Thursday, March 27, 2014

Strategies

Cereal sales are in decline. We know that, and so do the cereal companies.

In going over some of last month's chatter from big cereal CEO's it is interesting to read what they think the solution is. They all recognize that cereal is core to their business, and that some fine-tuned strategies are required to get back to the prominence they once had.

I encourage you to read some of the reports on the CEO's comments (see links below), but here are the major highlights:

Kellogg recognizes the need to reinforce the benefits and value of cereal at breakfast.

General Mills is planning on more product innovation and targeting marketing to four growth sectors: older consumers, millenials, middle-class consumers in emerging markets, and multicultural families (particularly Hispanics).

Easy to say. Hard to do. But are these strategies that will really turn things around? Only time will tell, but while these general statements are on the right track implementation will be critical, and I wonder whether the big companies have what it takes to really respond to what consumers are looking for.

Sources: brandchannel, and BakeryandSnacks.com





Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ingredient trends

Innovation in the cereal industry takes many different directions. One of the ways that companies try to gain attention is by incorporating ingredients that are either novel or in high demand. In recent years we have seen various ingredient trends emerge, everything from chocolate to chia. Industry publication, BakeryandSnacks.com has recently identified a couple of current hot ingredients to watch.

One is green tea, something already being used in South Africa. Green tea has been shown to assist in weight loss, and with the obsession of many people to lose the bulge this could be appealing to consumers looking for an edge.

Another ingredient is carob. The dark brown flour is being researched for its antioxidant properties, and could offer some unique qualities in a breakfast cereal.

We'll keep watching. Of course, we will want to taste as well. In order for cereals based on unconventional ingredients to take off they have to be flavorful and something people will love to eat!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Perfecting Cereal Milk

It's not a new concept. For several years now a number of attempts have been made to convert the cereal experience into a beverage. So far nothing has really stuck. Breakfast drinks themselves have been around for years and are still readily available. The deliberate introduction of a cereal-flavored drink goes back nine years, and several have tried since, even has recently as this past year. But, as a category this has not become the sought after breakfast alternative.

The latest entrant to the race is an upstart simply called "Cereal Milk". Even though the product isn't even available yet, I am intrigued with their creativity. They are still working on the formulas and trying to arrange licensing agreements with major brands (no easy feat), but if they can get it right their vision could be the breakthrough that will make this fly. I especially like the glass bottles!

Check out their website, including the video. It will be worth watching their progress.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sink Bowl

Over the years it's been fun to report on new concepts for cereal bowls. Inventors try to overcome some of the challenges we face when eating cereal, mostly the issue of sogginess. The latest is the "Sink Bowl" a design concept by Sherwood Forlee.

The Sink Bowl is actually two bowls, one stacked on top of the other. The top bowl has a small plug in the bottom. When your cereal has been in milk for just the right amount of time you simply pull the plug to let the milk drain out to the lower bowl.

Perfect? The Sink Bowl does not appear to be available for sale so I haven't actually tried it, but for those are picky about soggy cereal this could be a solution. My concern is with the small little plug and the attached cord. There's got to be a better way to handle that, but then of course it wouldn't be a sink!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

When all else fails change the box

A regular topic on this blog over the years concerns the struggles of General Mills' Wheaties and the various attempts to revitalize this brand. So far nothing has really worked.

With Wheaties' sports emphasis it's no surprise that they just unveiled two new boxes featuring two Sochi gold medalists. Even though General Mills is not an official sponsor of the Olympics they are capitalizing on the athletes themselves, this time Mikaela Shiffrin and Sage Kotsenburg. This post-Olympics strategy has been going on for quite some time, 2012 and 2010 as recent examples.

The story here, however, is not more Wheaties boxes with athletes on them. It is that this is an opportunity for General Mills to highlight a major redesign of the core Wheaties box itself, the first such move in many years. In actuality they released a generic version of the new design back in the fall, but now with these star athletes the fresh look is fully expressed and promoted.

The boxes have a new energy to them, with a revamped wordmark all brighter and gradient oranges, all obviously targeted to a younger audience. The boxes definitely will stand out more on the grocery store shelf.

But, will this new look result in more sales and a rejuvenated brand? Only time will really tell.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal featured an article the same day on Wheaties' struggle, including a quote from yours truly. Unfortunately, they got the quote partly wrong, as I was referring to the now discontinued Wheaties Fuel, not the base Wheaties. So, Wheaties lovers relax. I know there are some of you out there!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sweet potato cereal?

At first glance this appears to be either a joke or perhaps disgusting, but it is a real possibility. Food giant Nestlé has filed a patent for manufacturing crunchy, extruded purple sweet potato puffs for use in breakfast cereals and cereal bars. This could offer a natural way to add color to cereal from a plant that has a number of valuable nutritional qualities.

A patent does not make a product, and we still need to see what Nestlé or its licensees come up with. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see some innovation at the ingredient level.

Still, are we ready to buy a box of Sweet Potato Pops at our local grocery store?

(Source: BakeryandSnacks.com)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Bakery on Main - Extreme Fruit and Nut

It's time for a review of a fringe cereal brand. I can't and won't review every new cereal that hits the market. That would be overkill, besides who is really interested in every little nuanced new variety of Cheerios or Special K that is introduced? But, every once in a while I come across some unusual cereals that catch my attention, and for the next two reviews I will try them and share my findings.

Recently during a trip to Target I came across some pouched cereals from a company called Bakery on Main from Connecticut. In many ways the packaging was not that spectacular and it said that it was a granola (a largely passé cereal type), but upon closer examination I was intrigued by what I saw through the clear window on the bag. This was no ordinary granola, but clusters largely embedded in miniature corn bowls. In fact, granola is a misnomer as there are no rolled oats to be found anywhere. This is something different so I fell for it and brought a bag home.

Bakery on Main had its start as a health food bakery creating items for Celiacs, those with sensitivities to gluten. The Gluten Free Granola I brought home obviously is targeted to that audience, but the unique nature of the cereal pieces themselves might just stand out enough to the rest of us as something worth trying.

Bakery on Main makes several different granolas. The one I chose is "Extreme Fruit and Nut" as that sounded like a great combination to me. I must say, before I really dig into the review categories, that my biggest disappointment with this cereal is that it could not fully live up to its billing. Opening the pouch I did discover a smattering of almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts, but virtually no fruit. The ingredients list raisins and cranberries, but I had to look hard to find any. Digging deeper it was evident that there were a few lone pieces in the bag, but so few that it in the first bowl I poured not a single fruit particle appeared. This is hardly extreme, unless by that one means extremely stingy. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming that being a small operator they haven't yet figured out the quality control issues of mixing and packaging cereals with very small ingredients of various weights. Nevertheless, this was not a good way to start my review.

As far as taste is concerned this is a delightful cereal. Don't be put off by the gluten free talk. The combination of nuts (and fruit, supposedly) along with a wide range of other ingredients such as rice, coconut, sunflower seeds, and flax seed in the little corn shells add up to what they promise: "Happy Taste Buds". I agree. It's not overly sweet, and the blend of flavors make for a pleasant experience.

With such a wide range of wholesome, natural ingredients one shouldn't be surprised that cereal's strongest suit is its texture. Out of the pouch or soaked in milk this cereal keeps its crunch, and provides a wide range of chewing experiences that make eating enjoyable.

This is serious food, and if you are truly focusing on a healthy breakfast you will find this cereal an experience to enjoy, which is not something you can always say about health foods. Besides the quality taste and texture, the unique nature of this "granola" is in itself intriguing and worth exploring.

Bakery on Main prides itself on the nutrition qualities of its foods. This cereal is not only gluten free, but emphasizes that it is casein free, non-GMO, transfat and cholesterol free, low sodium, etc. The focus is on natural ingredients, and as a result there are no fortified vitamins and minerals. Overall it is a fairly nutritious cereal, but as with many "granolas" the fat content, albeit low in saturated fats, is somewhat high at 43% of calories. Fiber and protein quantities are OK, but not great. A positive is that the sugar level is within the 20% of weight range.

In the end this was a pleasant surprise for me. Except for the mysterious missing fruit, this is a quality cereal that stands up to most cereals on the market. If you are looking for a new cereal experience from a small manufacturer this should be on your list. In fact, you might just want to try one of their other varieties as well, such as "Cranberry Orange Cashew Granola".

(Review protocol HERE)
  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's about the Meal

There has been much talk about the decline in cereal sales and the challenge that provides to cereal companies. There are many options available to consumers today, and decreasingly is conventional cereal one of them.

General Mills, like the other big companies, is trying various strategies to turn people back to cereal and their brands in particular. One of their more interesting recent attempts is to change the focus from cereal to families eating together, something that rarely happens today at breakfast. The Family Breakfast Project is "a way to help you get creative about your morning – to make it easier, more fun and meaningful". The idea is that if people put more focus on breakfast as a family meal, cereal will be a more frequent choice than the quick, grab-and-run options that are appearing.

Changing the conversation might just be what really needs to happen for cereal's future.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Review: Post Poppin' Pebbles

Recently I pointed out the introduction of a new variety of Post Pebbles cereal that seems to be getting lots of attention and buzz. Pebbles limited time variants are becoming quite common, but this one is rather innovative because of "Poppin' Pieces" that fizz in your mouth. Again, I don't normally review every new cereal that shows up in the store, but this one deserves a closer taste.


Starting with taste, it is by and large conventional Pebbles: highly sweet and loaded with both natural and artificial flavors. If you like candy for breakfast Pebbles is the closest thing to it. This particular variety highlights "Burstin' Berry", which is evident but still within the range of what I expect from Pebbles. Certainly it is flavorful, but way over the top for what I like in a breakfast cereal.

 


Another gripe that I have with Pebbles is that like most rice-crisp cereals the small pieces quickly turn to mush, and for the most part Poppin' Pebbles lives up to the expectation. There is a twist, however. The green balls (i.e. the "Poppin' Pieces") which cause the fizzing sensation are designed to breakdown slowly, and even after 10 minutes in milk are still intact. A definite slight improvement for Pebbles.




Without question the main feature, and for me the only redeeming quality, of Poppin' Pebbles is that this is simply designed to be pure fun. Apart from the modest sounds of Rice Krispies, what other cereal physically interacts with you? This is gimmickry that is unlikely to have lasting interest, but for now it will move boxes off the shelf. The cereal quietly talks back, and everyone will try swishing the green balls around in their mouth waiting to feel the fizzing. Sadly, the fizzling is very modest; hardly exhilarating. Nevertheless, this makes for a fun morning over your cereal bowl!

Nutrition? Seriously? There are really no significant nutritional qualities to Pebbles of any variety, and every consumer should understand that. The main problem is sugar (33% of volume), although not the worst one out there. Sure there are fortified vitamins and minerals, but no fiber and only 1g of protein.

If it wasn't for the unique innovation here, this would just be another highly sweetened cereal representative of an earlier age in cereal development. But, Post has tried something new that will not only generate sales, but ultimately strengthen its Pebbles brand. Children of all ages will be delighted, at least until they tire and move on to something else.

(Review protocol HERE)

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The perfect snack?

Every cereal lover knows that grabbing a handful of cereal from the box is a delightful treat, anytime! Cereal is a very versatile and convenient food, and the sweeter varieties in particular make a great, sweet snack.

I'm surprised that cereal companies have not worked harder at capitalizing on this fact, especially as they look for ways to boost sales. Certainly some have tried. Cheerios, probably the favorite snack that parents give toddlers, has attempted this on several occasions. So, have some candy companies.

The latest intentional effort comes from Kellogg. New Munch Zone delivers some sweet cereal favorites in small pouch servings.  These snack pouches are currently available only at Target, and come in one of five flavors: Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, and Krave (Chocolate, and Double Chocolate).

The limited availability at Target suggests this is test marketing. There is much they have done right with the packaging, but I am concerned as to whether there is enough consumer awareness for this to get traction. Also, the fact that these come in boxes of five may limit the quick, impulse buying that most snack cravers need. Ultimately, to be successful, cereal companies like Kellogg need to find a way to sell individual packets alongside candy in convenience stores, vending machines, etc. In Target these are sold in the cereal aisle and without much fanfare.

In any case, it is good to see Kellogg recognizing the potential for cereal as a snack. Maybe this will inspire further innovation in this category.