Where will parents shop for back-to-school food?: Survey

Latest Field Agent survey finds valued-focused grocers are on Canadians’ checklists
back to school shopping

Grocers that help parents save money will have back-to-school shopping in the bag. 

In Field Agent’s latest Back to School Shopping Report, based on a survey of more than 1,000 parents of students entering kindergarten through grade 12, 88% of parents said they’re sending their kids to school with a lunch from home, while the remaining 22% said their kids will buy lunch at school. 

Asked where they’ll shop for lunch items, Walmart came out on top (71%), followed by Costco (61%) and Real Canadian Superstore (50%). 

“With Walmart, it’s a slow march from a grocery perspective,” says Jeff Doucette, general manager of Field Agent Canada. “Admittedly, 10 years ago they wouldn’t be on this list, or they’d be way down the list. With their Supercentre rollouts, that’s playing a huge role. People are trying to make their budgets stretch. We know that [for food purchases], people in general are moving towards the discount [or value-focused] retailers.” 

As for Costco, Doucette thinks its draw is “the family buying of all the things you go through a ton of, like granola bars and juice boxes, and other items that are sourced from their front-of-the-store section.” He suspects Costco is more in the snack space for back-to-school shopping, and it also scores high on the list of where parents are buying non-food school supplies – Walmart landed the top spot in that category (86%), followed by Dollarama (67%) and Costco (57%). 

READ: Why grocers need to adjust their loyalty strategies to deliver the goods

“[Costco does] a very efficient job of doing what they do well, which is deliver value,” says Doucette. “I think that’s why some of the more traditional banners are further down the list. It’s primarily because of price and people are trying to pinch pennies when they can.” 

Following the top three retailers, the list includes No Frills/Maxi (41%), Loblaw (34%), Dollarama (33%), Sobeys/Safeway/IGA (30%), FreshCo (29%), Amazon (27%), Food Basics/Super C (24%), Giant Tiger (22%), Metro (19%) and Save-On-Foods (15%). 

Doucette says there’s more food purchasing happening at Dollarama, as the retailer ranked ahead of some of the more traditional grocery banners. “They have expanded sections… and they’re good at snacks and other shelf-stable items. They’re not straying outside of their lane and offering refrigerated [foods].” 

However, Doucette notes that in the U.S., many dollar stores do have refrigerated sections and carry some produce. “It’s not a huge leap for Dollarama as part of their growth trajectory to say, ‘this is the next logical step for us to provide a limited assortment.’” 

What types of food and beverages will parents put in their kids’ lunch boxes? The survey said fruit (74%), sandwiches/wraps (68%), granola bars (66%), water (63%), yogurt and cheese (60%), snack cakes (54%), fruit snacks 51%) and juice (45%). 

Doucette says there are no big changes there, but grocers should take note of the 88% of parents who plan to pack lunches for their kids. In the U.S., just 60% plan to do the same. “It’s a huge difference between Canada and the U.S. when we do the survey every year,” he says. “The food sales opportunity in Canada for back-to-school is more developed in Canada than it is in the U.S.,” he says. 

And with so many parents making lunches day in and day out, Doucette has an idea for how grocers can help: publishing a weekly lunch menu that doubles as a shopping list. “So, a bit like the cafeteria: here are five ideas for lunch, here are the [items] you’ll need to pull them off, they’re all conveniently located on an end-cap display or near each other so they’re easy to find,” Doucette says. “As a parent, when I go in on Sunday afternoon thinking about lunch for the week, it’s served up to me in a package where I can just buy these 12 items and have lunch for the week.”

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