Thoughts 27.08.13

Why kids’ packed lunches are the next marketing battle

The debate around healthy school lunches means that the lunchbox is the latest marketing battleground. Our Planning Chief, David Howard, gives his thoughts on how it could provide opportunities for food advertisers.

Watch out for that back-to-school feeling which should sneak up on you any day now. The Government is already getting the jump on it with its new back-to-school campaign telling us to put down the ice creams and barbecued sausage meat.

The new Change4Life ads are encouraging people to stop the bad habits accumulated over the summer and prepare to do healthy stuff, like walk to school and pack a nutritional lunch. However, the current debate over just what constitutes a healthy school lunch has turned the lowly lunchbox into the new middle-class battleground. Tupperware has gone from something to house some sweaty egg sandwiches, to a public showcase for the nutritional values of your household.

After a foodie revolution led from the front by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, many share a new obsession with (or at least acute awareness of) the nutritional values of the food we eat. Cue a flurry of food advertisers tripping over themselves to make, occasionally dubious, nutritional claims about their products.

However, a relatively inoffensive ham roll and an apple just won’t cut it at some schools. Quinoa, gravlax, and coconut water are the staples of that new must-have item – the aspirational lunchbox. That’s not to say that competitive middle class parents, affluent enough to do their grocery shop in Whole Foods without taking out a second mortgage, are the sole driving force behind this.

Schools seem to be taking more interest in the contents of pupils’ lunchboxes than the content of their minds at the moment. The proliferation of ‘lunchbox competitions’ in schools, rewarding pupils with the most nutritional lunch, has turned the lunch break – a time which should be devoted to messing about – into yet another test.

With this in mind, the Government’s latest Big-Brother-esque decree on our consumption habits, might come as light relief to some. Recently, Number 10 announced that packed lunches could be banned and pupils barred from leaving school during the lunch breaks to buy junk food, under a plan to increase the take up of school meals. The plan also includes making school meals a bit more palatable.

But, as Joni Mitchell pointed out, we don’t know what we got till it’s gone. Making packed lunches might be a tedious task but it’s an age-old one. It would be nice to think that our kids will have to suffer the daily challenge of coming up with a school lunch every morning when they have children of their own.

Where the Government is not overstepping the mark however, is in its plans for a new unhealthy food marketing code. The Department of Health is drawing up a code of conduct that will restrict multi-buy promotions of junk or less healthy food, and coming up with a percentage of marketing spend that should be invested in healthier foods. The plans are a step forward that advertisers would do well to support.

Stressed-out and cash-strapped parents need all the help that they can get to restrict the amount of junk food their kids are consuming. Food advertisers can and should be investing in initiatives that make the healthier choice the easier choice.

Perhaps we can also look forward to a day when healthy food options no longer cost us a lean and well-toned arm and leg.

This article was published by Marketing Magazine. Download a PDF of the article at