A notable 3.9%* rise from pre-pandemic levels demonstrates resilience amidst challenges

CHICAGO — Feb. 13, 2024 Circana™, the leading advisor on the complexity of consumer behavior, reports a substantial rebound in case sales to K-12 schools, signaling a resurgence in the school foodservice sector after three challenging years of COVID-19 disruptions and supply chain issues. The surge in sales is attributed to various factors, including the adoption of universal feeding programs in several states, increased USDA funding, and a growing number of schools incorporating breakfast into their daily offerings.

The increase in the number of schools offering breakfast has been a driving force behind the growth, leading to boosted sales of breakfast classics such as ready-to-eat cereal (+14.7%), pancakes/waffles (+15.8%), and syrup (+14%) year-over-year. Additionally, the demand for grab-and-go options has contributed to substantial gains in items like muffins, Danishes, sweet rolls, bars, yogurt, and breakfast sandwiches.

Beverages have also shown remarkable gains, with apple juice ranking first in the juice and juice drinks category after experiencing a 23% increase in case sales compared to the previous year. Chocolate milk emerges as the favored milk flavor, witnessing a 12% uptick year-over-year. Plant-based dairy alternatives, particularly soy, almond, and oat, have also seen significant growth, with oat milk registering the fastest growth rate at 50%. 

Lunch-oriented food sales continue to demonstrate the influence of fan favorites and innovative offerings. Breaded chicken tenders/fritters, French fries, pizza, and pre-assembled sandwiches remain popular choices. Notably, peanut butter and jelly, along with grilled cheese, are the top two pre-assembled sandwich flavors preferred by students. The influence of students’ preferences outside of school also contributed to the growth of Mexican handheld foods like taquitos and quesadillas.

“Today’s schools face similar challenges to restaurants in meeting the demands of their patrons within tight schedules and budgets,” said Tim Fires, president, Foodservice, Circana. “The encouraging sales performance for the first half of the school year signals a positive shift beyond the supply chain disruptions of 2022 and 2023. Now, the focus must shift to innovation, introducing fresh flavors and foods, while also exploring new methods to streamline operations amidst ongoing labor shortages.”

For more information and deeper insights, contact your Circana representative or visit circana.com/foodservice.

*Source: Circana SupplyTrack®, broadline case sales, 2023 vs. 2019 fall semester
Source for all other data: Circana SupplyTrack,Sept.-Dec. 2023 vs. year ago

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