The 30-Year Reign of Lunchables
The overwhelmingly successful “compartment-based snack” has thrived by, for the most part, staying the same.
December 5, 2018 | By Joe Pinsker
From the Atlantic:
WCER researcher Andrew Ruis thinks Lunchables has done so well because of how the packaged, compartmentalized lunch food for children it fits into families’ days. The meat-cheese-and-cracker boxes have been around for 30 years, the Atlantic reports. Though the brand started as a clever way to repurpose bologna, which began losing popularity in the mid-1980s, Lunchables created a new category of American foodstuff that it continues to dominate.
“From a parent’s standpoint, you’re trying to assume all these different roles when you’re putting together a kid’s lunch,” Ruis tells the Atlantic. “You’re trying to assume the role of nutritionist; and the role of a chef; and the role of an entertainer, almost; or a psychologist, someone who can get into the head of your kid and know what they want and like.”
The idea that “it’s everything in one package, that all you have to do is purchase this thing” is powerful for parents who can spare a couple of extra dollars, adds Ruis, who is a researcher with Epistemic Analytics at WCER and the author of "Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat: The Origins of School Lunch in the United States."
Ruis also noted that in the past couple of decades, parents have been paying more attention to the nutritional elements of what they feed their kids, partly due to concerns about obesity, and partly to other trends. “Clearly there’s been a move toward foods that are more organic, more locally sourced,” he says. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s evenly distributed.”