. “We use large cardboard displays such as the Kraft schoolbus and cross merchandise as many items as possible, such as Sunrype Apple Juice with fresh produce.”

Rachelle Hinchey, senior associate category manager, shelf stable meals, Kraft Heinz Canada, says, “Having new innovations featured on out-of-aisle displays can spark excitement, such as Paw Patrol Kraft Dinner. Additionally, featuring meal solutions for busy parents goes a long way, such as merchandising Classico Pasta Sauce alongside pasta noodles.”

Jenna Zylber, Kraft Heinz Canada’s category marketing director, cheese & spreads, adds, “To drive basket size for retailers, Kraft Heinz Canada is bringing programs to market that better connect the centre of the store with bakery and the outside perimeter through shopper-focused breakfast displays and solutions.”

Helping this along are new products such as Kraft Hazelnut Spread, made with no palm oil and low in saturated fat and available in two varieties: 45% less sugar, and Crunchy.

Barb Grant, director of marketing at Sun-Rype Products, notes that “POS and ready to display pallets are a great way of adding impact and driving volume.” She adds that “Back to school can be celebrated throughout the store. For instance, our SunRype Snack Racks, which contain all of our snack products, are often located in or near the produce section, making it especially easy for parents to choose from an array of singles or variety packs.”

Providing a healthy diet remains the top priority for parents. Hence, according to Grant, “Fruit to Go and Fruitsource are 100 per cent fruit snacks and bars with no artificial flavors, colour and no preservatives. Also, all SunRype snacks are nut free, gluten free and vegan, so they are safe to take to any school or group setting.”

Marléne Hins, vice-president of marketing and innovation, A. Lassonde Inc., says of the juice category, “Moms are looking for lower sugar options for their kids and there are a range of options in the Lassonde beverage portfolio, including SunRype 60% Less Sugar.  Our R&D department worked hard to formulate these products so they have the taste and texture of 100 per cent juice, with less sugar and no artificial sweeteners.”

Similarly, Oasis HydraFruit contains 60 per cent less sugar and at least 50 per cent less calories than the leading regular fruit juice blends, with no added sugar, stevia or artificial sweetener, and a range of delicious flavours to choose from.

The makers of the perennial back to school snack, Sesame Snaps, have brought from Europe a new bar packed with the power of sesame seeds and grains to satisfy sweet tooths and fuel busy bodies. The new Sesame Snaps Seeds & Grains bars are super charged with highly nutritious sesame seeds and puffed grains including amaranth, millet, quinoa and buckwheat. Gluten free, they are made with natural ingredients and contain no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives – and are a good source of fiber and Omega-6.

The four New Sesame Snaps Seeds & Grains bars are joining the family of five tasty flavour combinations of Sesame Snaps – quinoa, chia, vanilla, honey or classic Sesame Snaps will be available at Whole Foods, Save on Foods as well as other retailers just in time for back to school.

Cathline James, CEO and founder of Wise Bites, calls back to school “Our number one season, and our soft mini cookies that are free from the top 11 alergens are especially popular with parents seeking to optimize their childrens’ nutrition, or for children with specialized diets.”

Wise Bites is currently expanding its functional food options, and James says that “Two great seasonal cookie lines will be introduced in the fall.”

Back to school remains a great opportunity for retailers to maximize sales. In addition to cross merchandising, signage, and product demonstrations, they should also use their websites, social media, and direct emails to connect with parents, to offer promotions and contests – and keep them coming back to shop.


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