Thursday, March 22, 2018

goh-goh: Just add water

One of the frequently stated reasons for the decline of cereal consumptions is the trend toward greater convenience among consumers. Pouring a bowl of cereal with milk seems to be too arduous for some people, prompting them to switch to alternatives like bars and yogurt. For decades, cereal has come in convenient, single-serve packs, but there is always the problem with the milk. There has been some innovation with double-containers to keep the cereal and milk separate until consumption, including an attempt by Kellogg in 2005, and a more recent invention last year; but none of these have taken off.

Canadian company, Sunny Crunch Foods, has come up with a different approach: individual cereal cups with powdered milk - only water is needed to make your breakfast. Branded as goh-goh, this new line of on-the-go cereal has been recently available in Canada, but this month is making its U.S. debut in 7-Eleven stores, with planned expansion to larger grocery retailers. Executive Vice-President, Jeff Wagoner, told me that a challenge they face is that because of the uniqueness of the product buyers do not yet know what to think about it. "But, once they realize the value-added aspect of having the milk already in the cereal (just add cold water), it being shelf-stable and portable (take it anywhere), coupled with the all-natural ingredients aspect makes Goh-Goh Cereal Cups an exciting new product entry into the breakfast category!"

To be fair, this is not the first attempt of cereal cups with powdered milk. A few years ago, U.K. cereal maker, Mornflake, introduced a similar product, but it is no longer available. Perhaps one reason is they used skimmed milk powder, which many consumers do not find palatable. goh-goh uses whole milk, which is designed to come much closer to what people are used to in their cereal.

Currently, goh-goh comes in four granola flavors: Blueberry Greek Yogurt, Chocolate Chip Crunch, Honey Hemp & Flax, and Raisin & Almond. Wagoner said that they are planning to introduce other types of cereals (i.e. corn flakes, puffed rice, etc.) as well.

The company sent me some samples, and I will be posting a review of them in the coming days.

So, are you interested in this type of convenient cereal?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Is the future of cereal in flavor?

The big question in the mind of cereal manufacturers and marketers is how to bring new life to a food commodity that no longer has the same appeal to consumers. We have frequently discussed this problem and the possible innovations that could make a difference, but perhaps one obvious factor may be overlooked: flavor.

A recent article in Food Business News examines the issue of flavor in cereal and reveals some of the interesting possibilities ahead for our favorite breakfast food. Author, Jeff Gelski, provides a comprehensive view the various factors behind flavoring cereals, making for an interesting read. He suggests that flavor provides a tremendous opportunity for innovation, and that new flavors are about to hit the market, like mango, chili pepper and honey, and candy.

The point in all this is that there is much room for creativity and pushing new boundaries when it comes to cereal. Most of what we see out there is a re-hashing of what has been done before: marshmallows, fruit flavors, chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon, etc. Rarely do we see something that completely disrupts the market, and yet the industry is in desperate need for something that captures the imagination of consumers. And, with many people eating cereal outside of breakfast, there is probably a real market for such varieties as spicy and savoury.

Back in 2016, I highlighted Kellogg owned Bear Naked's foray into cereal customization. Modeled after Germany's mymuesli, Bear Naked allows online customers to create their own combinations, now with such wild options as lavender, pale ale, jalapeno, bacon, bourbon, coffee, chipotle, beets, wine, olives, kale and curry, among more conventional choices. It's hard to say how popular these choices are, and this approach is still far from the mainstream.

Maybe it's time for a startup to take this on, or better yet for the big cereal companies to step outside of their comfort zone and present consumers with some choices that will truly get their attention.

What cereal flavors would you like to see?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Copy if you're Lucky

There are more exciting things to report on here than every time a cereal manufacturer changes a color, shape or marshmallow. That happens all the time, and for the most part is just gimmickry.

So, last week's official announcement that Lucky Charms would be introducing a permanent, new marshmallow in the shape of a unicorn immediately generated an eye roll from me. This followed another announcement less than two weeks earlier that the hourglass marshmallow would be discontinued. Big news, huh?

Normally this would be overlooked (despite the fact that some people actually care about this), but there appears to be something else going on here. This is the second time in the last few months that General Mills is stealing a page from the Kellogg playbook and incorporating it into Lucky Charms. This seems to be more than just coincidence.

Late last year we reported on the new Kellogg's Unicorn cereal that is coming out this March. With all the hype over unicorns lately, we should not be surprised that General Mills wants into the action as well, hence the new marshmallow and new boxes highlighting a unicorn!

And, of course, there was the other Kellogg moment at General Mills when they recently introduced Frosted Flakes Lucky Charms, blue box and all, playing off of Kellogg's successful Frosted Flakes cereal.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it makes me wonder if General Mills has given up on true innovation, and now is just reacting to whatever other good ideas they see out there?

Monday, February 19, 2018

The art of box redesigns

I have long argued that the box has been the most important aspect when it comes to breakfast cereal. No other food has been sold more on the basis of its packaging than with cereal, and the designs and characters found on cereal boxes have had a profound effect on our psyches and the larger culture.

Over the years we have seen every cereal brand update its boxes with fresh designs and artwork; however, most of the time the changes are incremental, providing more of an evolution than a true transformation. It is recognized that boxes have to keep up with the times (and competition), keeping consumers engaged.

So, while change is a constant, two recent prominent cereal box redesigns have caught my attention. Very recently, actually in the last few days, I came across a fresh new look for Kellogg's Froot Loops. Up to this point, most of the heavily sugared, "fun" cereals have been cartoonish, touting largely flat designs and solid colors. This latest edition is bold and energizing, placing emphasis on the mascot (i.e. Toucan Sam) and not on the cereal name, and giving him a much more realistic 3-D look. Even the bowl of cereal is different than what is typical, showing a side view of a glass bowl, jumping with excitement. I'm assuming we'll see many other Kellogg cereals adopt this style, and that should really make them pop on the shelves. Good job, Kellogg!

Another redesign has also recently been noted. This time it is not one of the big brands, but a smaller company that focuses on organic, health food cereals. Canadian-based Nature's Path is the leading independent brand in this segment, and has carved out a significant presence in most grocery stores across North America. Obviously, they are going for a different look than Froot Loops, focusing on natural ingredients and messaging that reinforces their health orientation. With the changes they have announced, they are moving away from a more serious look to one that is somewhat less stuffy. This is accomplished with new layouts, stronger colors and more irreverent typeface. While in an interview with Packaging Design they gush over the changes, I'm not convinced the new boxes are all that they could be. In many ways, the new design is too busy, distracting from the serious cereals that Nature's Path is selling. The company also has a sub-brand, Envirokidz, targeted to children. These boxes are getting a new look as well, and these seem a much better fit.

Again, these are just two examples of many box redesigns we have seen over the years. But, they illustrate the challenge that companies have in doing this. It is certainly not as easy as it seems, and the ultimate tests will be consumer reaction and sales. Having said that, however, very few of these design changes really make a big difference, as most companies are much too timid to try something truly "out of the box." There are some exceptions, however. Two of the best cereal box transformations that I have seen in recent years come from Kellogg-owned Kashi and Britain's Good Grain. Kashi went super simple focusing on a super-enlarged cereal piece on each white-spaced box, giving a distinct appearance. Good Grain demonstrated how to move away from a conventional cereal box also with greater simplicity, and pronounced color schemes.

Changing cereal boxes is not by itself going to turn the tide of declining sales, but if cereal companies want to revitalize this industry, one important strategy is to focus more on the box, and the messages these important vehicles send to consumers looking for something interesting.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Are cereal companies waving the white flag?

We all know that breakfast cereal is gradually losing its appeal among consumers. Sure, a large proportion of the population still enjoy a bowl most mornings, but increasingly, consumers are turning to other options. This is not new, and the big cereal companies, mainly General Mills and Kellogg, have long felt the trend first-hand, prompting them to diversify their brand portfolios to include a wide range of other food products, ranging from yogurt to cookies to meat alternatives.

Last week, during Kellogg's quarterly earnings call, we not only saw further evidence of this diversification, but a blatant admission that the future might not be centered around cereal. According to Food Industry News, CEO Stephen A. Cahillane said, "you shouldn’t look at U.S. Morning Foods and say this is going to be the growth engine for the Kellogg Co." Despite all their efforts, net sales for breakfast foods fell another 5%. Cahillane did state that they have to do more. In fact, he owned up to the fact that "getting people excited about it is our job to do. And we can do better in brand building in the United States."

Again, these trends are no surprise, but stating outright that breakfast foods (i.e. mainly cereal) are not the growth engine for Kellogg is evidence that the company is already looking past cereal, to greater opportunities in other food sectors. Callihane confessed that they are moving "from primarily a cereal business to much more of an innovative snacking business." Certainly, this does not mean they are abandoning cereal at this time, as it still is their core, but it does suggest they may be resigned to allow it to shrink while focusing on areas which they believe have greater potential.

It appears that the white flags may be reluctantly coming up, and that in the process the big cereal companies will no longer drive true cereal innovation. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: General Mills' Blasted Shreds

This blog examines the significant news, trends and cultural impacts of cereal, so we rarely do actual reviews of the hundreds of brands and varieties out there. Nevertheless, every once in awhile a new cereal shows up that stands out from the predictable offerings in the grocery aisle, and worthy of an official taste test. General Mills' new Blasted Shreds fit this bill.

We became aware of new Blasted Shreds (or simply "Shreds") last fall, when reports started coming out about several new cereals to be introduced by General Mills in 2018 (including Lucky Charms Frosted Flakes). On the surface, this appears to be just another whole wheat mini-biscuit, of which there are several on the market, such as Post Shredded Wheat, and Kellogg's Mini-Wheats. But, Shreds takes shredded wheat to a whole new level. These are highly flavored and sweetened, promising the best of taste and whole grain goodness. And, showing they're serious about this new brand, General Mills launched the brand with two powreful varieties: Peanut Butter Chocolate, and a co-branded Cinnamon Toast Crunch one. For this review, both will be examined together.

We start with taste, and these cereals are rich in flavor. That is their selling point, incorporating familiar tastes that consumers will quickly gravitate toward. I concur. These were delightful. The naturally-flavored Peanut Butter Chocolate was perhaps a little too sweet on first bite, but once soaking in milk it all came together well. The Cinnamon Toast Crunch edition was OK, but not quite as good as original CTC. Somehow, with shredded wheat in the mix the popular cereal taste did not fully deliver, but nonetheless worth eating.

Shred's texture is almost perfect. The small biscuits are easy to eat, even without milk. The well-blended flavorings prevent them from coming across as straw, as is common with shredded wheat. Add milk, and even after 5 or 10 minutes, these cereals hold up well and perform as one would expect and desire.

There is more to cereal than when it is in your mouth. As an important part of food culture, the intangibles influence appeal as much as taste and texture. Again, Shred's deliver. General Mills was not interested in producing just another typical cereal brand, but was instead intentional to get people's attention. The box design presents a bold image of energy and taste, and the flavor choices themselves indicate a new cereal of great interest. And, for what it's worth, the experience of picking up a box is itself significant. This is a highly dense cereal, and a full box (of average size) has great heft, weighing almost one and a half pounds.

General Mills is quick to emphasize that "Whole Grain is the 1st Ingredient." As a shredded wheat cereal, Shreds should be very wholesome, and for the most part, they are. Each 55g serving contains 7g of fiber and 6g of protein. The great taste, however, comes at a cost. The sugar content (22-23%) is slightly above ideal (20% maximum), and the addition of oils make the fat content (4.5-5g) much higher than is typical in most cereals. Broadly speaking, Shreds are nutritionally far superior to many cereals available today; but don't be fooled, this is not health food brand.

Ultimately, reviewing Shreds was not disappointing. This is one of the most innovative developments from one of the big cereal manufacturers in quite some time. They should be a hit, and the prospects are good for this brand to expand to other flavors as well. So, if you haven't already, you should try them! They are not perfect, but all things considered, deserve a complete collection of Breakfast Bowl points!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The new world of cereal mashups

One of the big stories right now in the cereal world, first reported back in November, is General Mills' introduction of Frosted Flakes Lucky Charms in the past few weeks. This new product has captured the imagination of many cereal lovers, bringing together two of the most loved tastes.

On the surface, this appears to be a major win for General Mills, hitting their rival Kellogg right in the jugular, going after big K's GRRREAT brand. Fortunately, for imitators, Frosted Flakes is not a registered trademark, but General Mills did not stop with just the name - they also tried to copy the feel of Tony's cereal by going with a blue-themed box and an all caps, white typeface.

But, despite the marketing coup, is this cereal really that special? It's just Frosted Flakes with marshmallows, or Lucky Charms with flakes, depending on how you look at it. Apart from the intrigue of this combination, it is unlikely that it will persist. Even most of the reviews I've seen have been far from enthusiastic for the taste.

What is really significant here is the way that this mashup represents a new level in the battle among cereal companies and for the wallets of consumers. This is no ordinary new variation, but the leverage of two hot brands to create a new super product. This may be a way for cereal companies to generate new interest in cereal, tapping into existing emotions and creating creative recipes based on familiar tastes. Many people mix their own cereals anyway - now it could be done for them!

What mashups would you like to see?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Cereal Year in Review: The Great Quest

As we come to the end of 2017, it is a good time to reflect on the past year, the key stories in the cereal world, and the overall themes we observe. It has been a busy year for those of us captivated by our favorite breakfast food, as cereal companies are trying hard to regain their foothold in an industry that is losing ground among consumers, especially younger generations.

Of course, most noticeable to almost everyone, lots of new cereals were introduced. This year, however, there seemed to be more than ever and the pace of introductions appears to be accelerating. Predictably, there was the typical round of special edition cereals brought out seasonally, such as fall and the holidays. And, numerous line extensions, with new varieties of core brands, like Cheerios. Most interesting, however, was the launch of cereals connected with already strong brands. Post reintroduced Oreo O's after a decade hiatus, and followed up with similar concepts such as Honey Maid S'mores, Chips Ahoy and Nutter Butter. Also, notable for this past were the reintroduction of Classic Trix, and Kellogg's recent partnership with Nintendo to bring us Super Mario.

Behind all the new cereals and marketing initiatives, the real story for 2017 is the quest of cereal companies to turn around the long-standing downward trend in sales, which, as reported by Food Business News, continued with another 2.3% decline compared to the previous year. Post, however, seems to be bucking the trend, eeking out a 0.14% increase. As we come to the end of the year, signs are that things may be turning around, with a late report, last week indicating that General Mills had a 7% U.S. cereal net sales increase, with Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese's Puffs showing the biggest increases.

While it is far too early to tell if these glimmers of hope are part of an industry reversal, at minimum, they reveal that the frantic efforts of the big cereal companies may be paying off, if even only for the short term. The significant number of new cereals introduced in 2017 indicates that cereal companies are trying hard, not giving up on yet on this multi-billion dollar food sector. As I have indicated previously, much of what they are trying to do is to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks. In this way, they hope to find something that will be the breakthrough they so desperately need. Kellogg's recent announcement of a Unicorn cereal coming in the spring of 2018 may be the best metaphor of the ongoing quest for the elusive goal facing the cereal industry.

So, what's ahead for 2018? From what has already been announced, it is evident that the flood of new cereals will continue. These should, at least, keep consumers somewhat engaged, with the ongoing hope that the silver bullet will be found. Innovation remains the key for manufacturers, but eventually someone has to come up with something that will shake up the industry.

If I were to go out on a limb, I would like to believe that this next year will see further advancements in cereal restaurants, and that the big players will use experiential locations to generate new excitement and interest in cereal outside of the traditional retail channels, and in environments that they can better control. Kellogg has already a jump on the others in the U.S., just having opened their permanent location in New York City, but there is so much more room for experimentation and creativity in this space.

Regardless, pull up a bowl of your favorite cereal, and watch with anticipation for what lies ahead.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Searching for unicorns

Unicorns have always been an object of fantasy. The mythical creatures are highly desired, but so far impossible to find.

Cereal companies, desperate to return to the good old days of cereal dominance, are in a similar quest for a seemingly equally elusive prize. As we have seen over and over, they keep trying by launching new products. In recent months this has evident in new cereals coming from General Mills and Kellogg. And, just this week Post got attention with the announcement of two new cookie-branded cereals: Chips Ahoy and Nutter Butter.

And, now, fitting to the unicorn metaphor, Kellogg has announced that in the U.S. this spring they will be introducing a limited edition Unicorn cereal, a revised take on a Froot Loop variant they recently released in the U.K. The new cereal is billed as being cupcake flavored, and should definitely attract the attention of children and others fascinated with unicorns.

There's an additional element to this story. While the new Unicorn cereal will not be in stores until March, their announcement ties in with the launch of another big Kellogg happening this week, the opening of their larger, permanent Kellogg's NYC cereal restaurant (a development we reported on this summer)  If you are in New York you can try the new cereal there now.

As we come close to the start of a New Year, it is typical for new cereals to be introduced. Will one of them be the true unicorn that will fulfill the fantasy of cereal executives and fanatics all at the same time? We keep hoping. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

General Mills looking for love

Maybe it's not big news, but in these challenging times for cereal companies, attempts to turn the tide are at minimum interesting. Last week General Mills unveiled a new (or at least updated) logo, the sixth in almost 90 years. Changing the corporate logo by itself is hardly going to really impact cereal sales, but it is a sign of how the company sees itself, and how it wants others to see it.

At first glance, the changes might not be apparent. The big "G," which has been at the core of the company's identity remains. But, added to that is a bright red heart, all accompanied by a new tagline, "Making Food People Love." 

Obviously, the slight modification is a direct, albeit subtle, attempt to tug at consumers' emotions, humanizing a large, global corporation. But, in the end, not much has really changed. I doubt, for example, that most people will even consciously notice the change. Branding and logo expert, Armin Vit, minimized the significance of the change, saying that "a heart, coming from one of the biggest companies in the world, feels so inauthentic. Even if they mean it — and I’m sure they do — it’s like, no, just be a money-making company and leave all of our collective feelings at the door."

I guess the test will be if more love finds it way to General Mills.