Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year, New Cereals

January has typically been a prime occasion for cereal manufacturers to launch new products, and this new year is no exception. Here are some of the notable cereals to watch for in the U.S. this month (although a few hit store shelves a few weeks early):


Kellogg's Cinnamon Frosted Flakes - Kellogg probably has realized that they can do so much more with one of the most popular cereals out there, Frosted Flakes. While this is not the first variety ever introduced, it might be the most interesting.

Post Cinnamon Pebbles - Cinnamon has become a popular flavor in recent years, and Post (affirming what Kellogg's sees as well) is relying on that with its latest Pebbles iteration.

Kellogg's Keebler Cereal - Most people are not aware that the famous cookie brand Keebler is actually owned by Kellogg. This is not the first time the company has tried a Keebler cereal, but they are wise in making another attempt, and playing off a strong brand to attract consumers. The 2017 version claims to contain "real mini chocolate chip cookies."

General Mills' Girl Scouts - Announced back in the fall, General Mills is also expanding on its cookie offerings with a unique partnership with the Girl Scouts, and two fun cereal flavors.

General Mills' Very Berry Cheerios - This one has not been officially announced yet, but some sites such as JunkBanter and Cerealously have already come across it in stores. Not the first berry flavored Cheerios, but a bright new extension to this leading brand. The O's feature specks of real berry powders (i.e. blueberry, strawberry, cranberry and raspberry).



Regional differences and responsibility

It is hardly news when a special interest group criticizes the nutritional quality of breakfast cereals. So, a recent report from WASH (World Action on Salt and Health) would normally hardly catch our attention, except for one difference.

In WASH's international survey of breakfast cereals they discovered that not only are there big differences in salt and sugar content in global cereal brands, but that even among specific brands there can be dramatic differences from country to country. Again, the fact that there are regional variations among brands is no big shock, but upon closer examination these differences represent some disturbing implications.

The survey revealed, for example, that Kellogg's Honey Smacks have 25% more sugar in Mexico than the same cereals in Belgium, Spain, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE. Similarly, Kellogg's Corn Flakes has 46% more salt than the same product in Argentina and Brazil. Again, this is likely due to different taste preferences in the various countries, but WASH is rightly concerned that big cereal companies like Kellogg and Nestle/General Mills are irresponsible in even offering foods with such high levels of sodium and sugar. The Honey Smacks example is particularly troubling since Mexico already has one of the highest obesity rates in the world.

Again, this all has to do with reputation and public relations, an issue we examined last week. Cereal companies are not immune from this public scrutiny, and need to work harder to establish themselves as brands that can be trusted by consumers who are increasingly cynical of cereal.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Kellogg and bad PR

Life has been very full the last couple of months, so writing here has been sparse. It's time to catch up, and look forward to expanded coverage coming in 2017! (Reminder: Keep up to date with cereal news and fun on our Facebook page @BreakfastBowl).

The cereal industry has taken some big hits in the past few years with declining sales amid frustrated efforts to turn things around. The big companies, like Kellogg, have been particularly impacted by these shifts, and cannot afford for anything else to further erode their businesses.

One can only imagine then the hand-wringing among executives in Battle Creek in the past month or so when not one, but two, stories stormed the media and threatened to take everyone's eyes off of Kellogg's cereal business, including the introduction of new products, such as new Cinnamon Frosted Flakes.

First, was an Associated Press report that Kellogg misled consumers by not making it clear that its "independent experts" who make up its Breakfast Council are, in fact, paid by the company. Then, only days later, Bloomberg reported that Kellogg pulled ads from the right-wing news site, Breitbart. This latter story could be seen as a positive for those with left political leanings, and a negative for Breitbart supporters (encouraged on by a boycott), but the point in all this is that ultimately Kellogg does not need any of this publicity.

At a time when the cereal industry is struggling, companies are going to have to be extra vigilant to ensure that their actions are carefully thought out, and consistently applied. There can be no room for bad PR to distract consumers. People today are watching closely, and want the brands they buy to be of the highest integrity and representative of their values. Getting media attention for the wrong reasons does nothing to help these perceptions.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bear Naked Goes Wild

Recently I highlighted the new custom cereal venture at Bear Naked, a Kellogg company. Since then I've placed my first order in order to test the process. Within a few days my canister arrived, presented in an attractive box, along with a handwritten note, thanking me for my order. The experience has been pleasant, reinforcing my observation that they are really trying hard to get this right.

Another feature of Bear Naked's version of customization is the inclusion of unique ingredients not commonly found in breakfast cereals, such as jalapeno, lavender, kale and olives. The whole point of that is to position granola as something that can be eaten not just at breakfast, but even at other times in the day when you want stronger, savory flavors. Since my first post, Bear Naked has added several more novel flavors that should definitely get consumers' attention. Most notable, are two non-alcoholic wine varieties, and also a bourbon flavor.

Not having tried any of these truly wild flavors, I can't really comment as to whether these types of granola will start a new eating trend. At minimum, however, these bold additions to the ingredient options should generate buzz, whether or not people actually try them. Of course, the key will be marketing, something I haven't really seen too much of so far.

Give Bear Naked credit for an worthy experiment, and we'll keep watching to see if this adds new life to the cereal industry in the U.S.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Girl Scouts cereals

A venerable part of American culture is the annual sale of cookies by Girl Scouts, a leadership development organization for girls. Now it appears that you could be supporting this respected program by purchasing some new cereals that are being produced for the Girl Scouts by General Mills. There has not been an official announcement on this partnership yet, but sightings of two new cereals have appeared on influenster.com and the Instagram account of candyhunting.

According to the box images, the two new cereals will come in Caramel Crunch and Thin Mints varieties, the latter being a truly innovative flavor for cereal. The cereals are obviously take-offs of cookies. It also appears these will be limited edition.

The big question is whether these cereals will be sold in stores or by the Girl Scouts themselves. We'll be watching for more details, so that we can try them!

UPDATE 10/24/16: General Mills confirmed on Twitter that these cereals will be arriving in January.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Bear Naked goes custom

I've long been an advocate of customized cereals, largely because of the innovation and success of mymuesli in Germany. There were several attempts in the U.S. over the years, but earlier this year when the last one closed, it looked like those small-scale ventures were the last gasp for giving American consumers the opportunity to create their own cereal mixes. But, others are still seeing the potential, including MyCerealMix, a small player; and, now I have discovered that Kellogg-owned Bear Naked also launched their own customization effort earlier this year.

Bear Naked Custom Made Granola is a website (bearnakedcustom.com) that allows consumers the opportunity to create their own granola recipe and have it shipped to them in an attractive canister. On the surface this is very similar to the other companies that have entered this field at some point, but there are some noteworthy differences. First, this is a well-designed online store, backed by one of the major cereal manufacturers. Second, they are stepping outside the ordinary with fifty different non-GMO ingredients, including several very novel ones for cereal, such as jalapeno, lavender, kale and olives. These diverse ingredients allow for some out-of-the-box combinations, including some "chef blends" with names like "Chocolate Strawberry Jalapeno," and "Olive You, Kale."

The ordering process is pretty simple, although there are certain limits when creating your mix. There are only three granola bases to start with, and you can only add three additional ingredients. Bare Naked brags that their website is powered by IBM's Watson to help you create the perfect blend, but I have not found that feature to be that useful. Once you have determined your recipe, you get to choose from one of five canister designs, featuring a different styled bear. The price is $9.99 for 11oz, and that includes shipping.

This is a major development. For the first time a major U.S. player is entering the custom cereal market. So far, this seems low profile, as I haven't seen any advertising, other than a few social media posts. It somehow passed my notice until now, and I doubt that many others have really tapped into it yet either. If Kellogg wants this to be successful they will need to find some way to get the word out, and entice consumers with the opportunity to create cereals that they might actually eat!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

What impact will new GMO disclosures have?

I recently noticed that a number of cereal boxes from Kellogg, General Mills and Post were starting to appear on grocers' shelves with an inconspicuous phrase indicating that they are made with genetically modified organisms (GMO's). This is the result of a new federal law that will require certain foods to be labelled as such.

Pressure has been mounting for this type of legislation, as many consumers are concerned about the health effects of GMO ingredients. This labelling will provide people the information they need to make informed choices.

Of course, a brief mention on the side of a cereal box is likely to be missed my most people, but it does raise the question as to whether this will have a further negative impact on the sale of major brands of breakfast cereals. Will this give health-conscious consumers one more reason to look for alternatives? Certainly, some cereals are non-GMO, but more are not. Cereal manufacturers will need to pay close attention, and respond accordingly if it appears that this labelling further tarnishes cereal's reputation.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: 2016 Pumpkin Spice Cereals

Fall is now officially here, so it is finally appropriate to review the three new pumpkin spice cereals that have hit the grocery aisle in recent weeks. Pumpkin spice has quickly become the trendy flavor for this time of year, almost to the point of overkill. Nevertheless, at least so far, this has come to be the foundation of comfort foods preparing us for the cooler, darker days ahead.

Last year I reviewed the first ever such cereal, Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice. I was thoroughly impressed, and it remains one of the highest rated cereals I have ever reviewed. Apparently Kellogg has re-released this cereal this year (although I have not seen in any stores yet), but my intent this time is only to review the newcomers to the market: General Mills Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, Kellogg's Special K Pumpkin Spice Crunch, and Quaker Life Pumpkin Spice. This will be one review, but of these three cereals.

Taste. Of course, the whole point of these cereals is the taste. People crave the pumpkin spice flavors (usually comprised of such spices as nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves), and these products had better deliver. The challenge that cereal makers have is creating a recipe that highlights the special flavors, but without being overwhelming. For the most part, these three cereals do that, finding a good balance using varieties of existing high-profile cereals on the market. If I close my eyes and taste, the pumpkin spice theme definitely is there, but to varying degrees. Probably the most disappointing is the Cheerios, as in my assessment the cloves are much too pronounced (and I'm not crazy about cloves). The Life edition provided the greatest surprise, with a strong kick of spice on first bite. The Special K seemed to have the best balance of flavors, with the leftover milk in the bowl providing a great treat in itself. One other point of interest, the Cheerios was the only one of the three listing actual pumpkin puree as an ingredient. RATINGS: Special K (5), Life (4), Cheerios (3).

Texture. In many ways texture should not be a big surprise since two of the cereals (i.e. Cheerios and Life) are almost identical to their originally flavored sibling. The woven Life squares are lightly crunchy, but soften as they bathe in milk. Cheerios the same. The Special K version emphasizes "crunch," which is largely achieved by a light sugar coating of the flakes. Overall, it is the latter that shines - the crunchy flakes hold their own even after sitting in milk for 10 minutes. RATINGS: Special K (5), Cheerios (3), Life (3)

Experience. These cereals are all about the experience, which includes the taste, but incorporates so much more. As indicated earlier, they tap into our emotional needs as we enter autumn. So, to a certain degree they all achieve this, with their fall colors and images on the boxes. But, it is Cheerios that really stands out. The predominately orange box stands out, and more importantly the cereal itself (partly due to the fact that they use real pumpkin) has an orange tinge. Life and Special K don't go these extra miles. RATINGS: Cheerios (5), Life (4), Special K (4)

Nutrition. This discussion sometimes kills the fun, but in the end food should provide nutritional value, pumpkin spice cereals included. Life Pumpkin Spice comes closest to retaining the value of original Life: slightly more protein than many cereals, and a reasonable amount of sugar. The other two definitely work on sweetness, almost hitting 30% of weight in the form of sugar. Beyond that, they all emphasize whole grains, are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and are free of artificial flavors. RATINGS: Life (4), Special K (3), Cheerios (3)

Overall. If you want the full pumpkin spice immersion this fall, then incorporating one of these breakfast foods will be worth it. In the end, they all come out pretty close, but none can beat out Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice. If you have to choose from these three new ones just one go with the Special K. I would encourage you, however, to try all three, because, remember, these are limited edition cereals. In a few months they will no longer be available and you might miss the opportunity. Of course, by that time you will also be so tired of pumpkin spice in your life that you'll be ready for something different! RATINGS: Special K (4), Life (4), Cheerios (4).

(Review protocol here)


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Could milk-coated cereals be the future?

Scientific research and development is always trying to discover new and better ways of doing things, and this applies to food science as well. An interesting and relevant project coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture might form the future for food products. They have been working on milk-based packaging for food, that could also be used to spray on foods such as cereal to form not only a protective coating, but added nutrition as well.

In this video from the American Chemical Society the technology is explained, and they mention how they have tried this on Wheaties. One of the benefits they noted is that the milk protein coating actually keeps the cereal crunchier; but there are many yet answered questions: What is the nutritional value? How does it taste? And, probably most important, will consumers accept this as a new way to eat cereal?

Regardless whether this works or not, it is great to see innovations that could potentially revolutionize the way we eat, cereal included. The future could be less packaging waste, more convenience, and less soggy cereal!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cereal by the numbers

I came across an interesting article this week on the website, data-driven thoughts, the work of data analyst, Erik Rood. He explores a wide-range of topics, all centered around looking deeper into the numbers.

A few months ago Rood tackled the issue of our favorite breakfast food in his article, "The golden age of cereal." The most fascinating insight from this analysis is that "nearly half of all cereals last less than 5 years before being discontinued." In other words, manufacturers are trying all kinds of recipes and ideas, but most do not succeed. In fact, the pace of new cereals introduced is increasing, illustrated by the fact that "the majority of cereals have been launched in the past ~10 years (over 1/3 of all cereals."

The article is brief, without too many more great discoveries, although his table of cereals and the time that they have been on the market, is a great resource. Rood also offers a few reflections based on this data as to how cereal companies might reverse declining trends.

Check it out. It's a short, interesting read!