Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Consumers Want: Favorites from the Past

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote on how General Mills may have misread consumers in their recent push to use non-GMO ingredients. It seems like the company is starting to get it, now going after what consumers really want. Evidence of this comes just a few days ago when they announced the return of a cereal they discontinued eight years ago, French Toast Crunch.

Obviously, in 2006 the executives at General Mills figured that sales were not sufficient for this variant of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch series (which incidentally just celebrated its 30th birthday) so they dumped it. What they did not realize is how passionate some people were for this cereal. The loyal following made their disappointment known, and some even went to great lengths to get some from Canada where it has remained available. With the recent growth of social media the pressure on the company seemed to increase, with even one fan (@FTCtoUSA) creating a special Twitter account to rally fans around the purpose of getting General Mills to bring their favorite cereal back.

It has worked, and in the New Year grocery shelves will be brimming with the red boxes. Fans are ecstatic, a point that General Mills is quick to highlight. Who knows if French Toast Crunch will really make a difference in overall sales for the company, but at this point it is better for them to listen to what consumers really want and to tap into their passions. At minimum they have earned tremendous goodwill and have a powerful story to tell.

I personally do not have any special memories of French Toast Crunch, but I will be trying it out again (and featuring a review here). I do hope, however, that it becomes a trend that other cereal manufacturers will follow. As I've discussed on several occasions before, bringing back nostalgic cereals (not just retro boxes, but actual cereals) would be a great way to re-energize consumers who are tired of many of the current offerings on the market. General Mills has done this previously with their Halloween monster cereals, and I believe that there are many other opportunities out there. For example, Adweek just highlighted five other cereals from the past that appear to generate significant Twitter chatter: Oreo-O's, Waffle Crisp, Nesquik cereal, Pop Tarts Crunch, and the monster cereals.

What cereals would you like to see return, even if for a limited time? (My short list: Freakies, OKs, and Pink Panther Flakes).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Weight Watchers cereal

With Holiday excess in full swing, there are many companies preparing themselves for the annual ritual performed by those who try to counteract the effects of too much egg nog with the discipline of weight loss. In the cereal world, up to this point Kellogg has dominated this market with its broad and diverse Special K line, but recently they have struggled targeting weight management and appear to be adjusting their approach.

But with the next wave of weight loss seekers striving for a solution to their waist lines, MOM Brands is entering this niche market with a line of cereals taking advantage of a licensing agreement with Weight Watchers. This new line-up will likely have credibility for many consumers, and will appeal to those following the Weight Watchers program (each cereal lists its PointsPlus value) and those simply hoping to shed a few extra pounds.

The new cereals will come in five flavors: Frosted Shredded Wheat with Protein, Whole Grain Honey Nut Toasted Oats, Oat Clusters with Cherries & Almonds, Chocolate Frosted Shredded Wheat, and Oat Clusters with Almonds.

Whether or not these cereals will actually help people lose weight is still to be seen, but for MOM this is a smart marketing move. More companies need to establish strategic licensing agreements like this to gain a foothold in consumers' minds. We'll see if they can supplant Special K in this category.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What do consumers want?


As cereal companies struggle to find the product and marketing strategy that will bring success, it often feels like they are throwing Jell-O at the wall to see what sticks: New products, new flavors and varieties, re-designed packaging, niche targeting, etc. Unfortunately, these seldom bring breakthroughs.

At the beginning of this year General Mills thought that non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients in Cheerios and Grape Nuts would attract consumers who had to choose between many different brands (including generic knock-offs) in the grocery store aisle. Naturally they would pick the non-GMO cereals and see General Mills as a trusted, safe brand. Right? Not so quick.

According to an AP report not long after the change, there is no evidence that sales of General Mills' GMO-free cereals have increased. While it could be argued that it is the right thing to do, and certainly many consumer advocates have praised the decision, the bottom line is that most people simply do not care. A couple of months ago, General Mills' shareholders reinforced this view by casting a vote 98% against a proposal to remove all GMO's from the company's products.

The point is that making a move like this is not the answer to the downturn in cereal sales. Consumers are not easily impressed with all these marketing maneuvers. For the small minority that are committed to eating non-GMO foods Cheerios might now be an option, but the reality is these individuals are likely buying other cereals from a brand with a stronger, more consistent health focus. Perhaps General Mills is already understanding this, as is reflected in their recent purchase of Annie's.

Again, it's innovation that is going to turn around the cereal industry. Hopefully this recent experiment at General Mills will reinforce the fact that grasping at straws rarely works.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Killer concept in London

In my last post I highlighted how mymuesli is creatively reinventing cereal in Germany. But, this is not the only European company taking cereal to a new level. This time we go across the pond to London where two brothers (and identical twins!) are preparing to open a cereal restaurant called Cereal Killer Café. Sure cereal restaurants are not new - I've been talking about them here for over eight years - but this goes beyond the much more limited attempts in the U.S.

Alan and Gary Keery have a grand, passionate vision for their cereal amusement park. Claiming to be "obsessed with everything cereal" they are going all out, offering over 100 different kinds of cereals from numerous countries. And to make it even more interesting there will be 12 varieties of milk and 20 different toppings. But, this is more than about cereal as a food. For true breakfast enthusiasts they are creating a nostalgic café  where hundreds of pieces of cereal memorabilia from the 80s and 90s are displayed. Here you will not only be able to get a great bowl of cereal to consume, but you can immerse yourself fully into an experience that celebrates cereal culture.

This will be a fun venture to watch, and it may provide a template for what cereal restaurants should be like. Cereal Killer Café may not be easily scalable, but it offers far more excitement than the much simpler model adopted by early innovators like Cereality. In the home of breakfast cereal, the U.S., there is no reason that something like this could not be successful.

(Special thanks to several Breakfast Bowl followers who brought this to my attention: Lynda, Luke and Jerry!)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is the future of cereal in Germany?

A theme that has come up regularly in the last couple of years, both here and in the larger media, is of the troubles facing the cereal industry. You've heard it: Americans are turning away from cereal and manufacturers are floundering trying to figure out what to do.

While there are exceptions to the doom and gloom, we may want to look to Europe to see an example of fresh, creative thinking that may provide some ideas as to how the North American cereal industry could reinvent itself. Specifically, I am thinking of a seven year-old German company that has been thinking outside the box, both literally and figuratively, and creating a whole new market for cereal.

I first came across mymuesli in 2007 shortly after its launch, and at that time I asked whether it was the "cereal of the future?" They were offering custom-made cereals that could be ordered online and packaged in canisters. Their marketing was slick and obviously the product must be equally impressive because they have grown and are now expanding through 15 modern, trendy stores across Germany and Austria, plus their cereals are now available in over 100 cafes and stores.

Of course, American ingenuity was quick to copy. If it would work for mymuesli, it should work in the cereal center of the world, the U.S. Right? Not so quickly. Some tried, like [me]&Goji and MixMyGranola, but both eventually failed. More recently we've seen MixMyOwn enter the market, but it is hard to gauge their success.

While American attempts at customized cereal have been lackluster, this does not mean it cannot work here. I strongly believe that with the right business model this could be one of the ways in which cereal could have new life in the future.

First, let's learn from what makes mymuesli successful. Their success is not simply because they setup a website and sold personalized mixes. Certainly that was novel at the time, but innovation and creativity remain hallmarks of their work. Yes, they continue to give people the opportunity to customize their own recipes, but they are putting much more emphasis on unique pre-made formulas(like a current season's paprika-pumpkin granola and an autumn muesli, and unusual varieties like a cereal for those following a paleo-diet) in specially-designed canisters,  convenient "mymuesli2go" portions, and super-creative ideas like a cereal advent calendar. They have created a premium brand that goes way beyond the mass-marketed cereals found in supermarkets. And, now with their boutique stores they have accentuated the brand even further among the discriminating tastes of Europeans.

It is important, of course, to point out that the place of cereal in continental European society is much different than in North America. They do not have a history of eating cereal for breakfast, and although cereal consumption is increasing it is nowhere close to the U.S., even with recent declines. This definitely gives mymuesli an opportunity to create a new market for itself. It is also important to understand how muesli fits into all of this. Muesli is very European, and in some places like Switzerland is a regular part of their diet, but more in the evening than at breakfast. Muesli is a wholesome cereal built around whole foods, unlike the highly processed cereals of North American laden with sugar, sweeteners, and artificial colors and flavors.

Despite the differences, I still contend that while American entrepreneurs should not simply copy mymuesli, there are numerous things to learn that could not only lead to success, but could ultimately reinvent the cereal industry on this continent. In simple format, here are some key insights that may be transferable to a North American attempt of something this bold and innovative:

1. Go after the high-end. Don't bother trying to compete with the mass-market cereals. There are enough people out there looking for something nutritious, fresh and different.
2. Don't just rely on an Internet store. Cereal needs to be an experience. Boutique stores in upscale shopping areas in larger cities that also offered a cereal bar experience (remember the cereal restaurant craze of few years ago?) could be a hit if executed well.
3. Customization is more than giving people the ability to create their own. Use that small-scale customizing ability to come up with a whole range of unique formulas that incite creativity and viral conversations.
4. Get beyond granola, and possibly even muesli. Granola is passé, and muesli (while an opportunity for growth) is not understood in North America. There is room to work with ingredients and forms familiar to us, but presented in exciting new ways.
5. Success in the U.S. is going to require adequate capitalization. A small start-up without adequate funding may not be able to get the traction to breakthrough in this highly competitive climate.

In my opinion, mymuesli is possibly the most exciting cereal company in the industry today. Period. I know that during my next trip to Germany I will be checking them out personally. I hope that cereal entrepreneurs and companies will take them more seriously, and take another look at this amazing company.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kashi returns to its roots

It was not even one year ago that I commented on Kellogg's disappointment with Kashi, the natural food brand it had acquired fourteen years ago. It was becoming obvious that Kashi had lost its niche appeal and was becoming just another mainstream cereal brand. Coming under the Kellogg umbrella and relocating to Battle Creek has domesticated Kashi and lessened the passion that some consumers had for its cereals.

According to Food Business News Kellogg is recognizing that its big corporate approach to such a loved specialty brand isn't working and that Kashi needs to return to its roots. Last month the company announced that David Denholm, the former General Manager for Kashi in 2006-2008, is returning as the CEO of Kashi and that business will return to La Jolla, in southern California, where it was founded. Kellogg executive Paul Norman admitted that "when you come off a trend of health and wellness, you slip to the side, it can be quite painful," and that these latest moves are designed to "get on the front foot and get forward back into progressive nutrition."

This is an important move for Kellogg during a time when cereal consumption is shrinking and the big companies are struggling to be competitive. Breakfast cereal is not just about big business, but taps into people's passions and emotions. Executed well, this has the potential to give Kashi the boost it needs. If it works we may see similar moves at other brands.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monster evolution

This is not new news (I highlighted it on the Facebook page last month) and in many ways I wonder whether it deserves yet another complete blog post, but the annual release of General Mills' Monster Cereals has become such a highly successful and expected campaign that it probably does require special attention. At least this year again.

Just in time for Halloween every year General Mills provides a limited release of these popular cereals that have their origins back in the 60's. These are nothing less than fun cereals that fit the season and elicit all kinds of nostalgia for those of us who grew up on these sugar-laden breakfast treats.

Last year General Mills went big time with the Monster Cereals, even re-releasing two of the franchise that had been hidden in the vaults for many years, Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy. In addition to the bold, modern artwork they also released vintage boxes of all five varieties at Target.

So, how does a company keep up their past successes? Try a new twist. This year, they have acquired the talents of artists from DC Comics to give a fresh look to the three mainstay monsters, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry. Unfortunately Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy have returned to retirement, but for cereal enthusiasts and box collectors the three redesigned monsters are must buys. And, those looking for retro boxes can return to Target for a new, old version of those (complete with cut-out masks)!

General Mills has a real winner here, and it's good to see them mix it up every year with something different.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Special K is thinning

With summer winding down I need to catch up on a few recent stories. One of the most notable comes out of Kellogg's latest financial update. Normally I do not comment on most of these earnings calls and corporate news items, but this one is of particular interest. Not only are cereal sales down (no real news here), but their current flagship line, Special K, has been losing appeal as a weight management brand.

Over the last decade Kellogg has found a winning solution in a highly competitive market with Special K. They took an old, stodgy cereal product and created an entire franchise out of it. In 2006 they expanded the line and today Special K is not only on the labels of at least a dozen cereals, but the line also includes frozen foods, bars, treats, chips, crackers, shakes and drink mixes. Despite the strong branding, it now appears that consumers, still struggling to control their waistlines, are beginning to move on to other solutions and fads.

According to an AP interview, Kellogg CEO John Bryant sees that consumers want more than just calorie counting now - they are looking for cereals with more specific nutritional benefits. He said that "there's a shift in consumer expectations." To counter this they will be developing new products that highlight the nutrition qualities people are looking for. For example, they have been recently focusing on "The Protein Effect", a group of Special K products higher in protein (a trend also recognized by General Mills), and they have introduced hot cereals with trendy grains like quinoa.

It is good to see Kellogg recognize the shifts around them and make adjustments. The question is: Will they be able to rise above the clutter with an emphasis on good nutrition? At least with weight loss they had a cereal category all their own. Now they will have to go up against many other cereal brands fighting the same battle and competing for the same dollars, including some of their own brands like Kashi. We'll be watching.

(Source: newser)

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)