Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review: General Mills' Tiny Toast

As I've pointed out before, this blog is not focused on cereal reviews, but the industry and phenomenon of breakfast cereal. Nevertheless, every once in a while a particular cereal comes across my breakfast table that is of such significance that it deserves a careful look and taste test.

The new Tiny Toast cereals from General Mills provide a perfect occasion to grab a bowl (or two, in this case) to provide my impressions of what they bill as their "first new cereal brand in 15 years," an over-hyped claim in my opinion. These received much attention when released a couple of months ago, and General Mills is hoping that they will generate some of the same kind of excitement that some of their other "toast" cereals enjoy, namely Cinnamon Toast Crunch and French Toast Crunch.

Tiny Toast comes in two flavors, blueberry and strawberry, and both will be considered in this one review.

So, how do these new cereals actually taste? In short, pretty good. With the increasing commitment of General Mills (and other companies) to use only natural flavors, newer cereals are much more pleasant and muted, than the blasts of flavors that come from artificial ingredients (let alone the powerful whiff of chemical scents that erupt from the bags of newly open cereals with artificial flavors). The blueberry and strawberry flavors here are evident, although I like the strawberry better. Blueberry Tiny Toasts actually bordered on lacking in taste.

An obvious distinguishing point of this brand are the tiny little toast pieces, and they are pleasant to consume - light, and only mildly crunchy out of the box. In other words, they go down easy, but have substance. They also hold their own in milk, although after ten minutes they start to get a little gummy.

Breakfast cereal is about so much more than just the cereal itself, and with Tiny Toast General Mills has created a brand with some personality and that is tied in with their previous toast varieties. Just the idea of eating tiny toasts is fun, and the cartoonish look of the box and logo contribute to that impression. But, despite the design and "Match the Hashtag" game on the back, this cereal is not intended just for children. The pictures and statements on the front that these contain real fruit, remind everyone that these are somewhat serious eats too.

If this is somewhat serious, then what about the nutritional qualities of Tiny Toast. Despite the claims of natural flavor, natural colors, fortified vitamins and minerals, and "First ingredient: whole grain," these cereals are nutritionally meh. There is only 2g of protein, and 1g of fiber, and the percentage of sugar by weight is over 30%. Not that I was expecting more, but don't be fooled - this is not for those looking for a nutritional powerhouse.

Overall, even with the fanfare, Tiny Toasts are an interesting addition to the General Mills lineup, and in the short-term should garner consumer attention; but I really do not see anything special here. They have something to offer as an experience, but in a year or two will likely follow the fate of many new cereals that have come and gone over the years. By all means, try them for yourself, and let me know if they become a favorite of yours, or just a little occasional variety for your morning breakfast bowl.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Moving the cereal aisle to the produce section

Recently there were reports that Kellogg cereals were starting to show up alongside fruits and vegetables in Meijer's grocery stores. So far this seems limited to the Midwest grocer, but it could very well be a way for Kellogg to reposition cereals in a new way by associating them with fresh and healthful foods. Of course, adding fruit to your breakfast bowl has long been a way to enhance your cereal, but now the connection is being made more deliberately, perhaps even to the extent of suggesting that you can enhance your produce with cereal.

This is likely a marketing test for now, but it will be interesting to see if cereal companies continue trying these types of efforts to raise the profile of a food that is in need of rejuvenation.

(Source: Quartz)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Surprise! The flavor this fall is Pumpkin Spice

For the past few years, the favorite flavor of fall has been pumpkin spice. What started as the traditional pumpkin pie has now been utilized by food manufacturers in everything from Starbucks' lattes to Oreo cookies. Surprisingly, consumers have not yet tired of the fad, and its popularity continues to rise.

Even cereals have got into the pumpkin spice craze, most notably last year with Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Cereal, one that we rated highly. For 2016 we are likely to see many more options featuring this comfort food sensation.

Earlier this year, reports emerged that General Mills would be introducing Pumpkin Spice Cheerios this fall. I can confirm from the company that this limited edition flavor will start showing up on grocers' shelves in August. They are claiming that it is "made from real pumpkin puree and a delicious blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove" and is "free from artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources."

While this is the only confirmed launch so far, there are strong signs out there that Kellogg and Quaker are getting into the action as well, although neither company responded to my request to confirm this or to provide more information. Online photos from Influenster and CandyHunting show a box of Pumpkin Spice Crunch Special K. Similarly, Influenster and CandyHunting reveal a Pumpkin Spice Life as well. These look legit, but we'll have to wait and see if these actually end up for sale.

UPDATE 8/1/16: Kellogg's officially announced the Special K item today, and also indicated that Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Cereal is returning this fall as well. They are introducing other fall flavors among various food products, including a Special K Apple Cinnamon Crunch.

Of course, you might not be craving pumpkin spice right now in the middle of summer, but soon enough the weather will cool down and the leaves will fall, and your breakfast bowl will be a place to celebrate!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Look at Kashi

Kellogg owned cereal-maker Kashi recently unveiled a fresh new look intended to reflect "its belief that food should not only taste good, but do good." The new design includes its revised logo, and packaging that is contemporary and simple in appearance. The boxes certainly stand out for their clean look, avoiding most of the visual clich├ęs common on cereal boxes such as a bowl of cereal, and excessive design elements. Instead the focus is on ingredients and cereal itself at the most basic level. The back of the boxes feature stories of "how the food was made and where it comes from – including employees, farmers and friends of Kashi who had a deep impact on it."

For quite sometime Kashi has struggled to find itself as a natural and health-conscious brand in the Kellogg portfolio, while becoming more and more mainstream in its distribution. Packaging has always been a big part of cereal's success and place within our culture, and this new look, while basically simple, should give the brand new life, if applied consistently across its product line. In my opinion, it's also a far superior effort than the cartoonish appearance of the new Annie's cereals recently launched by General Mills.

What do you think of the new look?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Kellogg seeks innovation via startups

Without sounding like a broken record, the key to the resurgence of cereal is innovation. We have also seen that much of that innovation is coming from small companies, eager to try new things, but often without the adequate resources to do so. The large companies are often too entrenched in their ways and culture to really effect creative change.

Silicon Valley has long been the hotbed for tech innovation, fueled by venture capitalists investing in the wild (and sometimes crazy) ideas of entrepreneurs. The cereal industry, desperately needing an injection of life, is now trying the same thing. Last fall we indicated that General Mills launched 301 INC to do just that. Not to be outdone, Kellogg is the latest to join the trend.

Kellogg recently announced the formation of eighteen94 capital (1894) to "to make minority investments in companies pursuing next-generation innovation, bolstering access to cutting-edge ideas and trends. The investment mandate includes start-up businesses pioneering new ingredients, foods, packaging, and enabling technology." Approximately $100 million will be invested.

To be fair, 1894 is not just about cereal, but food innovation more broadly. But, hopefully some of this rub off on a cereal industry needing some fresh ideas

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Annie's cereals now available nationally

If you look around the "natural" section of the cereal aisle of many U.S. grocery stories you will probably see the new Annie's organic cereals. They are widely available nationwide now, and come in three varieties: Berry Bunnies, Cocoa Bunnies, and Frosted Oat Flakes.

On the surface this might seem like a relatively insignificant development, especially since "health food" branded cereals are a small and niche, albeit growing, market. Upon closer examination, however, this is a significant story because it involves one of the major players: General Mills.

The story started back in September 2014 when General Mills announced that they would be acquiring Annie's, which had become a well-known player in natural and organic foods targeted to families. Recognizing the growing interest in more nutritious foods among consumers, General Mills saw an opportunity to expand its offerings by adding a recognized and respected brand to its portfolio. Annie's is, however, far more than cereal - they make a wide range of food products. In fact, cereal is not one of their traditional strengths. They first tried back in 2007, but quickly discontinued the line. General Mills, a leader in cereal, wanted them to try again, hence the current three new ones first announced back in February, but only now widely available.

Of course, Annie's is not General Mills' only line of more natural cereals, as they already have the Cascadian Farms brand. But, in this time of frustrating cereal sales, companies are attempting whatever they can to change their fortunes. General Mills is hoping that the Annie's brand will be part of the solution.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kellogg tries bilingual again

A look at recent Kellogg's cereal boxes reveals some subtle, but significant changes. Specifically, the company is now incorporating Spanish in the Nutrition Facts panel, and on the front weight listing. I have detected this on a wide range of cereals, including Corn Flakes, Apple Jacks, Frosted Flakes, and more.

I asked Kellogg about this, and here is their response:
"Kellogg offers a selection of products in bilingual packaging to welcome our ever-growing Hispanic population with their favorites here in the United States. Because our packages communicate important nutrition information, it is important to provide key elements in Spanish for these consumers. By offering the Nutrition Facts in Spanish and English, the nutrient value of the products is easily understood."
Bilingual packaging is not completely new for Kellogg. They have gone completely bilingual on cereals targeted specifically to Hispanics, as when they introduced Choco Zucaritas and Touch of Honey Corn Flakes in the United States. Of course, in other countries, such as Canada, bilingual labelling has long been the norm. It is not required in the U.S., but obviously they feel this is a way that they can assist and appeal to Hispanic consumers, who are a growing demographic in this country, but not necessarily big breakfast cereal eaters. Considering how cereal companies are struggling, any little move like this could be seen as a tactic to bolster their market share.

Who knows, if more and more Hispanics take to cereal, might we someday see many fully bilingual cereal boxes?

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Kellogg's NYC - More than just another cereal cafe

Last week Kellogg made a big cereal bowl splash with the announcement of a new restaurant that opened on Monday, July 4th. They state that Kellogg's NYC "will serve dishes featuring Kellogg's cereals combined with unique ingredients, all served with a side of fun. Kellogg's NYC will be a destination that reminds guests of home and drives new curiosity around the cereal bowl."

Cereal cafes are not new - we've been monitoring them here for years. Most have been small, independent restaurants, such as one that just opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma yesterday. None, however, have really taken off, at least not nationally. In the last couple of years, however, things have changed, largely because of the attention given to Cereal Killer Cafe in London, a bold new concept that has garnered both positive and negative reactions. Kellogg must have liked what they saw, and decided to give it a try themselves. With the growing realization that cereal is quickly losing ground, especially among millennials, they have no choice but to innovate and try new strategies.

This is big news, mainly because one of the major players is involved. While this is certainly experimental, for Kellogg to seriously commit to this prototype is evidence of a willingness to step outside the box (pun intended). This is an opportunity for them to present cereal in a fresh, fun new way, and to strengthen their brand.

Here's a quick video look of Kellogg's NYC, via CBS:

Let's not be fooled. One restaurant in Times Square is not, by itself, going to turn around the plight of the cereal industry. And, of course, there are many critics out there (such as this article in the Guardian), most of them aghast over the fact that a bowl of cereal could cost as much as $7.50. Nonetheless, this is a brilliant move that could really strengthen Kellogg's brand. Instead of going after the crowded low-end of the market, by elevating cereal to the high-end, both in terms of price and gourmet-style mixtures, they have an opportunity to tell a new story about cereal and provide exciting new experiences. While we may never see Kellogg's cereal cafes as ubiquitous as McDonalds or Starbucks, a strategic expansion of these restaurants in key cities and locations across the U.S, Canada and the U.K. could invigorate new interest for cereal, not just for breakfast, but for almost any time of the day.  

We'll be watching.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The possibilities of custom packaging

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but one of the most impressive innovators in the cereal industry is mymuesli of Germany, which has been featured here on several occasions. Their major contribution is the successful development of a model for custom cereals, which some American companies have attempted, but so far have failed.

Part of the appeal of mymuesli is the comprehensive experience they provide consumers. It's not just custom recipes they provide, but so much more; and that now includes an experiment with custom packaging. This level of personalization engages customers, and makes buying and eating cereal lots of fun.

Heidelberg, the large German company that makes commercial printers, has partnered with the cereal company to setup a custom printer in one of mymuesli's stores so that customers can walk out with a canister featuring their selected text and images.

Read Heidelberg's press release on this innovation, and consider the possibilities of well-established U.S. cereal companies could catch a vision for a whole new level of innovation!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Toast goes Tiny

Last week General Mills proudly announced what they call, "our first new cereal brand in 15 years." Tiny Toast cereal is "shaped like small pieces of toast sprinkled with blueberries and strawberries," and is the result of extensive research and development.

On the positive side, it is good to see some new cereals, with bold, fun packaging that should grab consumer attention in the grocer's aisle. The whole miniature toast experience will liven up the breakfast table, at least on the short-term.

I take exception, however, to General Mills calling this a NEW cereal brand. Perhaps it is a distinctly named brand, but the small toast concept is hardly new for GM. What about Cinnamon Toast Crunch, French Toast Crunch, Chocolate Toast Crunch, and others? Obviously, the earlier "toast" varieties have been very successful, so why not expand on it? But, in light of that, to call this a new brand is a stretch.

Nevertheless, we'll watch (and taste) to see if Tiny Toast is a way for people to keep cereal at the forefront of their breakfast menu.