Is your store ready for back to school?

Moms hope their kids get an A in school.

Kids might have sway over what goes in their lunch boxes, but getting the crucial back-to-school selling period right is all about helping moms.

Grocery retailers and food manufacturers “need to look at building loyalty with moms and not just look at what she’s putting in the lunch pail,” says Christine Ross, partner at Toronto-based Spider Marketing Solutions.

“How can you help her get through the next 10 months? If you can start that relationship at the back-to-school time period, you will own that consumer for ,” she says

One way to make shopping easier for time-strapped parents is by bundling products. An example: Display snack items alongside sandwich bags and thermoses.

READ: Cut open, wrap and display: easy solutions for your produce area

“It’s a great way to get some display activity and it’s helpful and convenient for moms,” says Ross. “Don’t make them run around the whole store looking for things.”

For convenient lunch options, B.C. grocery chain Choices Markets has considered developing its own lunch kits, which would be advertised in weekly flyers and monthly newsletters.

Tyler Romano, the chain’s director of marketing, says a typical snack pack would include a small, kid-friendly wrap made by the deli department, along with an apple and yogurt or other milk product.

Choices has also considered offering dinner recipes and grouping all the required ingredients together in its stores. “You still have to go home and prepare it, but the idea is, here’s everything, so you don’t have to go and find it,” Romano says. Even with homemade meals made easy, many time-strapped parents still opt for convenience foods.

“Parents don’t have as much time to cook as they’d like and feel a lot of guilt around that,” says Eshun Mott, food editor at Today’s Parent and co-author of Whining & Dining, a survival guide for picky eaters and their families.

But the desire for healthier, homemade-style items presents a big opportunity for food manufacturers.

“It would be great to see fresh or frozen options that mimic what we would choose to make for our kids,” says Mott.

For example: whole-grain muffins in kid-friendly sizes and flavours, or finger food recast for the lunch-box set, such as spinach pies and healthier versions of pizza pockets. “There could be a whole new freezer section for these products–just bake them in the morning and pop them in the lunch box,” she surmises.

READ: Making supermarkets the hub of health care

Keep in mind also which categories in the back-to-school category are seeing growth. Like carrot sticks. Dollar sales rose 20% in the 52-week period ending April 6 compared to the previous year, according to figures from Nielsen. On the other hand, sales of mini and baby carrots were down 4%.

Other hot categories: snacking fruit nuts and mixes (up 13%) and yogurts (up 9%).

In the lunch storage department, sales of sandwich food storage bag sales were up 4% and snack food storage bags up 1%, but lunch bags were down 9%.

Surprisingly sales of granola bars were also down (a decline of 3%) as was snack puddings (down 2%).

Retailers and brands can also help moms by offering online meal plans, recipe ideas, printable grocery lists, as well as time-saving apps.

Some companies are already doing that, in fact. Campbell’s “Kitchen” app has recipes, meal suggestions, cooking tips and shopping lists. Metro’s website, meanwhile, has a month of lunch ideas for every day of the week, an ingredients list and recipes for homemade snacks and treats.

Grocers can also use networking sites like Instagram and Pinterest to boost product awareness and sales. “I don’t even have to go to the store to know what my kids are going to want for back to school,” says Ross. “They’re telling me in the summer because they see products they like on Pinterest and Instagram.”

While these sites are currently more popular with clothing retailers, they can be great tools for grocers. “Using more visuals can gain some emotional interest and connection to the brand,” says Ross.

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Finally, don’t forget to say “Thanks, Mom.” Beyond helping mothers get their families ready, “retailers can take care of mom and thank her and treat her,” says Pete Crouse, VP of consumer and shopper strategy at Spider Marketing Solutions.

One standout example is Walmart Canada’s Mom of the Year program, which recognizes the contributions mothers make to their families and communities.

“Everybody wants to have a position with moms,” says Crouse. “Those that balance both the family preparation and then some rewards for moms will be successful.”

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