Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is Hitting the Road

We all know cereal sales have slumped. People are just not shopping the cereal aisle of the grocery store. So, what does a cereal company do? Go to the consumer.

General Mills announced today that they will be going on a road trip this summer with a portable Drive Thru promoting Cinnamon Toast Crunch, currently their brand getting the most creative marketing campaigns. This pop up pit stop is targeted to people on road trips, with the first one showing up this weekend at the Grand Canyon. Travellers can sample the cereal, which will include special recipe concoctions. While their press release does not explicitly say so, it sounds like we could see the big cereal box and milk carton in other prominent tourist locations across the U.S. over the next two months.

Again, General Mills has been doing some fun marketing with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, including a selfie spoon offer, among other things. While limited in scope and actual reach, campaigns like this can contribute to a greater brand profile and buzz. Interestingly, General Mills' European partner, Nestle, has also been experimenting with pop-up promotions in malls in Ireland.

So, watch for this new Drive Thru coming to a tourist trap near you this summer. Where would you like to see one?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Burger King Gets Lucky

First it was Froot Loops, but now two months, later Burger King looks like it's serious about cereal flavored frozen foods with the introduction of the Lucky Charms shake. This time General Mills gets the nod, giving restaurant customers a reason to spend more by purchasing this novelty featuring one of their beloved cereals. Sure, it's a gimmick, but a smart tie-in for the both the fast food and cereal giants. Although, at 740 calories and 107g of sugar, if you eat too many of these you might not live enough to remain a customer.

What other cereal flavors would you like to see in a shake or frozen dessert?



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wheaties is looking to the stars (again)

The most frequent editorial comments on The Breakfast Bowl have concerned Wheaties. I have often wondered why General Mills has not taken better advantage of this iconic brand, especially in marketing to men. Sure, they tried several different strategies over the years, and for a time appeared to have success (or at least prominent brand position) by focusing on big name sports leagues, teams and players. But, about ten years ago, sales were soggy and Wheaties had become mediocre. In 2009 they tried by introducing Wheaties FUEL, but that was not well executed. Since then, the company has appeared to be floundering with Wheaties, lacking clarity and marketing focus. Most recently they tried going after the younger crowd with extreme sports, but I doubt that has achieved its goal.

Last month, however, we saw a glimpse of perhaps a new strategy. Or, at least an old strategy revived. General Mills announced that the young golfing sensation, Jordan Spieth, has now signed on with Wheaties and will be gracing the front of a new box coming very soon. Spieth is a big name, and for many is the new Tiger Woods, another Wheaties alumnus. Obviously, the Big G is hoping that his prominence will sell many orange boxes, and perhaps push new energy into the Wheaties brand. It is the first really big star in many years, and could be a sign that, if this works, we could see more big names back on the boxes. (By the way, yes basketball great Stephen Curry was on Wheaties not long ago, but General Mills was going the cheap route - he only appeared in street clothes, as including him in a Warriors uniform would complicated the arrangement due to licensing costs, etc.).

Overall, getting Jordan Spieth on Wheaties is a good move. I am not convinced, however, that it is a strong long-term strategy. Ultimately, General Mills needs to do more with the Wheaties brand, and part of that might mean a close look at the cereal itself.

In the meantime, we'll be watching the stars.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

When brands are toast

There has been much buzz in recent days as General Mills has revamped and expanded its line of "Toast" cereals, built around the highly successful and popular Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The company just announced the introduction of Apple Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a re-branding of last year's strawberry and blueberry Tiny Toast cereals to also join the family. Along with French Toast Crunch, there are now five Toast Crunch cereals, creating a strong sub-brand, a growing trend in the cereal industry. Previously, there have been other flavors as well, including chocolate, and peanut butter.

Of course, the new Apple Cinnamon flavor sounds delightful. But, of most interest here is the quick re-branding of the two Tiny Toast varieties introduced just one year ago. At the time, General Mills touted this as a new brand, but I questioned the strategy, wondering why they did not go with the Toast Crunch designation. One analyst, quoted in Ad Age, suggested that they went the Tiny Toast route to get more attention and grocer's shelf space. Regardless, the company has allowed common sense to prevail, and now they have a strong family of cereals that should be a leader within their portfolio.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The expanding world of Post

When we think about the major players in the cereal industry, most of the attention goes to Kellogg and General Mills, the world's largest cereal companies. Beyond that are several other players, such as Post and Quaker, but these seem to pale in comparison. Or do they?

Post, in particular, is a dark horse that is quietly and quickly gaining momentum to be more than an also-ran, third place contender. Historically, Post was right there from the beginning as a rival in Battle Creek with the Kellogg brothers. Over the years, however, Post lost its edge, falling behind in the pack. Things have begun to change in the last decade after several ownership shifts and reorganizations. This included a merger with Ralcorp (i.e. Ralston cereals) and the purchase of Malt-O-Meal. Previously, Nabisco was incorporated into the company as well. Other brands in the Post portfolio include Better Oats, Mom's Best Cereals, and Peace Cereals.

Last month, another major milestone for Post was achieved with the takeover of U.K. cereal giant, Weetabix. Weetabix itself (i.e. a wheat and malted barely cereal) is somewhat obscure for most Americans, but is an icon in Britain. The purchase by Post not only gives the company a greater foothold in the U.K. market, but gives Post some additional opportunities in the U.S. In addition to Weetabix itself, the Alpen and Barbara's brands are now Post's as well. Post CEO Robert Vitale has said that with this acquisition, "it’s the right time to bring all our cereal brands under one unit." (Source: Food Business News) All of this means that Post's brand matrix is stronger and more diverse than ever. If carefully managed, this could further bolster Post ahead in an already tight cereal market and race.

The company could truly be poised to "be first past the post" (pun intended)!

Monday, May 15, 2017

10,000 boxes Lucky Charms marshmallows coming soon

General Mills' Lucky Charms is one of the best-selling cereals out there, and one of its most-loved features are the colorful marshmallows that accent the experience. It is not uncommon for people to eat the marshmallows only, or to consume the cereal pieces first in the bowl, saving the marshmallows until the end. General Mills' knows all this, and wants to capitalize on it.

A couple of years ago the company held a contest, where 10 boxes of marshmallow-only Lucky Charms were given awarded. Now, they want to play this up to a much bigger scale, with the plan to give out 10,000 boxes! Starting this month, look for specially marked boxes of Lucky Charms that will contain a special code printed inside the box. Visit their website, and if your code matches, General Mills will send you one of the rare, special boxes.

In the past, some have argued that Lucky Charms Marshmallows should be sold in stores, but this is far more valuable to the company. This generous offer creates tremendous buzz for Lucky Charms, and, at least in the short-term, will sell a ton of cereal as people frantically search to discover whether they will be the truly Lucky ones. Such brand energy is just what General Mills needs, and is one of the creative ways that cereal companies must come up with to restore the fun of breakfast cereal amid sagging sales.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Design Matters

Over the years I have, at times, highlighted noteworthy design changes in cereal boxes. In a crowded grocery story aisle, it is critical that a brand have a clear identity that stands out from the competition. Unfortunately, many cereals suffer from either bad design or being stuck in decades old time warp. This is puzzling, especially considering the struggles that the cereal industry is having. You would think there would be more experimentation and innovation with this aspect.

Every once in a while, however, a cereal company breaks the mold and does something fresh with design. For example, recently, we have seen this with the new look at Kashi. And, now another great example rises to the forefront from the United Kingdom. There, the Good Grain brand has gone through a recent transformation, and it looks great!



As you can see in the before and after photos of one of their cereals, they have a adopted a simplistic look that is bright, fun and captivating. Previously, as is typical with most cereals, the box was cluttered with a lot of text, and the obligatory decked-out bowl of cereal. The new design has been radically cleaned-up, and seems to leap off the shelf into the shopping cart.

I hope more cereal companies are paying attention to these design changes. Again, this is an area they seem to have ignored in their quest to turn around sagging cereal sales. It is not the full solution, but it would go a long way to improve the image of these breakfast staples.

(Source: Brand New)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Purely Pinole: A New Twist to Hot Cereal

One of the objectives of The Breakfast Bowl is to observe and comment on trends affecting the cereal industry. On several occasions, including as recently as two months ago, I have probed into hot cereals, and have wondered when someone is going to truly disrupt this rather boring market segment. Occasionally there are signs of innovation, but most of what we see with hot cereal are just endless variations of oatmeal.

After my last post on the topic, I was contacted by Claudio Ochoa, one of the founders of Native State Foods, a recent startup that specializes in somewhat unusual hot cereals based on pinole. To help me understand and assess this new product, Ochoa had several samples sent to me to try.


So, what is pinole (pronounced Pih-NOL)? The company bills their product, branded as Purely Pinole, as an ancient Aztec power food. According to Ochoa, who himself grew up in Honduras eating this concoction, it originated over 500 years ago with the Aztecs, and is still a traditional food in parts of central America. Pinole is made primarily from ground wild purple maize, and then roasted alongside other ingredients such as cacao, cinnamon and allspice. It is cooked with milk, and eaten as a porridge.

For Ochoa the appeal for pinole is much greater than his desire to rediscover a comfort food from the past. Apart from its novel taste and texture, the value of this product is also found in its nutritional qualities. Most notable about pinole is that it is high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. And it addresses all kinds of other contemporary concerns such as being vegan, gluten-free, and without any artificial ingredients. One group of people who have used this formula for years is endurance runners, but Ochoa and his partner, Angela, are hoping that word gets out to many others as well.

Native State Food was founded about two years ago as a side business, but they are working hard to establish the brand and create a line of products built around this power food. The packaging and marketing are done with excellence, and the story of Purely Pinole reaching back to the ancient Aztecs adds a sense of intrigue. Distribution, however, is still quite limited. Apart from their online store, Purely Pinole is only sold in stores in California and the northeast U.S. at this time, so there is limited exposure. Over time they hope to expand beyond that, but are not in a rush. They are focusing on active weekend warriors looking for performance foods, and young moms looking for something nutritious for their families. Their product line is currently limited to three flavors (original, blueberry+banana, and tart cherry+lemon), but soon they will be launching Grab & Go Snack Cups in four additional flavors that can be prepared in the microwave and eaten on the run.

Overall, I have enjoyed my pinole experiences. Trying something unique in contrast to the many predictable hot cereal choices out there has been in itself fun. I cannot say that I would want to eat Pinole every day, but definitely as an occasional treat. The earthy flavors and spices make for a hearty breakfast, but there is flexibility to use this in other recipes. And, speaking personally, I must admit that I felt real good after eating pinole - not something that one say after eating many other cereals.

The biggest challenge that I see for Purely Pinole, is just getting people to try something new and different. And, with that, learning how to cook it, and taking the time to do so. It took me a few attempts to get the knack so that the porridge thickened just right. (One of the lessons I've learned in all this is: make sure you follow their instructions to dissolve the powder fully!) I also found that that with the basic mixes, I needed to definitely add some sweetener (i.e. sugar, honey, etc.) to make this fully palatable. I also tried mixing in some fresh fruit, which added a wonderful touch. To be honest, the tastes of the Grab & Go cups were my favorites, although the serving size is quite small. They are designed for a quick snack, but at 110 calories, not enough for a full breakfast.

If you are looking for a truly unique cereal for breakfast (or any other time), I would encourage you to give Purely Pinole a try. This is not for the sugared cold cereal fans, but for those who want something hearty and nutritious, it just might become a new favorite of yours!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Burger King goes Froot Loopy

Cereal in restaurants is not new, but this latest twist does not involve individual serving boxes with a small carton of milk. According to several news outlets, such as Today.com, fast food giant, Burger King, is partnering with Kellogg to launch a Froot Loops shake this month. The limited time concoction will be available in the U.S. on April 17th.

Fast food restaurants offering unique cereal desserts is also not new. Two years ago Taco Bell utilized Cap'n Crunch on deep-fried donut holes.

I'm surprised we have not seen more of these combinations, as they are win-win scenarios for both the restaurants and cereal companies. For the beleaguered cereal makers, these types of arrangement are tremendous branding opportunities. This "out of the bowl" thinking reinforces the fun and versatility of cereal, something desperately needed to retain and increase consumer interest.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Will Cereal A GO! go?

Over the years I have highlighted various bowl inventions designed to improve the cereal eating experience. Most of these concepts were designed to solve the problem of soggy cereal, by keeping the cereal and milk separate as much as possible.

The latest concept is Cereal A GO!, a two-container system developed by a retired Army paratrooper. In addition to separate compartments for the cereal and milk, it was designed to be used with one hand, making for greater convenience. The user simply squeezes the liquid side and it sprays into the cereal. The attached spoon can be likewise operated with the same hand while hold the device. The cereal can be eaten directly from the built-in bowl, or transferred to a more conventional one.

The inventor, Jesse Fairchild, has patented Cereal A GO!, and is hoping that cereal companies will license the product for selling their products, but also sees application in other setting, such as in relief efforts.

It's an awkward looking device, but in a tight market, something like this might be a solution for the cereal industry seeking to make cereal consumption more convenient for today's picky consumers.

Would you use it?