Sharpen your pencils and pack your lunchbox – it’s ‘back to school’ season! From pre-school to PHD programs, mid-August marks the time to start thinking about school shopping lists. National Retail Federation (NRF) calculates that this year back to school spending is expect to reach $37.1B up from $33.9B last year for elementary through high school students – an all-time high! Collegiate spenders have this record beat with an anticipated $71B total, a couple billion up from the $67.7B total in 2020.

Food and beverage items make the list. 72% of students and parents in the "back to college" segment plan to spend a portion of their back to school budget on food items (NRF 2019). As a growing subset of Millennial and Gen Z populations, the college demographic is an essential group to target with stand-out food and beverage products.

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As students wave goodbye to summer and prepare to hit the books, your food and beverage brands can bring excitement and fun to what may be a nerve-racking time of the year. Under our Symrise Flavor North America Seasonality and Limited Time Offer (LTO) Initiative, we’ve identified back to school as an emerging occasion for themed food and beverage offerings.

When most folks think of seasonality it’s normally in preparation of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; but when consumers, more specifically foodies, think of seasonality it is usually in anticipation of pumpkin spice lattes or breast cancer pink cookies. At Symrise Flavor North America we are constantly looking for ways to innovate and that means going beyond the scope of normal. It also means not only looking for inspiration within, but outside of the box — our box being the food and beverage space.

Our seasonality brainstorming framework is structured by associations, functional, and emotional dimensions to identify key concepts and flavors for successful food and drinks. We partnered with Brand Genetics to ideate examples of back to school themed food and beverage products.

Here is a brief look into what our ideation session looked like:

Identify overarching associations of back to school: As an occasion that influences a vast range of consumers, associations linked to ‘back to school’ range from recess to syllabus week and coloring books to textbooks.

Determine the emotional associations: The start of a new school year can spark feelings of nervousness for some while others may find excitement in the experiences to come.

Imagine the functional benefits: The busy lifestyle of elementary and college students alike calls for simplifying the daily rush with easy grab and go packaging.

Finally, ideate flavors positively associated with this occasion: Flavors associated with the return to school can range from the classic peanut butter and jelly combination to a fresh apple.

RELATED: Inspiration for Summer Festival Food and Drink LTOs

To get your brands started on ideating back to school themed food and beverage limited time offers, here are some key trends to consider:
• As it did in 2020, the 2021 back to school season looks a bit different as communities face the on-going challenges of COVID-19. Within this, you can expect an increased focus on health and nutrition.
• On behalf of HelloFresh, a OnePoll survey revealed that after a year of remote learning three in five of parents (59%) are stressed about the responsibility of preparing school lunches. In general, grocery shopping during the school year is contributing factor of stress for parents – food and beverage items that make for easy grab and go will offer relief to overwhelmed parents.
• According to OnePoll, 83% of parents include fruits and vegetables in their childrens' lunches but say that more times than not they are left untouched.
• For the first time in over 20 years, the Nutrition Facts label has been updated. The United States Food and Drug Administration is encouraging parents to use the label when comparing food and beverage products when making lunches.
• Your brands can ‘wow’ with a back to school themed LTO in partnership with an educational organization by donating a portion of the LTO profits to the organization’s cause.
• Contact Symrise to present the insights from our Seasonality initiative, schedule a structured brainstorming or virtual brainstorming using our Seasonality framework

The biggest takeaway is that seasonality is all about novelty, flavor, functional benefit, association, excitement, and priming. It is also a reflection of our world — weather, time of year, ingredients, locales, cultures, etc. Seasonality can be a good product development tool with the right balance of market curation and experimentation. At the same time, it can be expensive and hard to pull off without a healthy balance of change and stability.

Now your brands can reduce back to school nervousness with simple products and treats that fill students with confidence about their year of study ahead. Whether it’s going in a lunchbox or a dorm mini-fridge, back to school themed food and beverages can appeal to all and make a lasting impression. To learn more about our Seasonality and LTO initiative and framework, reach out to our team!

This post has been updated from 8/29/2019.

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