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?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Froot Loops celebrates Canada's birthday

One of the aspects of cereal culture that has made it so endearing is the fun experiences that some brands and varieties provide. Despite the gloom and doom in the cereal industry, there are occasional glimpses of creativity, and we have discovered one example in Canada. According to Instagramers @junkfoodcanada and @candyhunting Kellogg is about to introduce a special edition of Froot Loops in conjunction with Canada's 150th birthday this year. Birthday Cake flavour Froot Loops look just plain fun, even though we will have to reserve full judgement until we have a taste.

Recently we have seen several innovative cereals showing up in the Great White North, such as Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch oatmeals. Who knows if any of these cereals will make it to the U.S. or other markets, but we can only hope!

(Image source: candyhunting)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Honey Nut Cheerios seeds of hope (or despair?)

It's finally spring, and with that General Mills is celebrating the arrival of the equinox with a marketing campaign mixed in with a dose of social responsibility. A couple of weeks ago the company launched #BringBacktheBees, a program designed to highlight the unexplained decline of bees in the world. To do so they utilized the best-selling cereal in North America, Honey Nut Cheerios, as the platform to get this message across. Specially marked boxes in the U.S. and Canada feature Buzz the Bee missing, with only a silhouette in its place. As part of the promotion consumers were invited to request a package of wildflower seeds so that they could contribute to nourishing the bees around them.

Apparently the seed giveaway has been a resounding success, even exceeding General Mills' goal. 1.5 billion seeds were distributed, and their website says they have none left. This is a feel good campaign that not only raises the profile of the cereal, but creates of lots of goodwill for the company as well.

Except, however, for some controversy. Apparently some environmentalists, as reported on Lifehacker, have urged people not to plant these seeds since many of them are flowers not native to the United States, and therefore not necessarily a good match for the bees. The fear is that this could actually cause more damage than good. General Mills countered these concerns on the Cheerios Facebook page claiming that "the seed varieties in the mix are not considered invasive."

Most of this "buzz" has been good, but it seems that cereal companies just cannot get it completely right nowadays!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The growing significance of Bear Naked

In the past month some new Bear Naked cereals have been appearing on some grocers' shelves. While that might not sound like big news, it actually is since these are the first of their cereals to come in boxes and not as pure granola plays. It appears that there are three new Bear Naked varieties: Chocolate Almond Clusters, Toasted Coconut Clusters, and Sweet Honey Clusters. While they contain granola clusters, these cereals are based around multigrain flakes.

I first came across Bear Naked 11 years ago, and at that time was impressed with their creative marketing and pouch packaging. Kellogg also took notice, and by the end of 2007 had purchased the cereal startup. Since then, despite some branding updates, Bear Naked has largely been a granola manufacturer. Things started to change, however, last year when they began a serious foray into custom cereals, the first time for one of the major cereal companies. Now, in 2017, with these new boxed cereals Bear Naked is ready for the mainstream. Within the larger Kellogg family Bear Naked appears to be focused on delivering hearty, natural cereals; a unique position compared to the health-food image of Kashi, and the more conventional varieties under the Kellogg label. It may also be that Bear Naked will accomplish what big K was hoping to accomplish in their lackluster Origins line launched two years ago.

Bear Naked is quickly emerging as a strong brand, and with continued focus could provide Kellogg a powerful new place in the minds of consumers.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The expanding Raisin Bran(d)

With the literally hundreds of cereal options available to consumers, manufacturers have a challenge keeping their brands from all the clutter. The trend in recent years is to build on already successful brands, instead of trying to launch out with something completely new. For this reason we now see super cereal brands like Honey Bunches of Oats, Cheerios, and Special K, each offering a myriad of flavor and nutrition variants in order to catch people's attention in the grocer's aisle. If you like a cereal such as regular Cheerios, it is not a big leap to venture out for some variety with flavors like chocolate, ancient grains, or honey nut.

The latest example of this strategy is Kellogg's Raisin Bran, one of the best selling cereals on the market. The Battle Creek company has been gradually adding new cereals to the Raisin Bran portfolio, including three quite recently: Crunch Apple Strawberry, Cranberry Almond Granola, and Raisin and Honey Granola. This now brings to seven the number of offerings with "two scoops of raisins" along with fiber-rich bran.

The new Crunch Apple Strawberry, in particular, looks real interesting, and something I definitely want to try. I suspect others will as well, and that is just the way Kellogg wants it.