Tuesday, December 12, 2017

General Mills looking for love

Maybe it's not big news, but in these challenging times for cereal companies, attempts to turn the tide are at minimum interesting. Last week General Mills unveiled a new (or at least updated) logo, the sixth in almost 90 years. Changing the corporate logo by itself is hardly going to really impact cereal sales, but it is a sign of how the company sees itself, and how it wants others to see it.

At first glance, the changes might not be apparent. The big "G," which has been at the core of the company's identity remains. But, added to that is a bright red heart, all accompanied by a new tagline, "Making Food People Love." 

Obviously, the slight modification is a direct, albeit subtle, attempt to tug at consumers' emotions, humanizing a large, global corporation. But, in the end, not much has really changed. I doubt, for example, that most people will even consciously notice the change. Branding and logo expert, Armin Vit, minimized the significance of the change, saying that "a heart, coming from one of the biggest companies in the world, feels so inauthentic. Even if they mean it — and I’m sure they do — it’s like, no, just be a money-making company and leave all of our collective feelings at the door."

I guess the test will be if more love finds it way to General Mills.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Kellogg's sweet dilemma

One of the major problems facing the cereal industry today is the perception that many breakfast cereals contain far too much processed sugar. This has irritated health professionals, concerned parents, and nutrition conscious people in general who are increasingly turning to other morning food options. For years the big companies have been feeling the heat, and in response have modified their recipes to utilize less sugar, salt, and artificial ingredients; and, in turn, increase the use of fiber-rich whole grains.

Yet, despite the efforts of Kellogg, General Mills, and others to reduce sugar, the transition to more healthful cereals is not at all simple. Kellogg discovered this recently when they announced radical changes for cereals that are targeted to children in the United Kingdom. For example, they stated that Coco Pops will see a 40% reduction in sugar, and 20% less in Rice Krispies. Ricicles (called Frosted Rice Krispies in the U.S.) will be discontinued altogether. Frosties (Frosted Flakes in North America) will not be changed, however, will no longer be marketed to children.

On the surface, this all sounds good, but there is much more to the story here. First, it is important to note that Kellogg UK is really late to the game. We have known for quite some time that despite the reformulations that have taken place in the U.S., this was not happening to the same degree in Great Britain. Cereals there have generally contained 30% more sugar than their U.S. counterparts. So, across the pond they have been resisting this change, but obviously realize that they can no longer do so. These latest moves are nutritionally sound, but do demonstrate that companies like Kellogg are not as committed to nutrition as they would like you to believe. Ultimately, instead of doing the right thing, they wait as long as possible until there is enough pressure forcing them to do so.

The reason for this reluctance is the fact that even though many want them to change, there is a large group of consumers who do not want their beloved cereals to be tampered with. In Britain, for example, there has been an outcry from those who do not want Ricicles to leave the market. Companies understand this, as was seen in the recent move by General Mills to go back to their less healthy, artificially-enhanced Trix formula. Even Kellogg UK recognizes this, as it is unwilling to meddle with Frosties, one of their best-sellers. This means making compromises, even as some critics call them out for their hypocrisy, believing that claims to no longer target children are ineffective and hypocritical.

In other words, reducing sugar and otherwise making popular cereal brands healthier is not as easy as it appears. Cereal companies are feeling lots of pressure from all sides, and realize that finding the right balance is difficult in a challenging market.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The real significance of new Super Mario Cereal

The Internet was abuzz within the past couple of weeks with the news that Kellogg was partnering with Nintendo to launch a new, limited edition Super Mario Cereal that will be available by December 11th. This is far more than just another cereal with marshmallows, but one that is associated with a prominent video game adored by many consumers. On these facts alone, it is easily one of the most "fun" new cereals to launch in quite some time.

That all makes sense, so the hoopla is not unexpected. Of course, this isn't the first video game-themed cereal (think Donkey Kong in 1982, Pac-Man in 1983, and a 1988 Nintendo Cereal System brand also featuring Super Mario, along with Zelda). But, what makes this latest Nintendo branded cereal really stand out is the fact that the box can actually become part of the electronic gaming experience.

Built into every box are NFC (near-field communication) tags that be detected by the new Nintendo Switch game controllers, which is similar to how Nintendo's "amiibo" figurines can also be linked up. When the controller and the box are in contact, users receive virtual gold coins or hearts as power-ups during the game. In other words, this cereal is more than just a promotional item - it also functions as an accessory.

Nintendo has been regaining cachet within the video gaming world with their new Switch system, and this tie in with cereal will certainly add to their growing brand capital. But, this should also be a boost to Kellogg as well. Interestingly, however, the Kellogg's logo is not found on the box cover, so being downplayed many consumers might not even realize this comes from the Battle Creek company. Nonetheless, in addition to the sales of cereal, this could be a tremendous learning experience for Kellogg on how to partner effectively with other strong brands.

I have long advocated that there are many opportunities for more co-branding between cereal companies and non-food entities. Obviously, this is not new, but this latest Kellogg-Nintendo partnership suggests that it could be taken to a much higher level. We've seen movies, TV shows and sports heavily linked over the years, but what about clothing, cars, music, travel, causes, etc.?

All this might be just what is needed to get people eating out of their bowls regularly every morning.

(Image: Nintendo)


Sunday, November 26, 2017

What's the deal with granola?


When thinking about breakfast cereal, most of the attention is directed to the highly-processed cereals coming from the mainstream cereal companies. These are highly marketed, and get the most shelf space in the grocery store. Yet, often the grandfather of cereals, granola, seems to be missing in the discussion.

Granola is still a thing. In fact, go down any cereal aisle and you are likely to see a plethora of granola varieties, although they are usually in their own section, away from the boxed cereals that take up most of the space. Obviously, people are still eating granola, and we even see the big companies buying up granola startups and instilling innovation in the category, as with Kellogg's Bear Naked brand.

Granola goes back to the late 19th century, and came out of the same cereal-based health craze that also brought us corn flakes and the modern cereal industry. Granola gained new life back in the 1960's health food movement, although, interestingly, despite its whole ingredients, often contains as much or more sugar than many conventional cereals. Compared to other cereals, however, granola stands out as unique because it is typically based on oat flakes, and is mixed with a wide range of other ingredients, such as nuts, dried fruits, and sweeteners like honey. It is fairly easy for almost anyone to make themselves, and to this day many people still do that. Granola has its roots in the United States, and has similarities to its Europen cousin, muesli, although the latter is not baked or sweetened.

One of the main reasons for granola's continued prominence is its versatility. It can be eaten with milk, but is also easily blended with yogurt, and is a much more interesting snack food than conventional cereal. Granola can also be used as a topping on desserts, and made into other forms, such as the ever popular granola bars.

All this to say: granola remains a big part of the cereal equation, even though its significance is often underestimated. There is probably room for growth in this sector if companies are able to find unique selling points. The problem, however, is that granola faces the same challenges as other cereals. There are way too many brands, and not enough innovation. Sure, some claim to be organic, all natural, or with unusual ingredients, but it is hard to really stand out. Ultimately, this side of the grocery aisle is getting just as crowded, and suffers from the same problems confronting the entire industry.

Do you eat granola? Why or why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cereal companies desperate to see what sticks

Although its hard to quantify, it certainly seems that 2017 could be one of the most prolific years ever (or at least in recent history) for new cereal introductions. A quick review of this year, reveals a plethora of new cereal brands and varieties, ranging from the usual infusion of new Cheerios to the reintroduction of classic Trix to the countless recipes brought out by smaller players. There are, in fact, so many new cereals coming out now that The Breakfast Bowl does not even bother to report on most of them, unless they stand out as truly unique or innovative. Quite frankly, most of the new cereals are quite boring and even predictable.

Why the recent surge in cereal introductions? In short, it's because cereal companies are desperate to find some new magic bullet that will help turn around overall slumping sales. The hope, of course, is that they will stumble across a brand or flavor that will go viral and boost sales revenues. So, they keep throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

For consumers, and especially true cereal enthusiasts, this can be a fun time. The abundance of options fights against the boredom that has been growing for this food category. Sadly, however, many of these new products will never catch on, and will quickly disappear from the grocers' shelves, never to be tasted again.

Yet, there's more to come. Typically, the beginning of a new year, which is just around the corner, sees a number of cereal launches. We just came across one of these. A video from midwest grocer County Market shows a taste test of some supposed new cereals coming from General Mills in early 2018: Lucky Charms Frosted Flakes, Peach Cheerios, and a new flavored shredded wheat product called Shreds in peanut butter chocolate and Cinnamon Toast Crunch varieties. And, we are very likely to see Kellogg and Post pull out all stops as well with some great introductions.

What has been your favorite new cereal of 2017? What are you hoping for in 2018?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Kellogg cleans up Corn Pops controversy

At a time when cereal companies are struggling to retain (let alone increase) market share, the last thing they need is bad publicity. Yet, this is what happened to Kellogg last week, when sharp-eyed, morning cereal box readers noticed something unusual on the back of their Corn Pops. The back panel of the box featured a cartoon with many Corn Pops characters, and standing out was one with a darker, brown complexion portrayed as a janitor. Quickly Twitter lit up as people took offense to the racial insensitivity of the artwork, seemingly playing on a stereotype that this is the type of work done by people of color. Embarrassed by the controversy, the company quickly responded on Twitter saying that "Kellogg is committed to diversity & inclusion. We did not intend to offend – we apologize. The artwork is updated & will be in stores soon."

The response was rapid and appropriate, but it really makes one wonder how something like this could get out to market as it did. Hopefully, a lesson learned.

(BTW, if you can find one, pick up one of these boxes. Recalled cereal boxes typically have significant value in the future).


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Is Post's lawsuit in the bag?

The cereal industry is struggling, and you know that desperation is in the air when lawsuits start flying. This is what happened just a few weeks ago when Post Consumer Brands sued General Mills for patent infringement of its bagged cereal displays.

Bagged cereals have become a big hit for Post, which now owns MOM, the maker of Malt-O-Meal cereals, most of which are brand-name knock-offs sold in large bags. Consumers have gravitated to these cereals because they are cheaper. And price is a big driver in the grocery aisle. General Mills, recognizing MOM's success, and probably frustrated by the attempts to copy some of their big names, decided to get in the game themselves, but with their genuine cereals sold in bags. The issue here is not the bags themselves, but the way they are merchandised. The suit claims that General Mills is using a "copycat merchandising system that imitates Post's innovative divider and merchandising system for bagged cereals." As you can see from the image here, included in the lawsuit, the presentation on the shelves is almost identical, pitting the big-name branded cereals against the cheaper imitations.

Imitation is sometimes considered the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case Post wants to protect something that is working for them. If the lawsuit is won, this would change the shelf displays, but I doubt that the bags themselves are going away anytime soon. We'll watch with interest.

(Source: Minneapolis StarTribune)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

General Mills ramps up the winter cereal race

It's not only Gingerbread Spice Life that is catching people's attention as we get closer to winter. A number of sources recently revealed that General Mills will soon be making Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms available in limited edition varieties: Cinnamon Vanilla Lucky Charms and Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs. These will be available at Target, and should be fun comfort foods for the shorter days ahead. I'm sure we'll see others as well, including the annual appearance of Christmas Cap'n Crunch.

Further examples of how seasonal cereals are a great marketing strategy for cereal companies!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Gingerbread Spice Life!

There are many new cereals introduced each year, and most are not worth reporting on. But, occasionally some stand out, and here is a great example. According to Candy Hunting Quaker will be introducing a limited edition Gingerbread Spice Life cereal, likely before the Holiday season.

While not the first gingerbread cereal - there have been a few attempts by fringe brands over the years - this marks a major cereal maker tapping into this flavor. This should do well in the grocery stores, as people will be drawn by the emotional connections the tastes and aromas bring. The packaging also looks great - not cartoony, but a serious variety based on a serious cereal.

Will be you trying it?

(Image source: Candy Hunting)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Trix behind classic cereals

Big news in the cereal world today, as General Mills announced that they would be bringing back Trix with all the artificial flavors and colors you used to love, although no word yet on any change to the sugar content. It was just two years ago that General Mills announced the move to remove these artificial ingredients, as part of a longer trend of making their cereals more healthful. "Classic" Trix is not a limited time promotion, but will sit permanently next to the more tame, "natural" Trix on grocers shelves.

Obviously, the move to a greater health focus has a downside. In the effort to satisfy critics of highly sugared cereals targeted to kids, interest in these beloved breakfast brands has decreased. The newer Trix recipe is much more bland and less interesting, or "boring" as I called it in my review. Despite all the altruism, it was apparent to General Mills that people really want the bright and flavorful version embedded in most people's memories. In a time when cereal sales are sagging (evidenced by other news today that General Mills' profits have declined due to weaker cereal revenues), it was time to go back to what worked in the past.

The initial reaction by consumers has been extremely positive, although some hoped that the one-time popular fruit shapes would return as well, something that General Mills said may still happen. For cereal enthusiasts, this move today is very significant, and provides hope that the good old days of cereal fun may return. We have seen many examples before by General Mills and others of using vintage packaging to tap into nostalgia, and in some cases, successful cereals of the past have been reintroduced, such as Post's recent relaunch of Oreo O's. But, to go back to a previous, less healthy recipe, is largely unheard of. I have long held that reintroducing classic cereals could be a boon for cereal manufacturers, even if these were limited editions. Maybe today's move will inspire other reintroductions.

There is a problem, however. What if these classic recipes take off (as they certainly will), overshadowing their healthier shelf-mates? General Mills and others will have no business choice, but to keep the older formulas, and drop the less interesting newer varieties. In other words, this is the New Coke versus Classic Coke dilemma of the 1980's, but with cereal. The problem is that this puts General Mills back into the crosshairs of those who believe that highly-sugared cereal with artificial ingredients should not be sold, or at least not targeted to children.

No matter how the future unfolds, today's reintroduction of Classic Trix is a significant move in the ongoing cereal saga.