Beau Coffron, of Fremont, California, packs his daughter's school
lunches in stainless steel containers that cost at least $20 a pop.
He apportions all of her food into little compartments, making
cartoon characters like Charlie Brown and animal shapes such as
tigers and llamas out of the ingredients. Her sports water bottles
cost about $10, and the sack to carry it all came with the lunch
kits but would retail separately for about $25.
Everything is toxin-free and re-usable, naturally.
What started as simply a creative way to pack lunches has become a
movement in the U.S. to reduce waste from individual packaging, save
money by buying in bulk, make use of leftovers and have toxin-free
food containers, and share it all on social media.
Coffron, who posts pictures of these lunches on his blog (http://lunchboxdad.com),
is part of this wave of moms and dads who are willing to pay much
more than the cost of a box of plastic baggies at the dollar store
for these benefits.
Parents who are investing in fancy lunch gear say it's worth the
upfront costs because it lasts longer than disposable items. The
annual savings from reusable items amount to an average of $216 a
year, according to a study by U-Konserve (http://kidskonserve.com/),
whose lunch kit runs $39.95.
While popular in Japan, Bento-style lunch gear, where a variety of
food is packed in small containers or compartments in a specialized,
lidded tray, is still a very small portion of $1.4 billion food
storage industry, according to research firm Euromonitor
International. However, the small companies that sell these products
report phenomenal U.S. growth during the last several years as the
trend has exploded.
Laptop Lunches (http://www.laptoplunches.com/), one of the oldest
and biggest of these companies, launched in 2002 and now sells more
than 500,000 units a year, according to the company. On the smaller
end of the spectrum is PlanetBox (http://planetbox.com/), which
sells under 100,000 units a year. Launched five years ago, PlanetBox
says sales are up 150 percent the last two years.
Products vary from all-in-one solutions like PlanetBox, which has a
$59.99 Bento lunch kit with a bag and stainless steel lunch tray, to
multi-piece solutions like Laptop Lunches' $32.99 kit. A simple
Goodbyn tray (http://goodbyn.com/) with three compartments runs
That's a lot of cash for something that is likely to end up lost
within the first week of school, which is why more manufacturers are
offering customization. For example, PlanetBoxes offers magnets to
put on cases and Goodbyns come with stickers so that the items are
easily recognizable in the lost-and-found bin. The heft of these
products makes children realize they need to take care of them, too.
[to top of second column]
MIX AND MATCH
Investing in one expensive lunch kit might not be enough, which is
why there's some mixing and matching that goes on, parents say.
Venia Conte, based in Las Vegas, has two PlanetBox lunch kits, in
case one gets misplaced or is dirty, plus a couple of LunchBots
lunch kits (http://www.lunchbots.com/), which run $20 for the
stainless steel containers. She also uses stainless steel food
thermoses, which cost around $25 each, plus $1.50 re-usable napkins
From Etsy.com and various water bottles.
"When you look at their shoes, which they grow out of in six months,
$50 for a lunch box doesn't seem so bad," says Conte, who blogs
about her lunches to keep herself engaged for 180 days a year
While the bento lunch fad has been ongoing in Japan for years, most
of the companies selling these products in the U.S. emerged after
the recession in 2008.
"When I started the business, parents were like: $25 for a lunch
box, that's like way too expensive. But parents are factoring that
equation differently," says Sandra Harris, founder of ECOlunchbox,
whose three-compartment stainless steel kid's tray runs $12. "Now,
BPA-free is a household word," she says, referring to the Bisphenol
A chemical that is found in polycarbonate plastics.
For Tammy Pelstring, who started Laptop Lunches, the biggest
surprise has been the community that has sprung up around these
lunch kits, fueled by social media. Her company started before
Pinterest and Instagram, so the first thing she noticed was people
posting photos on Flickr of lunches packed in her lunchboxes –
thousands upon thousands of them.
"We completely hit on something," Pelstring says. "There's this joy
that people get when you create a beautiful lunch. It feels really
(Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance.
Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman)
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