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 the 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.

Eat your veggies ... at breakfast

This isn't a new topic, but one that deserves a fresh look.

Recently, UK cereal maker, Dorset, introduced a new variety of muesli: "Gently Spiced Carrot & Apple." That's right, carrot. This comes from a niche company that makes well-crafted muesli and granola cereals, and with some of the most beautiful packaging in the industry. This particular recipe sounds wonderful, and is billed as inspired by carrot cake.

To be fair, Dorset is not the first company to incorporate vegetables into cereal. Others to do so have included Bitsy's Brainfood, Love Grown, and vegetable ingredient options for the custom mixes from Bear Naked. Apart from the fact, however, that Bear Naked is owned by Kellogg, vegetables as a primary ingredient in cereal have yet to hit the mainstream with the major brands.

But, perhaps they should. For consumers looking for novel ingredients and tastes, and maximum nutrition, it may be time for the cereal industry to put their dessert cereals aside, and eat their veggies first. In a declining industry, they have nothing to lose.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Technology to address sugar

Earlier this summer General Mills applied for a patent to reduce sugar in breakfast cereals, but without changing other important properties such as texture, appearance or bowl life. This is accomplished by coating the cereal in high-intensity sweeteners (i.e. maltodextrins, which are essentially short chains of glucose molecules).

The real point of this patent is not actually the technology itself, which, by the way, is fairly innovative. What matters are the problems that this solves. Consumers are wanting a reduction in sugar, but simply reducing the amount of sucrose creates its own issues. Obviously, less sugar means blander taste. In addition, the baked sugar in cereal is what gives it its crunch, brown color, and helps keep it from getting soggy. In other words, changing the recipe is not simple as it sounds.

Because of these extra properties that come from sugar, one cannot just use an alternative ingredient, such as an artificial sweetener (which has additional drawbacks for consumers) or fruit juice, etc. Again, you might help with the actual sweetness, but many of the other desirable properties will be compromised.

Food science may be one of the strategies that could help the big cereal companies address the needs and high demands of consumers, while maintaining a great breakfast experience. In this example, General Mills might just be on to something.

SOURCE: Food Business News

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Monsters and other seasonal cereals

This isn't new (it was actually announced almost a month ago), and it's hardly news (since it happens every year at this time), nevertheless, it's that time of year again when General Mills unveils the latest edition of their monster cereals. This year's Halloween specials are the same, familiar crew: Boo Berry, Count Chocula and Franken Berry. Of course the box design is tweaked, and this year we see the introduction of "monster marshmallows."

Ho hum. Perhaps. But, the truth is that if these three cereals were available year round their ubiquitousness would have killed them long ago. In fact, that almost happened, and two of the monster team (Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy) are no longer with us (despite a brief resurrection in 2013). To prevent the whole franchise going down, General Mills adopted a strategy that now makes them one of the most anticipated cereal events of the year: They are only made available in conjunction with Halloween, and then put to sleep for the rest of the year. Their annual fresh appearance generates lots of attention, and I'm sure, sales.

While this is the best example of a seasonal strategy for cereals, there are some others as well. For example, Cap'n Crunch typically has a "Christmas Crunch" edition, with red and green pieces. The recent trend of Pumpkin Spice appears to be another case, with last year's four cereal contenders back again for 2017. There are other, less prominent, examples as well.

I wonder if cereal companies could do more to capitalize on the annual rhythm of the calendar, and offer special editions that are come out regularly each year around the same time? For example, the Advent calendar concept offers many possibilities. What about a Peeps cereal at Easter? Seasonal cereals could be a tremendous opportunity to generate new interest and reduce boredom at the breakfast table. The cereal industry needs that.


Friday, September 01, 2017

Cereals that "move"

Today, cereals have to stand out in order gain attention among consumers. Typically, the approach is to make either fun cereals or those that are focused on health and nutrition. What if you could combine the two?

Probably the best example of creative, "out of the box" thinking among health-oriented cereals comes from two irreverent startup brands that highlight high fiber and the effects it can have on the digestive system. These cereals definitely get noticed, mainly through their names. Snickers and juvenile reactions aside, it seems to be working, at least for one of them, so far.

Eight years, a small Canadian firm came up with Holy Crap, and since then it has become a well-known, albeit niche brand in that country, but also available in some U.S. stores as well, and online. While the name is bold, the cereal is no-nonsense health food, and now comes in several varieties, and some line extensions.

Now, building on that outlandishness, a U.S. cereal maker has come up with Poop Like a Champion. Their website has a Monty Python feel to it, which is just the anti-establishment feel they are going for. The "ultra high fiber" cereal contains 16g of roughage, and bills itself as "The Number 1 High Fiber Cereal for Number 2's." It appears to be available only on Amazon at this time.

While this type of bathroom humor marketing has its limits, it does represent the fresh approach that may be needed for some cereals to get noticed in today's stuffy cereal marketplace.