UK children have tucked into 308.4 million packed lunches in the past year – a number more or less unchanged on the previous year. The contents of their lunchboxes changed, however, with sandwiches featuring much more often.

“Sandwiches remain the dominant lunchbox meal, featuring in 41% of occasions – 49% for kids,” says Kantar category executive Jacob Houlton.

And sarnies are gaining share in youngsters’ lunches – up 2.9ppts. Houlton puts this down to a combination of cost and convenience.

“Sandwiches are traditional, cheap and one of the easiest options to prepare,” he says.

“In terms of need states, ease of preparation has seen the greatest rise of any motivation in the past year. Inflationary pressures on younger consumers and families are likely driving this,” Houlton adds.

They aren’t the only drivers, though. “Health and wellness, as well as great taste, continue to play a key role in helping shoppers decide what to buy, especially when it comes to children’s lunchboxes,” says Hovis commercial director Alistair Gaunt.

That need is met by the rise of better-for-you bread lines like Hovis Best of Both, which combines the taste of white bread with wholemeal flour – and also claims to be a source of fibre and calcium.

Outside sarnies, there’s no shortage of brands looking to win a place in kids’ lunchboxes by talking about their health credentials.

These include fruit snacks brand Bear, ‘more fruit, less sugar’ jam maker Fearne & Rosie and packaged fruits player Dole, which will add a range of lunchbox-friendly fruit jelly packs in October.

“There’s nothing new about the desire for many parents to want to give their children a healthy lunch,” says Dole sales director Andrew Bradshaw.

“This has come into even sharper focus since the start of the pandemic, with most consumers becoming even more health-aware, and this has translated into being more health-conscious with their food.”

Bradshaw cites “a recent survey of parents on what they felt was the most important factor for their child’s diet, which revealed that nearly half (47%) felt it was getting their 5 a day”.

“Many children miss this daily target, so perhaps packaged fruit snacks can be part of the solution.”

The new business lunch: lunchbox category report 2023