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Bye, brown bag lunches

Packing a school lunch isn’t as easy as slapping together two slices of bread.

HEALTHFUL KIDS’ MEALS IS ONE OF THE TOP dining trends in the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot? Culinary Forecast” for 2015.

Some of the more progressive restaurants are offering innovative and healthy kids’ food, such as the grilled salmon served at Milestone’s Grill & Bar. Even McDonald’s is in the game.

Since the fast-food chain started to add apple slices to kids’ meals in the U.S., in 2012, it has served more than 1.2 billion apple bags. But according to a report from Datassential in the U.S., only 45% of restaurants offer healthy side dishes specifically for kids.

This lack of inventiveness in restaurants is good news for grocers: now’s
your chance to wow parents and bring them in for food that’s hard to find elsewhere when they’re looking to pack healthy lunches and plan nutritious dinners. This is especially true during back- to-school season, when time- starved parents are juggling school drop-offs and swimming lessons.

Moncion Grocers, in Petawawa, Ont., serves hot and cold food for kids. Different pasta dishes, for example, are packaged in 24- and 12-ounce containers. The latter size is good for a child, says Stacy Fleury, the store’s deli HMR manager.

Moncion does customized sizes, too, says Fleury, and often prepares single portions of foods, such as shepherd’s pie or turkey and mashed potatoes. These meals are usually paired with different vegetables so children–who are often more fussy over vegetables than anything else– can choose their favourites.


“People are looking for healthy foods with no preser vatives; home-cooked meals rather than fast food,” says Fleury. “And demand is up.” She attributes this to a higher number of working parents looking for fast and convenient meal solutions.

To appeal to children, Fleury offers several pre- packaged items in smaller containers, and stocks them at small shoppers’ eye level. These include yogurt parfaits with granola and berries, veggies with ranch dressing and fruit and berry cups.

On the other hand, Pusateri’s Fine Foods, in Toronto, doesn’t make items solely for kids “because we find customers want to expose their children to many different foods and cultures,” says corporate chef Tony Cammalleri, adding that his mac-and-cheese, pot pies, pastas, chicken fingers, soups and salads are loved by both kids and adults alike.

Three years ago, Pusateri’s started a family-pack line that’s now one of its best sellers. Macaroni and cheese, lasagna and cheese tortellini in a rose sauce are the biggest hits in the 20-item line. Each dinner feeds four and costs from $20 to $26.

“Comfort food works best for children,” Cammalleri says.

Kids are eating everything from mac-and-cheese to quinoa these days, but the biggest trend is smaller portions of adult-oriented dishes, says Melissa Abbott, vice-president of culinary insights for Bellevue, Wash.-based Hartman Group.

“In the future, kids will want to eat more of what their parents are eating, including fresher, cleaner and global flavours,” she predicts.

“If you’re a supermarket in a neighbourhood with families and kids, it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t offer HMR kids’ meals,” says retail expert Tony Chapman. “Part of this is helping moms make the impossible possible.”


Moncion Grocers doesn’t focus only on dinner; lunch sells well for kids, too. Veggie Snack Packs are popular. They contain vegetables, a dip and a hard-boiled egg. The Light Lunch Pack, which contains chicken salad on lettuce with sliced mixed fruit and a portion of cheese, is also a hit.

“They’re handy, quick to grab and healthy,” Fleury says.

Wraps are especially popular with children, she adds. “They’re more visually appealing and you can get them in different colours, so they’re attractive to the eye.”

Wraps have been a surprise hit as well with children at Choices Markets’ eight stores in and around Vancouver, says Choices’ nutritionist Nicole Fetterly. Choices sells two small wraps for $6, with fillings such as turkey, egg salad and tuna.

Hummus and crackers from Summer Fresh Salads, based in Woodbridge, Ont., are also popular at the deli. At the beginning of the school year, Summer Fresh brings out packages featuring characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob, which helps boost sales, Fetterly says.

For back-to-school merchandising, Choices stores create big displays with portable snack items, such as Nature’s Path granola bars.

Choices also has a flyer with back-to-school items, news- letter stories and a two-minute cooking show in-store to provide new lunch ideas.


Westside Market, in New York City, does great business with its kids’ lunchboxes. One store, on the Upper West Side, goes through roughly 100 per week. Each plastic box, made in-store, contains an organic juice, a piece of fruit, an all-natural cold cut sandwich and a snack such as soy crackers. It costs US$7.99.

“Some customers buy these every day,” says Ian Joskowitz, COO. “We put up a sign about them in the fall for the new school year, but it’s obvious what they are when you look at them.”

Offering kids’ meals is also a great cross-merchandising opportunity, Chapman says. Stores can intertwine crayons, backpacks and lunchboxes with their kids’ meals displays during back-to-school.

It’s also a way to elevate the in-store experience, says Joe Pawlak, senior vice-president at research firm Technomic in Chicago. He says stores that merchandise well and do in- store demos see customers’ perceptions rise.

When you offer food for kids, says Chapman, “you’re saying you’re not just a grocery shop, but you’re a partner with moms–and they love you for that.”

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