Back to School, Back to Reality

Looking back at 2021 to help advertisers plan for the 2022 BTS season

Back to school (BTS), a favorite day of the year for some. With the new season comes transformed routines, more stability and additional trips to the grocery store for school supplies and ready-to-eat snacks and lunches. It’s that time to say goodbye to hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches and hello to quick breakfast and lunch options that don’t require refrigeration. 

After a period of wildly unusual back-to-school shopping, where we saw a 69% increase in sales for convenient breakfasts and a 30% increase in school supplies — it is clear kids were heading back to school in person. We expect the 2022 season will bring a return to more stability. Things will probably look a lot like they did before the pandemic, with food storage bags, office supplies, quick breakfasts and lunch combos experiencing high demand.

Traditional school necessities surge as kids head back to school

Of course, some previously well-established habits did change in response to life at home. Lunch combinations is one CPG category that didn’t see the expected return to popularity in 2021 when kids went back to the classroom full-time. 

During the 2019 back-to-school season, sales for lunch combinations increased 32% when compared to the 6-week window prior to the BTS rush. In 2020 sales of the category remained steady and did not experience any seasonal increase. Then, in 2021, seasonal sales for this category only experienced a 6% increase over the year prior. Perhaps shoppers became accustomed to taking the extra time to make a sandwich or just forgot about their old favorite. 

What does this mean for advertisers in 2022? Well, it’s been proven time and time again that past purchase history is the best predictor of future purchase intent. If a household was a heavy consumer of back-to-school related categories in 2021, they would be a solid target for related campaigns in 2022. The same is true for light category and brand buyers of products that are easy to take on-the-go; they are poised to become loyal buyers of your product and would be ideal targets for a back-to-school campaign. 

Another factor to consider during the 2022 back-to-school season is inflation and free lunch. Many school districts around the country are offering students free lunch (and breakfast), which will be a strong proposition for families who have been hit hard by inflation. Targeting previous brand buyers with advertising for less expensive products in your portfolio or with coupons and special offers might win them back. Don’t give up on advertising for your brand – the school year just started!