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!

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!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Customization still available in the U.S. with MyCerealMix

A few months ago I pointed out that yet another custom cereal maker, MixMyOwn, shut down. This is at least the fourth such company to quit, unable to match the success of this format in Europe, namely mymuesli of Germany.

Just when I thought that this approach was dead on this continent, I was made aware of another one, MyCerealMix, that has recently cropped up to try their hand at this innovation. The company claims that it is possible to make your own cereals "from 30+ all-natural ingredients. No added sugar, nothing artificial. It's easy, healthy and delicious." Similar to the others, you start with a base and add various things such as nuts, seeds, freeze-dried fruits, and "super foods" to come up with your own concoction. Your mix is shipped in a windowed, resealable, foil pouch.

I reached out to the company, and founder Tobias Patella was kind enough to fill me on more details and answer some questions I had. He told me that this all started as a result of his own paleo/primal eating lifestyle, and he wanted to see cereals that were all-natural, but could be personalized to individual preferences and needs. Although they have a website where people can put their recipes together, and they utilize social media to spread the word, they got started an old-school way, simply handing out flyers in southern California and giving out samples at gyms. As far, as what makes MyCerealMix different than the others who have failed at this, Patella said that, "we are differentiating our product by guaranteeing that all of our ingredients are 'better for you. By offering a truly healthy offering for all consumers that look for an alternative to the sugary-loaded cereals you'll find everywhere else."

On the one hand, I remain convinced that the custom cereal concept is a valid one, and somebody is going to make it work in the U.S. People want personalization in life, and this offers that. On the other hand, however, I wonder whether they will have the startup capital and other resources to make their brand competitive in a challenging marketplace. Will they will be able to distinguish themselves adequately as a brand, and not just through customization?

We'll be watching!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review: General Mills' Tiny Toast

As I've pointed out before, this blog is not focused on cereal reviews, but the industry and phenomenon of breakfast cereal. Nevertheless, every once in a while a particular cereal comes across my breakfast table that is of such significance that it deserves a careful look and taste test.

The new Tiny Toast cereals from General Mills provide a perfect occasion to grab a bowl (or two, in this case) to provide my impressions of what they bill as their "first new cereal brand in 15 years," an over-hyped claim in my opinion. These received much attention when released a couple of months ago, and General Mills is hoping that they will generate some of the same kind of excitement that some of their other "toast" cereals enjoy, namely Cinnamon Toast Crunch and French Toast Crunch.

Tiny Toast comes in two flavors, blueberry and strawberry, and both will be considered in this one review.

So, how do these new cereals actually taste? In short, pretty good. With the increasing commitment of General Mills (and other companies) to use only natural flavors, newer cereals are much more pleasant and muted, than the blasts of flavors that come from artificial ingredients (let alone the powerful whiff of chemical scents that erupt from the bags of newly open cereals with artificial flavors). The blueberry and strawberry flavors here are evident, although I like the strawberry better. Blueberry Tiny Toasts actually bordered on lacking in taste.

An obvious distinguishing point of this brand are the tiny little toast pieces, and they are pleasant to consume - light, and only mildly crunchy out of the box. In other words, they go down easy, but have substance. They also hold their own in milk, although after ten minutes they start to get a little gummy.

Breakfast cereal is about so much more than just the cereal itself, and with Tiny Toast General Mills has created a brand with some personality and that is tied in with their previous toast varieties. Just the idea of eating tiny toasts is fun, and the cartoonish look of the box and logo contribute to that impression. But, despite the design and "Match the Hashtag" game on the back, this cereal is not intended just for children. The pictures and statements on the front that these contain real fruit, remind everyone that these are somewhat serious eats too.

If this is somewhat serious, then what about the nutritional qualities of Tiny Toast. Despite the claims of natural flavor, natural colors, fortified vitamins and minerals, and "First ingredient: whole grain," these cereals are nutritionally meh. There is only 2g of protein, and 1g of fiber, and the percentage of sugar by weight is over 30%. Not that I was expecting more, but don't be fooled - this is not for those looking for a nutritional powerhouse.

Overall, even with the fanfare, Tiny Toasts are an interesting addition to the General Mills lineup, and in the short-term should garner consumer attention; but I really do not see anything special here. They have something to offer as an experience, but in a year or two will likely follow the fate of many new cereals that have come and gone over the years. By all means, try them for yourself, and let me know if they become a favorite of yours, or just a little occasional variety for your morning breakfast bowl.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Moving the cereal aisle to the produce section

Recently there were reports that Kellogg cereals were starting to show up alongside fruits and vegetables in Meijer's grocery stores. So far this seems limited to the Midwest grocer, but it could very well be a way for Kellogg to reposition cereals in a new way by associating them with fresh and healthful foods. Of course, adding fruit to your breakfast bowl has long been a way to enhance your cereal, but now the connection is being made more deliberately, perhaps even to the extent of suggesting that you can enhance your produce with cereal.

This is likely a marketing test for now, but it will be interesting to see if cereal companies continue trying these types of efforts to raise the profile of a food that is in need of rejuvenation.

(Source: Quartz)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Surprise! The flavor this fall is Pumpkin Spice

For the past few years, the favorite flavor of fall has been pumpkin spice. What started as the traditional pumpkin pie has now been utilized by food manufacturers in everything from Starbucks' lattes to Oreo cookies. Surprisingly, consumers have not yet tired of the fad, and its popularity continues to rise.

Even cereals have got into the pumpkin spice craze, most notably last year with Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Cereal, one that we rated highly. For 2016 we are likely to see many more options featuring this comfort food sensation.

Earlier this year, reports emerged that General Mills would be introducing Pumpkin Spice Cheerios this fall. I can confirm from the company that this limited edition flavor will start showing up on grocers' shelves in August. They are claiming that it is "made from real pumpkin puree and a delicious blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove" and is "free from artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources."

While this is the only confirmed launch so far, there are strong signs out there that Kellogg and Quaker are getting into the action as well, although neither company responded to my request to confirm this or to provide more information. Online photos from Influenster and CandyHunting show a box of Pumpkin Spice Crunch Special K. Similarly, Influenster and CandyHunting reveal a Pumpkin Spice Life as well. These look legit, but we'll have to wait and see if these actually end up for sale.

UPDATE 8/1/16: Kellogg's officially announced the Special K item today, and also indicated that Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Cereal is returning this fall as well. They are introducing other fall flavors among various food products, including a Special K Apple Cinnamon Crunch.

Of course, you might not be craving pumpkin spice right now in the middle of summer, but soon enough the weather will cool down and the leaves will fall, and your breakfast bowl will be a place to celebrate!