The kids' drinks arena has been bombarded with newcomers in the latest year, with big brand names splashing out on NPD and smaller kids' sizes designed to fit the lunchbox.
Companies have also been digging deep into their pockets to kickstart sales and steal a march on their competitors.
In children's drinks, the still sector continues to outperform its carbonated counterpart. Keen to build on this trend, juice and water manufacturers have been quick to produce new offerings suitable for the lunchbox, while their fizzy rivals have been busy trying to claw back market share. Yet, despite the flurry of activity, there is plenty of room for growth, with TNS figures revealing that less than half of all lunchboxes include a cold drink [52 w/e November 2005].
In April, PepsiCo launched Tropicana Go!, which it hailed as the first mainstream juice drink for kids to contain "no nasties whatsoever". Containing 70% juice and 30% water, the newcomer can be kept safely at ambient temperature for up to eight hours, making it perfect for kids' lunchboxes. The launch is being backed by a £5m media push this year.
Elsewhere, Coca-Cola Enterprises recently threw Capri-Sun 100% Juice into the mix, an offering that contains no added sugar, sweeteners, additives or preservatives. The total Capri-Sun brand is this year benefiting from a £2.3m support package.
"Consumer research shows that 55% of mums are looking for products with no added sugar and 38% with no artificial colourings," says CCE's head of health and wellness Jason Hood.
Panda has also given its kids fruit drinks range an overhaul, including new packaging with a streamline bottle that fits into a standard lunchbox. The still range has two new flavours - strawberry & banana and apple & blackcurrant -while less natural flavours of its carbonated range, such as blue raspberry, have been phased out.
Barr Soft Drinks also has eyes firmly on the school market. In September it is launching a range of carbonated and still drinks, timed to coincide with the back to school period. St Clement's Simply Fruity consists of still flavours apple & blackcurrant, tropical and apple & raspberry while Simply Sparkle consists of apple, mixed fruit & apple and grape & strawberry.
In carbonates, Vimto's latest advertising campaign, which focuses on the adventures of schoolboy Billy, is aimed at reinforcing the brand's suitability for the lunchbox market, as well as its taste credentials.
"Carbonates have gone through a difficult time. However, our latest data shows that Fizzy Vimto is up 5.9% year-on-year in value terms," says brand manager Claire Nield.
Companies have had to step up their game as the school refilling water scheme continues to spill into schools across the country. "The scheme is having an effect on sales, but water is still seen as the boring option," says Deborah Carter, creative head of innovation at brand agency Dragon. "Savvy companies are getting around this by offering more interesting water equivalents."
Calypso Soft Drinks, for example, has product tie-ins with Disney for its juice and water brands, including a Finding Nemo water, The Incredibles fruit smoothie and a Princess blackcurrant juice.n
Cakes, biscuits & desserts Bringing biscuits back into favour
Given the health backdrop, biscuits, cakes, tarts and pastries have started to fall out of favour with lunchtime consumers and now appear in only 26% and 13% of all lunchboxes, according to TNS.
Although in decline, biscuits and cakes still form part of a fair number of lunchboxes, but the decrease in their numbers is bound to have come as a blow to manufacturers that have invested a lot of money and time on producing better-for-you offerings and smaller pack sizes to fit lunchboxes.
The Fabulous Bakin' Boys is one such company that is smartening up its image. The company has cleaned up the recipes for its cupcakes and flapjacks by removing hydrogenated fats, artificial colours and flavourings. It is also updating its range of muffins from next month, which will include the variants Truly Madly Chocolaty, Wild Canadian Bluebeary, Cheeky Cherry, Choc 'n' Orange, Sticky Toffee and Triple Chocolate.
As well as appeasing parents, brands are also trying to give their products greater credibility among children. Fox's Biscuits, for example, launched an RUK - which it says stands for R U Kool - biscuit sandwich of caramel and chocolate cream between two chocolate biscuits under its Rocky brand. Packed in a silver foil wrapper, the brand is designed to have strong appeal among image-conscious eight to 11-year-olds.
UBUK is hopeful that it will create a stir with its new range of flapjacks aimed at modern, hectic lifestyles. "Fruits, desserts and cakes are popular choices for lunchboxes, however, consumers' are increasingly looking for variety and products that complement an 'on-the-go' lifestyle. The McVitie's range of flapjacks is easy to eat on the move," says Anne Wareing, group brand manager for McVitie's.n