Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review: "natural" Trix

As I have previously this blog is not intended to review every cereal out there - that is an endeavor all its own. But, every once in a while a cereal shows up that needs to be reviewed, and the latest iteration of Trix from General Mills is one such case.

For years, Trix has definitely been on the list of iconic sugared cereals targeted to children. If you look back at the boxes and overall development of the brand over the years it easy to see that this cereal is all about fun. For many years the widely-used phrase "Trix is for kids" said it all. It was sweet, brightly colored, and featured a crazy mascot.

Of course, we all know the pressure that cereal companies have been under to get healthier and tone done the marketing to children. Last year General Mills declared their intent to start eliminating artificial colors and flavors from their cereals. They are now starting to follow through on their promises and a reformulated Trix is the result. The box clearly highlights that it contains "NO high fructose corn syrup, NO colors from artificial sources, and NO artificial flavors." Instead it is "naturally fruit flavored sweetened corn puffs with other natural flavors."

So, does it measure up to the wild and crazy Trix of the past?

Let's start with taste. Actually, let's start by opening the cereal bag. One of things that I always find fascinating (and somewhat disturbing) is how when you open up a bag of cereal with lots of artificial ingredients the initial waft of smell is almost overpowering. It's not pleasant, at least not to me. Now, with more "natural" Trix, that atomic blast of synthetic odor is missing. There's still a hint of that funky "this-isn't-a-healthy-cereal" smell, but at least it's tolerable. And that's a good thing. Back to taste. Not that I was ever a big fan of Trix, but my overall impression remains less than enthusiastic. The taste is definitely more natural, but I can't say that it leaves a heightened fruit experience in my mouth. Overall, the flavors are much more muted.

The texture of Trix is not surprising. Corn puff balls have the capacity to provide some good out-of-the-box crunch and hold together well in milk. The sugar coating adds a layer of protection, and so even after 10 minutes the cereals is far from mush and pleasant to eat. Nothing really new here.

A big part of Trix's past success has been out the experience, but outside and inside the box. The cereal itself has definitely gone down a few notches on the experience scale. The muted flavor does not help. And the colors are so much more boring (and actually very similar to the original Trix decades ago). The more recent blues and greens (despite their artificial nature) definitely added color to the breakfast bowl. These yellow, pink, orange and purple balls just don't match up. With the new formula, General Mills also changed the box. Still hints at fun, but it's a much simpler design indicative of a much simpler cereal. Still some game-y stuff on the back.

What about nutrition? In the past Trix would have scored real low. While the new recipe contains whole grains, and lacks high-fructose corn syrup and those nasty artificial flavors and colors, the overall nutrition profile has hardly changed. It's still over 30% of sugar by weight, and the fiber content hasn't really changed.

In the end, new Trix has become just another boring sugared cereal. I admire General Mills living up to its convictions (albeit consumer pressure), but whatever specialness Trix has had is now diminished. Probably the only thing it has going for it is its brand recognition and equity. If this were a brand new cereal entering the marketing it would be DOA. Sad, but part of the new cereal reality.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Canada AM

Here's an article link and video from my TV appearance this morning on Canada AM:

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Breakfast Bowl on TV

Yours truly will be a guest on Canada AM, the most watched national morning TV show in Canada. Those of you in the Great White North can catch it Thursday, January 7th at 7:40am on the CTV network. On the show I will discuss trends in the cereal industry, and what the future might look like. Be sure to catch it live or later on their website.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year - New Health Emphasis

It's that time of year. Holiday excess has us feeling extra full and guilty, and we're resolved to begin the New Year with an emphasis on health and fitness. Marketers of food, exercise equipment, gyms, etc. are quick to take advantage of this momentary blip of sanity that invades our life before we return to the lifestyle patterns that contribute to our demise.

With 2016 now almost here, the cereal companies are poised to take advantage of the New Year's health craze. It can be argued that healthier cereals are already becoming more and more the trend, but to launch these in late December / early January is perfect timing. This year there are at least two notable examples appearing on grocery store shelves.

General Mills is putting its bets on a massive launch of an expanded Nature Valley line of oat cereals. Nature Valley is already a strong brand, but up to this point has been mainly about cereal bars, granola and muesli. Now, they have three new more conventional breakfast cereals: Honey Oat Clusters, Chocolate Oat Clusters, and Baked Oat Bites. The latter looks particularly interesting, and I will review it in the near future.

Kellogg, already having introduced its Origins line earlier this year, is of course placing its emphasis on its Special K brand of cereals and other food products. Previously the company tried to position Special K as a diet food, but came to its senses over a year ago recognizing that a broader health focus is the way to go. For 2016 they have introduced two new cereals under the "Nourish" sub-brand, both of which are multi-grain flakes with trendy quinoa. Flavors are: Apple Raspberry Almond, and Coconut Cranberry Almond.

These new offerings will have to compete with all the other health oriented cereals that are taking over the grocery aisle, but for health conscious consumers they may provide something new and novel to try before going back to their Lucky Charms and Froot Loops in a few weeks.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cereal photos

Over the years I have highlighted certain creatives who have used cereal artistically, either as a medium or as a way to reveal the unique nature of this food and its place in our culture. With the rise of social media, and Instagram in particular, several notable individuals are regularly posting some fascinating photos incorporating cereal.

By far the biggest Instagram account of this genre is @mister_krisp, the work of Jessica Siskin. Almost daily she creates some amazing items in the form of Rice Krispies Treats, molded and colored. Her work is both fun and spectacular.

Another example is @travels_with_cheerios, a less frequent contributor, but nonetheless cerealicious. This is the artistic expression of 15 year-old Emma Wezeman. Mixing the sometimes absurd placement of cheerios with beautiful photography this feed makes for an enjoyable addition to what often ends up as fairly routine from other Instagramers.

Check them out, and let us know of any others that you are aware of.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Misleading the way to sales

As first pointed out on this blog 18 months ago, General Mills is playing some games with consumers when it comes to its relatively new Cheerios Protein cereal. While not really lying, they nonetheless manipulated the serving sizes on the cereal compared to regular Cheerios to make it look like the Protein variety has substantially more protein, when in fact the difference is minor.

Others have noticed as well, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who recently launched a class action lawsuit against General Mills alleging false marketing. They point out the protein discrepancy, and reveal that Cheerios Protein also has more sugar.

The sad part in all of this is that in an effort to gain market share companies can sometimes resort to trickery to fool consumers (the recent Volkswagen debacle is another great example). General Mills and other cereal companies need to focus on true innovation if they want to increase (or at least hold on to) sales. They can do it, but these kind of shenanigans are not the way to go.

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:

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.