Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dumb choices

A few weeks ago I reported on the controversy brewing over the Smart Choices Program launched by a number of food manufacturers, including cereal companies.

Things got more exciting recently when the FDA sent a warning to these manufacturers stating the new labelling may be misleading, and calls for a more a standardized system for such simplified nutritional labelling.

In response, General Mills announced this week that they will be abandoning the Smart Choices symbol.

Smart move.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Follow The Breakfast Bowl on Twitter

In an effort to provide quicker news stories and simpler reflections and discoveries I am launching The Breakfast Bowl Twitter account to complement this blog. Follow me @breakfast_bowl!

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Head-to-head: Custom cereals - Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series of posts about my recent experiences ordering from [me]&goji and MixMyGranola, the leading U.S. custom cereal manufacturers.

In short, both companies have done a great job and are creating a good product and ordering experience. In my opinion, there is no clear winner, at least not in these early stages of their evolution. I would have no hesitations ordering from either of them again.

Going through the entire process from ordering to eating has been a fun experience. Certainly the novelty factor alone gives custom cereals certain appeal. It is an innovative concept that has the potential to shake-up the breakfast industry.

But, I have a few questions and concerns:

1. Will custom cereals ever become mainstream? While it may be possible for a small business to flourish with this business model, I wonder whether it will ever catch on enough to have a significant long-term impact on the role of cereal of in our society.

2. How will custom cereal companies distinguish themselves from each other? Probably the most amazing part of this exercise has been the realization that there is more similarity between MixMyGranola and [me]&goji then differences. Unfortunately, in the effort to copy the success of mymuesli they seem to be neglecting the opportunity to further innovation and creativity. Long-term success will depend on each of these companies finding their unique niche and capitalizing on it.

3. Is there life beyond granola and muesli? Obviously the very nature of granola and muesli make them great candidates for a breakfast cereal base. But, I would like to believe that the next stage in custom cereal will include even more cereal options for consumers.

I look forward to watching this cereal drama unfold, and will keep you posted here.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Head-to-head: Custom cereals - Part 3

This is the third part of a series of posts about my recent experiences ordering from [me]&goji and MixMyGranola, the leading U.S. custom cereal manufacturers.

After placing my order I knew that I would have to wait for my order. To my amazement it didn't take as long as I had expected. Even though I live on the opposite side of the country from both of these companies I had my cylinders of custom cereal within just a few days. To be exact, my MixMyGranola shipment arrived in 2 business days via FedEx, and the [me]&goji order was only one day later via UPS. Pretty impressive.

Having received the goods it was fun to look over the canisters. Each had a custom label with the name of my mixture, the list of ingredients and the Nutrition Facts calculated according to my recipe. I noticed, however, the MixMyGranola's label was not completely accurate as it listed "Organic Granola" without breaking down what comprises that granola as they are required to do. (I could find this information on their website, however). Also, in keeping with the similarity between the companies, both cylinders had personalized, hand-written signatures and other markings such as happy faces, etc. from the individual who prepared my mix. Nice touches to reinforce the personalized service and custom nature of these products.

The big question is: What about the cereal itself? I am usually reluctant to review cereal by taste as that is largely subjective. But, let me briefly describe what I observed. [me]&goji's granola is definitely the more hearty of the two cereals. Even the base granola itself comes with extras like sunflower seeds, cashews and pumpkin seeds. Interestingly, when milk is added the density of the cereal prevents any floating. MixMyGranola is a much more basic granola mixture. As far as my taste preference is concerned, I tended to enjoy more the taste of MixMyGranola's version, probably because it contains more sugars and therefore is sweeter. But, both were great to eat and will not disappoint anyone who enjoys granola.

With my stomach full, in my next post I will offer some final reflections on this entire experience.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Head-to-head: Custom cereals - Part 2

This is the second part of a series of posts about my recent experiences ordering from [me]&goji and MixMyGranola, the leading U.S. custom cereal manufacturers.

A couple of weeks ago I went online to place fairly identical orders from these two companies. Despite the different offerings, it was fairly easy to come up with a cereal combination that would allow for a fair comparison. In the end I decided to concoct a mixture that included their base granola plus dried blueberries, almonds and flax seeds.

Both companies have dynamic web sites that allow for the instant creation of the cereal of your choice. They also have premixed versions for those that either can't make up their mind or don't want to go through the hassle. (But half the fun is coming up with your recipe!) As far as the online simplicity and user experience, both websites are well designed and easy to use, although [me]&goji's is more appealing because you drag and drop your ingredients into an on-screen bowl. Cool! Each also allows you to see the nutrition composition of your formula before you purchase.

As far as choices are concerned, [me]&goji offers 9 cereal bases, including gluten-free options. From there you can choose from 19 grains and spices, and 14 dried fruits. MixMyGranola's options offer more possible combinations. Although there are only 4 bases (3 granolas and 1 muesli), you can pick from 17 nuts and seeds, 20 dried fruits, 24 extras (including such unusual ingredients like gummybears, pretzels and candy corn), and 17 enhancers (powders including spirulina, green tea and bee pollen).

In many ways these companies seem to be quite similar, even down to the use of a cylinder in which your cereal is packaged. But, each also adds its own twists, apart from the ingredients offered. [me]&goji allows users to donate $1 upon checkout to a worthy cause, this month to renewable energy projects and breast cancer survivors. MixMyGranola offers some special price incentives. If you join their monthly "granola club" you can save 15-35%. And if you first sign-up for their email newsletter you get a 10% discount off your first order, although I tried that and my special code didn't work - so no discount!

As far as cost is concerned, my [me]&goji order totaled $15.39 with shipping. The MixMyGranola bill came to $13.25 with shipping. But, it is important to note that the [me]&goji cylinder is somewhat larger. If you calculate the total cost per unit of weight, MixMyGranola is about 50% more expensive, although they are much more aggressive in offering discounts through their granola club, newsletter offers, and even a coupon included with the shipment. Shipping charges also can differ. I ended up paying an identical $4.99 for each order, but that's because [me]&goji's rate was still a "summer special". MixMyGranola rewards those who buy in builk, offering free shipping for orders over $40.00.

Ordering was a pleasant experience, but one disadvantage to conventional cereal shopping was evident. I couldn't take my cereal home with me and instead had to wait until it was delivered. More on that in the next post.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Head-to-head: Custom cereals - Part 1

This week I am doing something new for this blog: I will be posting a multi-part series depicting my recent experiences with the two leading U.S. custom cereal manufacturers.

In the past year or so two companies, [me]&goji and MixMyGranola, have largely copied the success of German cereal maker mymuesli to introduce the concept of custom-made cereals to the U.S. This is certainly an innovative approach that allows consumers to design their own cereal online and then to have the finished product shipped to them in a cardboard cylinder. [me]&goji and MixMyGranola are betting their business hopes on the realization that there is a growing desire for personalization of all consumer goods and a quest by many for quality above commodification.

A couple of weeks ago I placed fairly identical orders from these two companies and have since had the opportunity to experience and compare their service and cereals. Watch for my reflections in upcoming posts.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Laser branded Corn Flakes

The Internet is currently abuzz with a report (that apparently began with a Tweet) in Britain that Kellogg will soon be etching some of its Corn Flakes with the Kellogg logo as a way to stand out from either fake or generic brand knock-offs. Of course, early speculation was that this was a hoax (even though we are nowhere close to April 1st), but some credible sources such as the Telegraph and AdAge have done their homework and vouch for the story. Apparently Kellogg does have the technology and sees this as a way to strengthen the position of some of its core brands.

At minimum,  this has got people talking and interested in Kellogg's Corn Flakes. And, if it ever does get made, you can bet that they will sell tons of boxes just so people can see the special flakes.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Investing in innovation

Innovation has been a regular theme on this blog as I believe that this is a necessity in an increasingly crowded breakfast cereal market.

A couple of years ago General Mills announced the search for a partner in innovation, and it now looks like they found their soul mate, Nestle. Together the two companies have announced the formation of an "Innovation Centre"  in Switzerland as part of their Cereal Partners Worldwide joint venture. This pursuit of innovation is intended to look for ways to bring about "consumer benefits, such as improved content, as well as freshness, taste and texture."

The proof, of course, will be in the results. We'll be watching.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

How much would you pay?

There was furor recently in Bakersfield California when a convenience store was spotted charging $12.00 for an 18-ounce box of Honey Bunches of Oats. (The normal price at most stores is less than half that). Despite the negative media attention, high prices at convenience stores is not a big surprise and certainly not illegal. But, it does raise the question: Especially in light of the current state of the economy, what is the most you'd pay for a box of cereal?


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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hi-tech bowl

It's been awhile since I've highlighted a new bowl for cereal lovers. Here's one that is probably more fun than practical, and also educational.

The Loopa Gyroscopic Toddler Bowl is designed to be spill resistant because of its gyroscopic technology. The inner bowl is weighted and connected to two outer rings that keep it upright no matter what.

This could make breakfast even more fun for kids!

(From ThinkGeek)

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Smart Choices?

Critics have been out in full-force the last few weeks after the introduction of the Smart Choices Program, a labeling program sponsored by large food manufacturers, including breakfast cereal companies such as Kellogg and General Mills. The Smart Choices checkmark will appear on a wide range of food items if they meet certain nutritional standards.

An obvious lightening rod for criticism are cereals, since a number of sugar-laden ones like Cocoa Krispies and Froot Loops will bear the logo. Even the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are expressing some skepticism of the program.

Obviously, this is a great marketing tool directed at confused and harried shoppers. But, in the end will the apparent low standard backfire? Today's savvy consumers are increasingly demanding much more.

(Source: New York Times)

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