Inclusion of fruit in a packed lunch is increasing, up 2.5%, according to TNS, boosted by NPD and by the government's 5-a-day campaign. After sandwiches, fruit is the second-most likely item to appear in the lunchbox.

However, with a mere 52% of lunchboxes comprising a piece of fruit, there is lots of room for improvement.

One company tackling this problem is Fruity Faces, which is attempting to boost fruit's suitability for the lunchbox by developing inflatable fruit holders for children that ensure the fruit gets to school in one piece. Available in banana and a more generic round shape to hold a variety of fruit, the company claims it gives fruit the portability of bagged versions but without the cost element.

The Fresh Produce Organisation insists a lot has been done to make fresh fruit more suited for the lunchbox and claims many kids across the UK now find it cool to eat fresh produce.

"The fresh produce industry provides snack-size fruit and vegetables in greater variety and volume, now readily available in high street outlets and supermarkets," says Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium.

"Small bananas, apples and snack-sized bunches of grapes, cherries and strawberries need no preparation and satisfy the sweet tooth.

"These also provide nutrition and can be cost-effective compared to many confectionery products," says Jenney.

Dried fruit manufacturers have been quick to act on the growing popularity of fruit and have bombarded consumers with dried fruit products, from traditional raisins to more exotic mango and cranberries. Dried fruit snacks are now the best performing food category in the lunchbox market, says Whitworths.

"Almost 10% of all dried fruit are now included in a lunchbox. This has led to dried fruit showing the biggest growth of any lunchbox category, up 42.9%," says Whitworths marketing director David Smith.

But Smith warns that to maximise the sales opportunity, it is vital that retailers merchandise fruit snacks alongside other snacks or as part of a better-for-you offering, rather than in the homebaking fixture, where they are normally sited.

The fresh fruit sector is also facing increasing competition from ambient options. Fruit specialist Del Monte added two new Fruit Express 227g pots in pine­apple and tropical flavours earlier this year. Ideal for the lunchbox, the Fruit Express pots are equivalent to one portion of fruit.

Dole says its range of fruit in juices and jelly pots provides mums with an easy way to smuggle extra goodness to children's diets.n