Despite an almost non-existent summer, it’s nearly back to school time. Among other things, this is a time when mums and dads will be forced to face the issue of what they can put in their children’s lunchboxes.

According to research by Mintel, around four billion packed lunches are consumed each year, with around 1.6bn of these eaten at school. So with the staple part of the lunchbox revolving around the sandwich, what can bakers do to cash in on this huge market, and what other products can they offer to accompany the sarnie?

Ingredients supplier Bakels has launched a ’back to school’ information sheet for bakers. It suggests using its Country Oven Multiseed Low Glycaemic Index (GI) bread, which contains pumpkin, linseed and sunflower seeds, together with wheat bran and oat flakes, to make sandwiches. Its low-GI content means sugars are released more gradually into the bloodstream than high-GI products, giving the body more stable energy levels.

Bakels’ new Multi Wholegrain Bread Concentrate can be added to flour to produce a high-fibre bread. It contains four types of grains and rye flour and helps to produce bread with a 60% wholegrain content. Bakels also offers Country Oven Low-Gi Muffin Slices, which help to boost energy levels, as well making lunchboxes more exciting.

Referring to the lunchbox market, Bakels managing director Paul Morrow says: "This is a huge opportunity for bakers. Bread makes up the staple item in virtually all packed lunches and, as some 14% of lunchboxes - or 500,000 - also contain a treat of some sort, bakers could easily cash in on this growth."

Healthy and fun

With over four million school children taking a packed lunch to school, the market is estimated to be worth approximately £5bn. Warburtons says 77% of all lunchboxes in the UK feature a sandwich (TNS Worldpanel data ended Aug 2007). It believes bakers need to balance the desires of both parents and children - with parents increasingly seeking healthier products for their children and kids who want fun, tasty products their friends will be in awe of.

"Aside from bread, rolls make great lunchbox fillers for children and offer an alternative to the traditional sandwich," says Warburtons’ category director Sarah Miskell.

She says the children’s lunchbox sector is being driven by health in particular. Products such as Warburtons’ Wholegrain Goodness Loaf, made with wholemeal flour, malted wheat flakes and sunflower seeds, or Healthy Inside bread, with a natural prebiotic ingredient, offer a healthy sandwich loaf choice.

Supplier BakeMark UK says children will always love tasty sandwiches but that both parents and kids now demand more from their bread products. It has developed a concentrate for high-fibre, low-GI bread, with the Arkady White+ loaf, which provides the taste of white bread, but the goodness of wholemeal. Its recently extended range of Better For You Cookies can also provide a lunchbox addition. The Apricot & Raisin, Strawberry & Yoghurt and Choco & Orange Cookies have 65% less saturated fat than a standard milk chocolate chip cookie, as well as added fibre and 22% fewer calories.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued guidelines on healthy packed lunches, and top of the list is bread. However, it doesn’t just have to be sliced bread for a standard sandwich, bakers can offer consumers a choice of other bread products, such as pitta breads, bagels, rolls and wraps to liven up lunchboxes. The guide emphasises the importance of a variety of foods and a balanced diet. Healthier sandwich fillings such as lean meats including chicken or turkey without the skin, fish such as tuna, cottage cheese, Edam or mozzarella are suggested. It is also good to include lots of salad and not too much mayonnaise.

In terms of promotion Bakels also suggests bakers consider advertising in local papers to coincide with any ’back to school’ features, or in any information booklets that schools send out to parents. One thing’s for certain, says Morrow: "It’s a growing market and one which bakers should target this September."


=== The FSA’s suggested fillings ===

l Cheddar cheese with apple slices

l Cooked chicken or turkey, mustard, tomatoes and lettuce

l Tuna, cucumber, green pepper, sweetcorn and tomato

l Mozzarella with grilled peppers

l Brie and cranberry sauce or jam

l Cottage cheese and dried apricots