Retailers – back to school shopping has begun!

Retailers – back to school shopping has begun!

As the back-to-school shopping season kicks off, NR studies the must-have items and lunchbox essentials you need to stock up on.

It may be summer and schools are now shut for the holidays, but for many parents it is time to plan ahead for the back to school shopping list, in a bid to get ahead of the crowd in getting sorted for September.

This is a key business period for retailers, following closely behind Christmas and Easter as one of the busiest times of the year for those in the industry.

From freshly sharpened pencils, notepads, calculators and lunchbox essentials to those all-important breakfast and snack ideas, it’s vital that retailers have their shelves stocked up and eye-catching for consumers.


Many customers will be looking for ways to make savings this year, as the cost-of-living crisis continues to put pressure on household budgets. With the prices of almost everything going up, parents will be keen to spread out the cost of the back-to-school shop and will be keeping a keen eye on their seasonal shopping.

In many cases, parents will be shopping for more than one child, so will be focusing on multi-packs or bundle offers as they remain price conscious, and where relevant may be willing to avail of saving schemes. According to Mintel’s 2022 research, 39% of parents have used a buy-now-pay-later scheme for purchasing back to school items, while 25% would be interested in using this type of payment option in the future.

There have been significant cuts in the education budget, and in turn schools are becoming more reliant on contributions from parents to support the purchase of some stationery essentials. Suffice to say that parents will inevitably be bulk buying items such as blue, black and red pens and pencils, rulers, sharpeners and notepads.

With this in mind, retailers can maximise sales by planning events and promotions centring on price sensitivities, encouraging customers to shop in their stores. Price discounts and other incentives will help ensure sales and attract the attention of parents.

It is not just parents however, that will be shopping for back-to-school essentials, as older students also play a pivotal role in the buying process, be it influencing their parents’ purchases or spending their own money, so it is worth remembering this when planning promotions or in-store displays.

Additionally, multi-platform promotion and engagement with younger consumers can go some way to increasing sales. Students will see much of what they want or need for school online, so highlighting offers and availability on social media platforms is a key way of helping both online and in-store sales.


Naturally, back to school is an important event for many local retailers, including the Henderson Group. Their wholesale division supplies to over 500 SPAR, EUROSPAR and ViVO branded stores across Northern Ireland, all within local communities and close to schools.

Sara Murphy, Brand Marketing Manager at Henderson Group highlighted that the group invests heavily in initiatives that will attract footfall and boost retailers’ sales during this key time.

“Back to school is an opportunity for us to promote healthy eating and invest in value deals across lunchbox favourites to make back to school that little bit easier for families across communities,” said Sara.

“We know it is a busy time, and therefore we also maximise offers across our tonight’s tea ranges, which allows retailers to offer practical, quick and simple, yet tasty mealtime solutions to those families.

“Across our SPAR, EUROSPAR and ViVO stores we have been developing our food to go offering across breakfast, lunch and dinner, with over 25 stores now offering our new food to go brand, Delish. Delish hot bars capture the breakfast demand on those busy weekday mornings, alongside our Barista Bar coffee to go proposition.”


As households across the country grapple with rising prices, shoppers are looking to make cost-savings wherever they can. As a result, homemade lunchboxes will be the ‘go-to’ solution for many parents looking to save money this year.

Recent research[1] has shown that 72% of consumers believe that a home-made sandwich for lunch is unbeatable. With sandwiches often a core component of any lunchbox, stocking a range of quality wrapped bread should be a focus for any retailers looking to cater for the back-to-school occasion.

While many shoppers may be looking to save money, there is still a huge desire for quality bakery products from recognised brands like Hovis® that consumers know and trust.

‘In many cases, parents will be shopping for more than one child, so will be focusing on multi-packs or bundle offers as they remain price conscious, and where relevant may be willing to avail of saving schemes’

“Sales of white bread are dominating sales of pre-packaged sliced bread at present, accounting for over 55% of total units[2],” said Alistair Gaunt, Commercial Director at Hovis.

“Given the current economic climate, many shoppers are buying fewer different types of bread for their households and are increasingly moving towards pre-packaged white bread, which is most likely to satisfy the needs of multiple people. It is therefore clearly important for retailers to stock white bread as it is a potential “crowd-pleaser” for everyone in the household.”

Health and wellness also continue to play a key role in helping shoppers decide what to eat, especially when it comes to children’s lunchboxes.

“Hovis® Best of Both® for example is rich in calcium[3] and it is also a source of fibre. In recent research, half (49%) of those surveyed agreed that Hovis Best of Both is something that everyone in the family would eat[4],” added Alistair Gaunt.

Another focus for lunch boxes should be in brown/wholemeal bread, which is the third biggest type of pre-packaged bread, accounting for nearly 14%1 of loaves sold in Great Britain.

The traditional sandwich remains a key part of any lunchbox so making sure there’s a good range of pre-packaged bread on offer that caters for different tastes available at all times is essential to cater for the back-to-school trend. Combined, white bread, brown/wholemeal and half and half bread account for over 75% of the pre-packaged loaves sold in Great Britain over the last year[5]. Whilst bread with seeds and grains accounts for 18% and are extremely popular, they have more of an adult consumer profile.

Alongside a range of pre-packaged bread, offering a selection of classic kids’ sandwich fillers, such as cheese and ham, as well as fruit, will help retailers ensure they’re well prepared to respond to rising demand ahead of the return to school.


Creating a back-to-school occasion display can really help to drive impact in store. For example, displaying a range of lunchbox essentials, such as pre-packaged bread, sandwich fillers and fruit, next to or close to each other and offering cross-category promotions can help to boost sales. Where running promotions, using PoS in store can also help build shopper awareness of the different offers available and encourage them to buy multiple items in one shop.

“We recommend ensuring the most popular products are displayed at eye level in convenience stores. These products will often have a single facing, so it’s important to ensure the customer sees them and knows they are available,” said Alistair Gaunt.

“We’d also recommend that stores enhance their pre-packaged products wherever possible, e.g., cross-promoting with other favourites to help provide inspiration for shoppers to create a more special lunchbox for their children.

“With the highest levels of spontaneous brand awareness[6] in bread, we have supported recent launches in-store with engaging off-shelf feature which include gondola end displays and promotional shelf POS.

“Our in-store activation has been aligned with wider brand activation, including retailer online sites, where we have used occasion-led visuals to inspire elevated meal choices, and through the creative use of social media on our own Hovis® channels.”




[1] Perspectus Global, May 2023

[2] NIQ Scantrack, total coverage, incl. discounters, unit sales of pre-packaged bread by dough type, MAT to 22/04/23

[3] Note: Hovis® Best of Both® is rich in calcium which contributes to the maintenance of normal teeth and bones, which needs to be eaten regularly as part of a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle

[4] Zinklar, July 2022

[5] NIQ Scantrack, total coverage, incl. discounters, unit sales pre-packaged bread loaves by dough type, MAT to 22/04/23

[6] Walnut, Brand Tracking, July 2022