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    CPG Lunch & Learn: Parents Surveyed for Back to School Packed Lunches

    As the 2024-2025 school year approaches, parents are preparing their children — and their refrigerators — to have nutritious and enjoyable lunches.

    Field Agent surveyed 1,250 parents* to uncover their shopping intentions for packed versus school-bought lunches. This second blog in our Back to School series focuses on the key insights regarding the contents of those packed lunches and where parents plan to shop.

    *All survey respondents were U.S. adults at least 18 years of age and smartphone owners. The survey was executed through the Field Agent platform, May 14–24, 2024, with a random sample of shoppers. Demos: Gender - Female (80.1%), Male (18.9%), Prefer Not to Say (1%), Age - 18-29 (6%), 30-39 (41%), 40-49 (41%), 50+ (12%); Household Income - < $35K (16%), $35-49K (14%), $50-74K (18%), $75-99K (18%), $100-125K (11%), $125K+ (14%), Prefer Not to Say (9%); Race/Ethnicity - Caucasian/White (72%), Latino/Hispanic (12%), African American/Black (9%), Asian American (5%), Native American (2%), Other (3%); Number of Children in Household - 1-2 (68%), 3-5 (31%), 6+ (1.5%)

    Planning for school lunches, choosing where to shop, and focusing on what to buy are all key factors in how parents organize their Back to School prep.

    School Lunch Poll: Packed or Purchased

    If your parents were anything like mine, the packed lunch versus school lunch decision depended on the year. As it’s been many years since then, 99.3% of schools reported challenges with increasing cost of school lunch — the most basic packages for K-12 starting at an average of $3.00 per day, per child. (Not including additional sides, desserts, or drinks)

    For this year though, our survey revealed a majority preference among parents for packed lunches, with 57% opting to prepare meals for their kids from home. For those in CPG, this means balancing a new wave of interest in packed lunch products.

    With a growing desire for control of children's nutrition and meal variety—plus avoiding an additional cost for school-bought lunch—this statistic checks out. The remaining 38% of parents may still rely on school-provided lunches for those convenience or cost reasons. The remaining 5% have unique or alternative plans — reflecting a diverse range of lunch strategies.

    How are you planning for your children to eat lunch for most of the 2024 school year?


    What's in Your Lunchbox?

    When it comes to the contents of packed lunches, it seems that variety is key. Parents this year are focusing on a mix of hydration, snacks, and main meal items to keep their children fueled throughout the day. 

    Of the parents surveyed that are packing lunch instead of opting for school-bought (n=718), here are some broad insights into the types of foods parents are including:

    • Hydration and Beverages: Water tops the list, emphasizing the importance of hydration. Juices and milk are also popular, while soda is less common.

    • Snacks and Sides: Salty snacks, granola/protein bars, crackers & cheese, and meat kits are fairly balanced—showing a healthy compromise of convenience and nutritional value. Packaged and dried fruit highlight the desire for healthy, easy-to-pack options.

    • Main Items: Sandwiches or wraps with meat are a staple, with vegetarian alternatives also present. Dairy-based foods like yogurt and cheese provide important nutrients.
    • Treats and Extras: Packaged baked goods and candy or chocolate indicate that occasional treats are included, adding an element of enjoyment to the meals.


    What will your child's packed lunches likely contain?


    It gets interesting, though, when compared to the results from last year’s survey question around what will be inside those themed lunch boxes.


    What will your child's packed lunches likely contain in 2023


    Here are the two big takeaways from comparing 2024 and 2023:

    • There’s a noticeable increase in salty snacks, dried fruit, juice, and packaged baked goods items — indicating a bigger draw for convenience.
    • We also see a rise in the popularity of dairy-based and nut-based foods, suggesting a rise in the inclusion of allergen foods.

    Overall, these insights reflect parents' efforts to balance health, convenience, and enjoyment in their children's lunches.

    R is for Retailer

    The choice of retailers for back-to-school lunch shopping is varied, reflecting different preferences and priorities of parents. Here’s what the combined results showcase:

    • Major Retailers Dominate: No surprise there. Walmart leads (78%), followed by Target (52%). These retailers are favored for their wide product ranges and competitive pricing.
    • Budget-Friendly Options: Aldi (45%) is a top choice for cost-conscious parents, while Sam's Club (39%) is preferred for bulk purchasing.
    • Grocery Chains: Kroger (40%) and Publix (17%) offer specialty items. These chains, of course more popular in specific regions, are known for their quality and variety of fresh produce and grocery items.
    • Specialty and Online Stores: Amazon (31%) offers the convenience of online shopping, while Trader Joe's (24%) and Whole Foods (18%) cater to parents seeking unique and organic products.
    What retailers will you shop at the most this year when packing your child's school lunch 2024


    Again, we looked to last year’s results to pull insights about how Back to School shopping for lunches is changing per retailer.


    Table 4a


    • Increase in Online Shopping: Amazon saw a significant increase, reflecting a growing trend towards online shopping for school lunches.
    • Preference for Discount and Wholesale Stores: Aldi, Kroger, and Sam's Club all saw increases, indicating a preference for cost-effective shopping options.
    • Rise in Specialty and Organic Stores: Increases for Trader Joe's and Whole Foods suggest a growing preference for specialty and organic food options.

    Balancing Nutrition and Convenience

    Parents are making thoughtful choices about their children's school lunches, emphasizing a balance of nutrition, convenience, and enjoyment. By understanding these trends, brands and retailers can better meet the needs of busy families during the back-to-school season. Stay tuned for our final blog in this series, where we'll explore parents' shopping habits for school supplies and clothing.

    By leveraging these insights, businesses can ensure their products are well-positioned to cater to the demands of the back-to-school period, ultimately helping parents provide the best for their children.

    We encourage you to stay ahead of market trends, connect with your target audience, and optimize your product offerings with Field Agent. Whether you're looking to enhance your distribution strategy, improve product placement, or gain a deeper understanding of consumer behavior, Field Agent has the solutions you need.


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