Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Startups and Innovation

A few weeks ago General Mills announced the formation of a new business development and venturing unit called 301 INC, designed to help entrepreneurs obtain the capital and resources they need to expand their businesses. 

This is a significant move, as it is a recognition from a large food corporation like General Mills that some of the best innovation comes from creative startups. As I've said here many times before, innovation is absolutely essential for the future of the cereal industry, and with this initiative we are seeing lessons being learned from other industries like high-tech where venture capital investing is all the rage.

Over the years we have watched a number of exciting cereal concepts emerge, but few have survived. Sure some reached a point of success that enabled them to be bought out by bigger companies, but many have perished due to lacking the finances needed to get their ideas off the ground.

Hopefully this will foster some exciting new cereal ideas for the breakfast table.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice

Thanks to Starbucks Pumpkin Spice has been a popular fad the last several years, but this fall it seems as if everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to take advantage of the annual rite of heading toward winter. Kellogg is one example of a me-too company that hopes to capitalize on this taste frenzy, and has released a Limited Edition of Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice. Is this just another copycat effort, or is it a legitimate cereal? Let's find out.

The whole point behind pumpkin spice is the flavor, and this cereal had better live up to its expectations. Well it does. My biggest fear is that would be laden with artificial flavors or over-dosed with the spices. It does neither. Kellogg uses only natural flavors and their is only a hint of the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Just enough to ensure that this is what the box says it is, but allows the mild, lightly sweetened pumpkin taste to come through. Pretty impressive.

Texture for this product is no surprise, as Mini-Wheats are Mini-Wheats. But, the combination with the pumpkin spice flavor is a great combination. Even right out of the box, the grainy nature goes well with it, but after soaking in milk for 5-10 minutes its even better as the smooth texture is a great fit for what we want from pumpkin.

Pumpkin spice has become a hot item because it is a comfort food, and therefore the experience it delivers is critical. Kellogg has made sure to conform this cereal to the larger cultural demands. There's orange frosting, and the box speaks autumn and wholeness. It works.

Cereals that are designed for experience are typically not paragons of healthfulness. But, this one comes pretty close. As they highlight on the box with milk it delivers up to 9g of protein, and like all Mini-Wheats the whole grains provide an excellent source of fiber. With the one exception of the sugar content a little higher than the 20% of weight threshold, this cereal has a well-rounded nutritional profile. Even the sugar content can be forgiven considering the enjoyable, seasonal nature of this product.

What more can I say? If you crave pumpkin spice, this is one cereal you will want to eat. And, because it is a limited edition you may want to stock up. Otherwise it will be an entire year until you can have your fix again!

(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Creative Packaging

Over the years I have highlighted innovations in cereal packaging. If companies are looking to innovate this is definitely one area in which there still is lots of room for creativity and new thinking. Unfortunately, it seems to be difficult for the major players to think "outside the box."

Recently I came across some concept projects developed by a graphic design student, Mun Joo Jane, at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. She came up with a couple of cereal packaging ideas that truly draw attention. In particular, her Special K package (rebranded as K+), while elaborate, would certainly stand out on the grocery store shelves and at home.

Take a look at this idea, plus a much more austere concept, and tell us what you think: https://www.behance.net/gallery/27278793/Kelloggs-Cereal

I wonder if the cereal companies are paying attention?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Selfie Spoon

Creative, viral marketing could provide a great boost for cereal companies, and it appears that General Mills might be on to something.

Building on the success of their wildly popular Cinnamon Toast Crunch they have come up with a Selfie Stick that will make it easier for you to take a photo of yourself eating your favorite cereal (i.e. CTC). What makes this selfie stick stand out is that it has a spoon on one end, providing the perfect combination that will allow you to engage in your social media promotion while having breakfast. I'm sure we've all wondered how we could make this happen. Right?

The best part of this new marketing novelty is that it is free, except for shipping and handling. The only problem is that it is sold out (no surprise) on their website, but the promise is that more are coming. Just keep checking.  


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: Kellogg's Origins

Earlier this year Kellogg announced Origins, a new line intended to tap into the growing market for more natural and healthy cereals, and as attempt to turn around the sales struggles that the company has had. While the six varieties making up the brand have been showing up in stores for several months already, more recently their presence has been noticeable with significant shelf space and deliberate marketing.

It's time to give these cereals a spin in the bowl and see what they're really like. With six different products to choose from, this will not be a detailed and rated review on each product like I've done with other cereals, but a more general overview of how Kellogg is doing with this new venture.

With Origins Kellogg, not quite sure of what will really work, does not want to miss any opportunities. There are actually three categories: cereal, granola and muesli; and two of each of those:

  • Fruit & Nut Blend Cereal
  • Ancient Grains Blend Cereal
  • Raisin Apple Granola
  • Cranberry Almond with Pumpkin Seeds Granola
  • Apricot Cashew Coconut with Raisins & Almonds Muesli
  • Raisin Apricot Cranberry with Pumpkin Seeds Muesli

On first glance Origins products definitely stand out. The Kellogg's name is boldly emblazoned on the front and the red theme gives these products a distinct look apart from what the other big companies are offering at this time. The one puzzling aspect of the packaging is that the Origins story is not as pronounced as it could be. Sure, on the back they talk about "Real food, prepared simply" but more could be done in the overall design to convey the natural, wholesome nature of the cereals. I'm not convinced that the average consumer will pick up on this.

The emphasis with Origins is on wholesome and nutritious. They are clear to point out features like the lack of artificial flavors and hydrogenated oils, and the quantities of fiber and whole grains. While there is a certain simplicity to the ingredient list, the nutritious virtue is not perfect. For example, sugar content is still higher than ideal (> 20% of weight).

From the taste samples that I have had, I can say that these are certainly pleasant eating. Being naturally focused, they don't want overpowering flavors, but the blends they have come up with are tasty. The sweetness level helps as well. But, these are far from knock-out recipes, although the mueslis may be the most interesting.

In the end, Kellogg's Origins are a solid new offering that you should at least try. Whether they turn around Big K's fortunes is yet to be seen, but they may have found a way to attract consumers looking for healthier cereals who might not be ready to jump to their nerdy Kashi line.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Kellogg goes natural too

It was just a few months ago that General Mills announced that they would be eliminating artificial flavors and colors, a big move. Not to be out done, in their recent investor call Kellogg basically announced the same thing, promising to eliminate artificial ingredients by 2018.

This is welcome news for health enthusiasts,and certainly not a surprise for those watching the trends in the cereal industry. It just makes one wonder, how much of this is reactionary in order to maintain market share?

If Kellogg and General Mills are going to reverse the slide in cereal sales they are going to have to do much more than just just eliminating some ingredients.

We keep hoping.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cereal at the Movies - The Sequel

Recently I posted on the recent proliferation of cereal boxes from General Mills and Kellogg that are movie-themed. As these big companies struggle with their sales and market share working on licensing arrangements with movie studios is a smart move.

Since then, an even more interesting set of movie-themed cereals have shown up, this time from MOM Brands. In case, that doesn't ring a bell, MOM is now the third-largest cereal manufacturer in the U.S. and is mostly known for its Malt-O-Meal brand (and the company's original name), which is largely comprised of mainstream cereal knock-offs. Early this year they were bought by Post.

In partnership with DreamWorks they have launched four new cereals: Shrek Ogre O's, Madasgascar S'mores Jungle Party, Penguins Operation Chocolate Mix, and Dragons Dragon Adventure Crunch. So far these appear to be only available at Walmart.

The significance of these new cereals is that it suddenly propels MOM even further into the big leagues. They are no longer cheap, bagged cereals but are showing that they want to and can compete in the premium brand space too.

Breakfast is getting fun again!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cereal at the Movies

One of the reasons for my personal fascination with cereal is its close link with pop culture. For decades cereal companies have recognized the emotional connection they could generate by giving bleary eyed consumers some fun at breakfast with cereals and boxes linked with sports figures, cartoons, movies, and more!

Movie-themed cereals, in particular, are not new. They have been a breakfast staple for years. Of course, movie-promotions on existing cereals have been quite common, but things get really exciting when cereal manufacturers go all out in their licensing agreements to create cereals with fun shapes and beautifully crafted boxes. Who can forget a classic like Jurassic Park cereal? And over the years, we have seen others, ranging from Indiana Jones to High School Musical.

In the last six months we have witnessed a resurgence in movie-themed boxes. Perhaps cereal companies, desperate to turn around declining sales, are reaching back to marketing formulas that have worked in the past to generate some new breakfast enthusiasm Here's a brief recap of some of the cereals we have spotted:

Kellogg's Frozen - Following on the heels of this wildly popular Disney movie, Kellogg introduced a Frozen cereal (not in the freezer section!) featuring a gorgeous box with both major panels with a different design. A sneaky way to get people to buy two, not realizing that one box has both images!

General Mills' Star Wars - With newly anticipated Star Wars movies coming, new themed cereals are in order, as they have in the past, going back to the original 3-CPO in 1984. This year General Mills gets the rights, with two characters to choose from.

Kellogg's Avengers - The successful Marvel Avengers movie was supported not only by an dedicated new cereal, but Kellogg also plastered characters on Corn Flakes (utilizing the two-sided trick again) and Krave!

General Mills' Minions - On the fun side General Mills recently launched a banana berry cereal featuring the Minions of the Despicable Me franchise. The cereal itself has Minion designs imprinted on them.

All in all, good cereal fun. The way many of us remember breakfast!

Monday, June 22, 2015

General Mills is getting "real"

For regular followers of this blog I apologize for the recent hiatus in postings. Life has been very full! But, here's a story to get back into the bowl:

Breakfast cereals really began to stand out for their culinary creativeness, not only because of marketing, but due to chemistry. Back in the 1950's and 60's as a society we were introduced to a myriad of innovations from laboratories that concocted a wide range of new experiences and solutions for a everything from cleaning products to food. Food chemistry enabled manufacturers to try things in their recipes that were never before possible. Preservatives enabled food to last longer on the shelves. New colors and flavors gave rise to food with powerful taste and appearance. We believed that life was not only better with chemicals, but that perhaps someday chemistry would solve all of our problems, possibly even world hunger.

A lot has changed since then. As consumers became more health conscious and suspicious of these Franken-foods there was a growing move back to more natural, whole foods and away from things artificial. We see this with breakfast cereal. Whereas a few decades ago we were enamored with out of this world cereals, today, as evidenced by work of startups, the trend is definitely toward health. Chemicals are out. Low-processed, high fiber, natural (and even exotic) grains are in.

It's no secret that the cereal industry is struggling, and the big companies are especially trying to figure out to reverse the overall trend and their own sales. Innovation, a frequent theme in this blog, is the key.

Today we learn that General Mills is taking a bold step (at least for one of the big three cereal manufacturers), and has announced that they will be eliminating artificial flavors and colors (or more accurately "colors from artificial sources") "over the next two or three years". They clearly see the handwriting on the wall and know that most consumers want this. Even if 60% of their cereals already meet this standard, having others that still contain these artificial ingredients tarnishes the brand. This is not, however, the first time the company has made this type of across the board recipe change. Several years they committed to including "Whole Grains" in all their cereals.

In many ways this is a significant move that cannot but help their brand, and General Mills seem to be doing all they can to send these kinds of messages (even if polarizing), such as when they appealed to the LGBT community.

Despite all of this it is important to remember that removing artificial colors and flavors does not mean that General Mills has suddenly become an uber-health food brand. It's a welcome tweak, but does not commit to removing any other artificial ingredients, nor does it make some of the suspect highly-sugared cereals any more nutritious.

But, it is a sign that cereal companies are getting more real. And, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kellogg looking to Origins

In the last few years much attention has been given to the decline in breakfast cereal sales, a point highlighted on this blog from time to time (but not nearly in keeping with the increasing hype this story is getting across the general media). The big companies are especially feeling the pressure, with much of the recent attention given to Kellogg and their almost 5% drop in breakfast food sales.

Kellogg and the others know that they cannot rely just on the same old formulas and strategies that worked in the past. Innovation is needed, but unfortunately is often coming from other players in the industry. With the announcement of their dismal financial results last month big K also revealed that their next attempt to get back on the growth curve is to launch mid-year a new cereal brand called Origins. The focus of this brand will be wellness and "real food prepared simply". The cereals, granolas and mueslis will have no preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, and will be packed with whole grains and fibers.

Of course, at first glance this hardly sounds new. Healthy cereals? Aren't there tons of them in the market? Yes, but there is a noteworthy difference here. Most of the cereals claiming to be natural and super healthy are under the names of smaller brands, even though two of them (Kashi and Bear Naked) are owned by Kellogg itself. This new line will prominently indicate that it is from Kellogg, and that could be the start of a deliberate campaign to change consumers' perceptions about what Kellogg stands for. If these cereals take off, the company could become known as a brand to trust, not just one of the mass-marketed cereal companies delivering the typical fare.

This could be the last real chance for Kellogg to get it right. We will have to see how consumers respond to a return the company's Origins.

(Source: BakeryandSnacks.com)