Five children road-tested the samples with their mothers. The panel comprised Claire Wright, nine, her brother James, 11, and their mum, Di; Katelyn Dyason, six, and her mother, Jenni; and mother-of-three Joe Soden, with Joseph, nearly four, and Benjamin, nearly two.
Everyone agreed on the qualities of the ideal lunchbox. The parents wanted it to stand upright to prevent flask leakage, with enough room for sandwiches, crisps and other snacks. It had to withstand the usual playground knocks, and scored more highly if it was lightweight and easy to clean. The kids wanted something easy to open and carry, with a street-cred design.
*TOY STORY BOX WITH FLASK
The innovative "briefcase" design of this flask-and-box-in-one backfired; its four "push" catches were voted too sharp and too flimsy, while the children had trouble putting flask and box back together. "There isn't much space inside," reported Jenni Dyason; Katelyn Dyason and Claire Wright thought it "too fiddly". "Imagine the palaver of getting your lunch out of this every day," said an unimpressed Joe Soden. The only thing going for the box, it seemed, was the flask's bendy straw.
***ANIMALS IN DANGER SNACK TIN
This metal snack tin, although tiny, was liked by all. "It saves taking a large lunchbox if you only want a snack," said Jenni Dyason. Claire Wright added: "I like eating all the time so it's good to carry around." Young Joseph Soden was enchanted with it, and his mother liked its novelty value: "If you were given it as a present, you might use it for holding cotton wool. But it's cute - children love carrying things like this around."
**SPICE GIRLS LUNCHBOX
"The design on the front is sad, and it's too small," pronounced James Wright of this box, which carries the Fab Five's rather smarmy greeting: "Thank you for making us the number one act in the world." Everyone felt it was too small, but not bad for the price. Jenni liked the easy-slide catches, and pointed out that it was neat, sturdy and simple to wipe clean. "More of a snack box than a lunchbox," she said.
This lunchbox, with no handle and no gimmicks except a moulded lion's face on its yellow lid, failed to grab the panel, despite being sturdy, cheerful, cheap and easy to open. "You'd have to hold it and walk round with it all the time," said Claire Wright, who objected to the inconvenience. Her mother added: "You could put it inside your bag but it doesn't hold very much." The main drawback was that it would be easy to lose: "You'd put it down and forget to pick it up," said Joe Soden.
In principle, the adults on the panel liked the idea of keeping yoghurts cold with an ice pack, but when it came to this ingenious little red box, which has an ice-pack for a lid, they were less than keen. Their main complaints were that the four catches were stiff and fiddly, the lid was difficult to lift off, and there was little room inside for food. "It's something an adult might have, but it's not very exciting for kids," said Joe Soden. None of the children gave it more than a cursory glance.
**MUJI COMPARTMENTAL LUNCH CARRIER
This minimalist see-through plastic box, which came complete with movable compartment dividers and a flexible cutlery rack, was voted too bulky for school - and rather too adult. "It's quite stylish, but I couldn't quite work out exactly how to use it," admitted Joe Soden. Di Wright, meanwhile, liked the cutlery carrier, but added: "I'd use it for a family day out, for a picnic."
****MICKEY MOUSE LUNCH SACK
Voted the favourite "soft-sack" by everyone, this lined, double-zip bag was seen as a quality product with plenty of space for sandwiches, a drink and even an ice-pack. Mums were keen on the handle and on the incorporated name-tag; kids liked the "feelability". "The label's a good idea - the boxes I've got at the moment have got Post-It notes taped all over them," admitted Joe Soden. "This seems sturdier than a lot of the bags, and it's nice and big," reported Di Wright. Jenni Dyason pointed out that it was more difficult to clean, and the sandwich squash-factor was high. "All the crumbs tend to stick in the corners," she warned.
*****MICKEY MOUSE POLAR BOX
This was the out-and-out winner, loved by the kids because of its chunkiness and timeless design, and adored by the adults because it was sturdy, easy to clean, and came with the added bonus of a movable ice-pack, which creates an inside compartment. "It's a bit heavy and hard for young children to open, but good quality," said Joe Soden. "I absolutely love it. It would stop my chocolate bars from melting," said Claire, who found parting such sweet sorrow.
**THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE LUNCHBOX WITH FLASK
Trains haven't lost their appeal for little boys; both Joseph and Benjamin Soden picked up this bulbous blue case and were keen to carry it off. James Wright said it was a bit young for him. "Street cred's important. I'm more into Tom and Jerry, because they're always up to mischief." Mum Di Wright was uncertain about the flask. "The flasks always tend to break first, and this one has split slightly already," she reported. But it was simple to open, easy to carry, and had plenty of room for sarnies.
***BARBIE AND STAR WARS COOL BAGS
The children loved strapping on these insulated bum-bags, which would hold just enough grub to keep them going. Unfortunately, without the cardboard insert, they were too flimsy to prevent food from getting squashed; and picking crumbs out of the seams was frustrating. "They're great for picnics, but maybe not school lunches," said Joe Soden. Katelyn Dyason, a Barbie fan, didn't care about lunch; the bag was trendy enough to take anywhere.
***101 DALMATIANS SACK AND BOX
Praise came for the design of this bag-and-box-in-one, which is big enough to carry a flask and to store sandwiches. But the adults were concerned about the quality, particularly the wear-and-tear on the seams. "It's a great idea having a box inside, but this looks as if it could easily split," said Di Wright. The children loved the bright blue design, and easy-carry handle. "This is good for younger kids," said James Wright.
Toy Story box from Hamleys, 0171 734 3161; Thomas the Tank Engine and Spice Girls boxes from Woolworths, 0171 262 1222; Animals in Danger tin from the Body Shop, 01903 731500; Lion box from Betterware, 0121 693 1000; 101 Dalmatians box/bag and Star Wars and Barbie bags from Daisy and Tom, 0171 352 5000 (London), 0161 835 5000 (Manchester); Mickey Mouse Polar Box and Mini-Fridge box from John Lewis, 0171 828 1000; Compartmental from Muji, 0171 323 2287; Mickey Mouse lunch sack from Marks & Spencer, 0171 935 4422.