chaz1The Back to School season is here again, and we have more details this month of products targeting this perennial sales opportunity, which thankfully seems to be recession-proof. Crucially for the market, both the overall number of UK schools is falling and now the number of pupils is declining, but it seems school clothes, equipment and food for the lunchbox are one area where consumers won’t skimp on spending and smart retailers are still making bright profits by clever stocking and merchandising.

The decline in the number of schools has created fewer but larger schools, which delivers economies for the market, and is good news for retailers in the catchment area. However, growth in pupil numbers has slowed in line with previous falls in the birth rate. According to research experts Mintel the forecast decline in secondary school age children will be “especially challenging,” as this is where expenditure is greatest, as mums and dads know to their cost.

Mintel’s researchers go on to reassure us that the prospect of declining pupil numbers is being offset by parents being willing to spend more on their children. While there’s no need for alarm over the shrinking customer base for ‘Back to School’ items, we know that over time families will make up a diminishing segment of society and as the number of older consumers grows, families will potentially have less influence. In the longer term, this will change as the birth rate has been steadily increasing once more.

The school population might not be growing but school kids are getting bigger. There is a definite trend in school clothing towards larger sizes, both in width and height. The specialist retailers are receiving more requests for very large sizes and starting to stock larger sizes as standard:  presumably this is spilling over into the supermarkets’ school age clothing ranges.

Many parents don’t want their children getting bigger as a result of their diet, and the healthy eating trend is having a continuing effect on Back To School sales. Concerns over childhood obesity are making many parents look carefully at what the kids take in with them, a development for retailers to take seriously. Part of this includes stocking more products aimed at school kids which are ‘Free From’ nuts, gluten, and so on.

Another ‘Back To School’ trend for retailers to consider is consumers‘ growing interest in the origin and production methods of school clothing. Fairtrade goods and organic cottons are receiving increased attention and there is a small but significant group of parents prepared to pay a premium for these items. Mintel see this gathering momentum, as it is in other product areas.

The Grocery Trader

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