Lunch boxes: the new executive status symbol

The latest models are green, economical, and they won’t leak all over your suit.

The forces that shape our world are conspiring to bring back the lunch box. From global recession to global warming, from concerns about childhood obesity to concerns about toxic chemicals, all of these issues have spurred lunch box sales. No longer tin boxes emblazoned with cartoon characters, today’s lunch boxes can be made of neoprene or melamine and feature flexible sides or insulated walls. The lunch box has become more thana place to stow a sandwich. It’s a statement of frugality, or of environmentalism, or of fashion.

Evidence of the lunch box renaissance is plentiful. In a bid to save cash, 47% of Americans are now packing a lunch more often, according to a poll released last month. A British retail chain, Robert Dyas, reported a 68% increase in lunch box sales last year. Lunch container sales in Canada have seen double-digit increases for each of the past four years and more than a 40% hike in the past year alone, says Hugh McDonald, executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Canadian Thermos Products. “There’s been strong, renewedtrends to our types of products,” he says. “Our brands have traditionally done very well in difficult times, recessionary times.”

But reusable containers also suit the eco-minded; a child without a lunch box produces an extra 29 kilograms of waste annually. Meanwhile, those worried about toxins can upgrade, replacing old models with Bisphenol A–free varieties.

Beyond the economic and environmental factors, the lunch box market also seems to be driven by a palpable sense of nostalgia. White bread and peanut butter sales have grown in the past year alongside lunch box revenue, further proof that consumersare eschewing food-court fare for something homemade.

Cathy Langin, whose father began making lunch boxes for miners in Sudbury 50 years ago, heard of one man whose ashes were buried in his riveted aluminum box. “I don’t know a lot of other products that get that soft a spot in people’s hearts,” she says. Now running the family business, Langin intends to soon offer her father’s classic design in multiple hues. (A hot pink test-run is popular.) “My father used to say, ‘We make them tough, not pretty,’” Langin says. “I’m going to have to change that, because we make them tough and pretty.”