Thursday, August 07, 2014

General Mills sharpens focus on cereal

The cereal industry has been struggling as of late, despite some positive signs here and there. The big companies, in particular, have been trying to figure out how to stem the tide among many shifts in consumer habits and preferences.

I typically avoid commenting on all the quarterly financial reporting, etc. coming out of the cereal industry, but last month General Mills announced some plans they have for the future. While most of this is the expected PR stuff, it was interesting to see them doubling down on cereal, despite the diversity of their brand portfolio. They still see cereal as a tremendous opportunity and want to insure that they remain a leader in this industry.

How will they do it? A few key strategies were described:

1. Focus on nutrition qualities such as protein, gluten-free and fiber. They recognize that consumers want healthful cereals and they want to capitalize on that.

2. More flavor. Cereals must taste great, and they will be tweaking their recipes to meet that challenge. For example, more cinnamon taste in Cinnamon Toast Crunch and fruitier Trix.

3. Play off of adult nostalgia. Cereal has an emotional attachment to many people, and to help adults return to their childhood every morning could be a winner.

4. More advertising, especially online.

It is good to see a company like General Mills hone in on their core business. Their strategies seem sound, but the key will be execution. Can a large corporation respond quickly and creatively enough to the trends, and will consumers trust these moves when they are sometimes less than authentic?

We'll be watching.

(Source: Business Week)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Review: Kellogg's Jif

Summer is keeping me extremely busy, and I will be getting to a backlog of stories on some recent developments, but it is time for another review!

One new cereal that has caught people's attention is Jif Peanut Butter cereal from Kellogg. When a cereal takes on a popular co-branding arrangement it quickly cuts through the clutter in the grocery story and stands out. This has been done many times before, and with peanut butter General Mills' Reese's Puffs provides a good example. Jif is a popular brand of peanut butter, and for Kellogg to work this into a cereal is a brilliant marketing move. Peanut butter is a great breakfast and comfort food, so featuring it in cereal not  just as an ingredient (as has been done before) but linked to a strong brand is powerful.

Beyond the obvious marketing, the real question is how does it stack up as an actual breakfast cereal? Let's get our bowls out and find out!

With the cereal built around peanut butter taste is going to be a critical element for its success. And, it doesn't disappoint. Claiming to be "made with Jif Peanut Butter" (although artificial flavors are in the mix too) the flavor is obvious and pleasant. Not over-bearing, but as with Jif Peanut Butter itself enhanced with sugar. This is a joy to eat.

Texture was the biggest surprise. Jif cereal is not the hardened balls found in Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch or Reese's Puffs. The little donut pillows are delightfully light and silky. They are smooth, as close as possible to eating peanut butter out of the jar. And, that's even without milk. Of course, add milk to these light pieces and as would be expected they soften even that much more, especially after 5 and 10 minutes. Normally that would be a mark against a cereal, but in this case it actually reinforces the smooth nature of what one would expect with peanut butter.

Although there are other cereals with peanut butter, this is still a novelty that in itself makes for a desirable experience. But, what really makes this fun to eat and connects the eater with all that is wonderful at breakfast is the brand linkage with Jif. The fact that the taste and texture mimic peanut butter is an additional bonus. Kellogg has executed it well.

With this much fun in your breakfast bowl it is understandable that nutrition might not be the cereal's strong point. Despite the claim of "made with whole grain" there is nothing that really stands out here health-wise. While peanut butter is eaten by many because of the belief that it is nutritious, do not be fooled. Peanut butter is only a flavoring here, not the main ingredient by far. Also, the sugar content is quite high (almost 40% of weight), so while this is fun and could be a great snack food, it's not the power breakfast you will want your kids consuming on a regular basis.

In the end this is a great new cereal from Kellogg that should help their struggling sales. Innovative it is!

(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kellogg goes dark

Summer has kept me busy and somewhat behind, but some interesting cereal tings have been popping up. One of those over the last month or so has been the appearance of a new marketing campaign from Kellogg that reinforces what many already know: cereal is a great snack food, especially at night.

This is more than just a few ads highlighting the convenience and taste of cereal for those with late-night cravings. They have gone all out with special night-themed cereal boxes for a number of their brands, and displays in stores. This will be a limited-time campaign but it is a way for Kellogg to remind those who have perhaps lost interest in cereal that it's not just for breakfast. This fits well into efforts to expand sales and with Kellogg's own foray into snack foods with other brands.

What's your favorite cereal for night-time snacking?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Kellogg and Danone team up for convenience

One of the reason for cereals' recent decline is the desire by many people for greater convenience. Many want to eat on the run and don't have time to sit down to a bowl of cereal. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to make cereal more convenient, with cereal bars the biggest winner.

Kellogg is trying yet again, and this time they have partnered with global yogurt maker Danone to have several varieties of cereal like Special K, Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops atop a bowl of Greek yogurt, a very popular food right now. This will fit into Danone's YoCrunch brand where combo packages of toppings and yogurt have long been for sale. The purchaser simply mixes the two together for greater flavor and texture.

This appears to be a win-win situation for both companies, and might start a new trend for cereal consumption.

(Source: Marketwatch)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

General Mills and numbers

Cereal companies continue to look for an edge in today's competitive market. This means finding a way to stand out among the countless varieties of cereals on the grocers shelf. Recently, we've seen some creative innovation among some upstarts, but the big companies sometime appear a little more desperate.

A good example of some puzzling attempts comes from General Mills. Like all the big companies they've been trying to figure out how to have consistent revenue growth from cereal. It hasn't helped that they've recently had some public relations disasters which have not helped their cause. Their latest tactic is go for the nutrition conscious consumers, knowing that many are looking for cereals with more protein and less carbs. So, they recently introduced some protein-rich varieties of certain cereals, most notably Cheerios Protein, in two flavors, Oats & Honey and Cinnamon Almond. There are others as well, including a Fiber One Protein cereal.

It sounds good, except for one thing. In order to achieve this perception of high protein they've been less than forthcoming. They tout the fact that Cheerios Protein contains 11g of protein per serving with milk. That's all fine and dandy, but when you look a little closer at the numbers it's not as impressive as it might appear. First, that number does include milk. Factor that out (because you will probably use milk regardless whatever cereal you eat) and you are left with 7g of protein per serving. Still not shabby, but again somewhat misleading. A careful look at the Nutrition Facts reveals that these calculations are based on a 55g serving. What is interesting to note is that original, regular Cheerios have 3g of protein per serving. Obviously the new Protein variety has much more. Right? Not so quick. Regular Cheerios is based on a 28g serving, half the size. So, if you compare by equal weight measurements the actual difference is far less impressive, probably closer to a 1g margin. Looking at the Fiber One Protein cereal comparison with its original counterpart, the same game is being played.

To be fair, General Mills is truthful, both implicitly and explicitly. Cheerios Protein does have more protein, but the problem is that it's really not that significant. Oat-based cereals are already higher in protein than most cereals, so considering the real advantage of this new product this whole thing appears to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Consumers who don't take the time to read the labels or who are not well-versed in nutrition might be left with an impression that is well overstated.

It is shenanigans like this that is turning off many consumers to the mainline cereal brands. If General Mills wants to strengthen their market share a good place to start might be with less hype and a higher degree of honesty and transparency.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: Love Grown Power O's

It's been awhile since I've last done a cereal review. I like doing them and would love to do more, but I'm not into reviewing every new variety of Special K, Cheerios, etc. that hits the grocers' shelves. Instead, for my readers' sakes I want to try new cereals that are truly interesting or innovative.

Love Grown Power O's are a great way to get back into review mode. I wrote about them a few weeks ago, intrigued by the fact that they are made with some unusual ingredients, namely beans (navy beans, garbanzo beans, plus lentils and brown rice). Curiosity alone prompted me to want to try them. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them in any stores near me, so the good people at Love Grown sent me a box of each of the four flavors so that I could discover whether this is all hype or truly the next great thing in cereal history.

I do occasionally receive cereal samples from companies, but do not feel compelled to review them. In fact, this is the first time I have actually done so - normally I buy my own cereals. This is definitely an exception. I think we all want to know whether breakfast cereals made from beans are worth buying, and for your benefit I will be the guinea pig.

I am also going outside of my normal protocol by reviewing four different varieties at once. This is such a unique, niche product that I felt it would be best to lump them all together in one review. The four flavors are: Original, Chocolate, Honey and Strawberry.

So, let's pour four bowls and see what the fuss is all about.

The most obvious question I had, and I'm sure most of you have, is: How do Power O's taste? This could be the healthiest cereal on the planet, but if tastes disgusting or like cardboard no one will really care. In the end breakfast cereal is an experience that is part of our culture and, for many, an important way for to start their day. Taste matters. So, what's the verdict? Three of the four are not bad - actually taste reasonably well, especially considering their position as health food. Perhaps the biggest barrier for most people to try Power O's is psychological. If they don't know the cereals are made from beans they probably wouldn't notice anything unusual. There is one exception, however. The Original flavor is awful. On the front end it's just plain bland, and on the back end it leaves a taste of burnt milk. So, unless you want nothing but the benefits of beans in your diet avoid the base flavor. Chocolate, Honey and Strawberry, on the other hand, taste fine. Of course, there is nothing that sugar and flavorings cannot fix! The flavors and sweetness are not overpowering, but just enough to keep them pleasant. Overall these cereals are not going to win any food taste awards, but if you are intrigued by what these cereals have to offer you can be assured that three of them will work on your palate. My advice is stay away from the Original, unless you want to use it just for complementing other cereals.

Another question in my mind before trying Power O's was: What is the texture of cereals made from beans, and how will they stand up in milk? The fat little O's are fairly light, and lacking density they are easy chews, and in milk they quickly get soggy within just a few minutes. The Honey ones have the best texture out of the box, and the Chocolate and Strawberry formulas seem to hold out best in milk.

Let's get to the emotional side of eating Power O's. This is serious stuff, definitely not "kid's cereal", but there is a strong experiential aspect to them. Just the fact that you are eating cereal made from unusual ingredients is an adventure in itself. It says you are bold and willing to go outside the box (no pun intended!). Aside from that, the packaging is contemporary and contributes to a positive breakfast.

The whole reason for the "bean" thing is health. At the core of Love Grown Foods is a commitment to nutritious foods, and it extends to their oat-based cereals as well. Power O's, of course, with their beans are novel and speak nutrition loud and clear. The claims include high protein and fiber, low-fat, non-GMO and only natural flavors. The Original flavor offers the best nutrition profile. Unfortunately, however, the sugar content of the three better tasting varieties is higher than the optimal maximum 20% of weight.

If I could rate these cereals on innovation alone this would be a "five bowl" winner. In the real world, however, Power O's are unlikely to become mainstream champions anytime soon. Nevertheless, give Love Grown credit for trying to make something highly nutritious that meets the expectations of today's consumers. They haven't yet fully succeeded, but they are on the way. This could be the future of cereal. At minimum I'd encourage you to give them a try (but stay away form the Original)!
(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Black cereal

One of the ways that cereal companies can innovate is through the use of novel ingredients. has an interesting article citing research that suggests that cereal makers should consider including black grains into cereals for China, as they view such grains as healthier. This not only should be seen as a strategy for those wanting to break into China itself, but even as a way to reach out to ethnic Chinese in North America and other parts of the world.

Black could be a new color coming to your breakfast bowl soon? Would you eat black cereal?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Cereal turnaround?

Things have been looking bleak for the cereal industry. For example, last month Kellogg revealed sales decline, and many other industry signs are likewise not hopeful.

Yet, despite the negative trends, some are much more optimistic. Packaged Facts marketing research recently issued a report predicting a 10% growth in the U.S. breakfast cereal market between 2014 and 2018. Here a couple of noteworthy trends they noted:

First, there is growth in the sales of hot cereals, a trend previously noted here.

Second, much of the growth that will occur is likely to come from Hispanics, who generally consume much more cereal than non-Hispanics. We've already seen a few cereals targeted to Latinos. Expect more.

Packaged Facts also see positive signs in innovation and marketing from major companies. This, combined with some of the other innovations we are seeing from upstarts, might mean some brighter days ahead for the cereal industry.

We can only hope.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why not veggies?

We're on a roll. Innovation is in full gear this year, evidenced by some recent posts highlighting cereal that doesn't require milk and some made from beans. The novel use of ingredients may be a significant way for new companies to gain a foothold in this challenging market.

Now we turn our attention to cereal made with vegetables! Bitsy's Brainfood is a company that's been making children's "smart snack foods" for a couple of years. Recently they expanded their offerings to include three vegan cereals that include veggies among other ingredients. This does make the cereals stand out from competition, especially for parents that are wanting highly nutritious foods for their children. Perhaps this is about marketing to a large degree, but the company highlights the highly nutritious qualities including the fact that they are organic, good sources of some key nutrients, without GMOs, among other things.

Currently the three varieties are Banana Squash Squares, Carrot Raisin Crunch and Fruit & Veggie 1,2,3. With limited retail distribution I haven't actually seen these for sale, but look forward to getting my hands on some to try.

So, what's next?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Beans for Breakfast?

If you think my recent post on cereal with water marks innovation, you may be even more impressed with what Love Grown Foods has to offer. The health food cereal company has introduced Power O's, a new line of cereals made from navy beans, garbanzo beans, lentils and brown rice. The rice sounds right, but beans?

Why not? As more and more people seek after highly nutritious foods, the use of beans might be a unique selling point that stands out in the market. Of course, this cereal had better taste good if it's really going to make a difference. Power O's currently come in strawberry, honey, chocolate and original flavors, and that sounds intriguing. Nutritiously they contain 4-6g of protein per serving, low sodium, and 1.5g fat or less per serving.

I haven't tried Power O's yet. In fact, apart from online sales they don't appear to have wide retail distribution. Nevertheless, when I do get my hands on some I will definitely give them a spin for a review.