Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post goes independent (again)

Post, one of the original breakfast cereal brands, is once again facing new ownership, the fourth time in 26 years. But, instead of being taken over by another food conglomerate (as it was in the past by General Foods, Kraft, and most recently Ralcorp), Post will become an independent, public company. Ralcorp didn't have success with the brand and has decided to move on.

Post certainly is a well-known company, with some strong brands, but really nothing that has captivated the marketplace. As I've suggested previously, the middle of the cereal market is getting squeezed, and Post is a prime example of such a company struggling to enjoy success. The new company will embark on a new strategy, but organizational and functional changes may not be enough for Post to be the cereal powerhouse it once was.


Friday, December 23, 2011

New Cheerios varieties coming

It's not only Kellogg gearing up for new cereal launches in 2012. General Mills has announced two new Cheerios varieties coming to grocers shelves, bringing the total number of Cheerios products to 13 (yes, you read that right, 13)! Multi-Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter brings together a strong breakfast combination, and Dulce de Leche Cheerios takes advantage of a popular Latin American flavor obviously with the intent of targeting that market. These are creative offerings, but two questions emerge. One, will they taste good (at least one review so far isn't impressed), and, two, how far can a cereal brand be extended before it loses its core identity? Obviously, General Mills believes that their expanded Cheerios offerings so far have been good moves. Time will tell how these two new cereals perform.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We haven't seen too many new cereals introduced this year, but with 2012 around the corner we are learning that Kellogg is introducing Krave to the U.S. Krave is based on a cereal by the same name introduced in the U.K. early last year, and is targeted to youth. There are two varieties, Chocolate and Double Chocolate, each with a multi-grain outside and a smooth chocolate inside. Appears to be a fun cereal!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cereal by Design

Breakfast can be fun, and a father and mother team, Harry and Joann Margulies, are intent on ensuring that with their website/blog, Cereal by Design. They are not the first to use cereal in art, but they have added a new twist: highlighting examples of how ordinary people can liven up their breakfast bowls with cereal art. Check it out:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cereal Advent calendar

Many of our most loved Christmas traditions come from Germany. Now, German cereal innovator, mymuesli, recently introduced a creative new cereal product that brings new excitement for children counting down the days until Christmas. Each Advent Calendar box contains 24 cereal containers in eight varieties that are discovered each day through their own window. A fascinating innovation, although not cheap (59 euros = $78 US).

This is the kind of creative thinking we need to see again among U.S. cereal companies!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kellogg backs down

This summer I reported on a dispute between Kellogg and the non-profit Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI) over the use of a toucan in the latter's logo. At the time it seemed a ridiculous move on Kellogg's part, and I'm glad to see that sanity has prevailed. The cereal company is going to lay off of MAI, and even give them $100,00 toward one of their projects.

A good lesson in how not to do public relations, something Kellogg especially needs to pay attention to in the midst of their financial challenges.

(Source: Detroit Free Press)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cereal Wednesday

It's Wednesday, and a great day to highlight another blog devoted to cereal. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with "Poppy", the personality behind Cereal Wednesday, a video blog that almost every week samples and rates a different cereal or associated breakfast food. I always enjoy talking to someone else with the same obsession!

Cereal Wednesday began over four years ago by another pseudonymous figure, NYCD, "as a complete and total goof". Since then Poppy entered the scene as a partner and has largely taken over preparing weekly reviews of cereals, ranging from the popular to the more obscure. These 5-10 minute episodes take about 2.5 hours to produce, and typically feature Poppy opening a box of cereal, sharing her taste impressions, and highlighting key features such as nutrition facts - all unscripted. By her own admission, Poppy is somewhat "quirky", but comes across to viewers as a real person who simply enjoys cereal. Her reactions and opinions seem trustworthy, and overall the home-spun presenations are mildly entertaining and without glitz. While not influenced by it, Cereal Wednesday bears a number of similarities to the trend-setting Wine Library TV with Gary Vaynerchuk

All in all, Cereal Wednesday is just plain, idiosyncratic fun, which is why Poppy and NYCD have done it. Like most blogs there's no real money in it, and they don't accept samples from companies in order to maintain their objectivity and independence. Cereal Wednesday is a great complement to my own blog, and will be of particular interest to those looking for actual cereal reviews.

Check them out at:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lucky Charms cereal sifter

For those that love cereal marshmallows and find the actual cereal distracting, here is an invention for you! Tom Lombardi has created a simple way for you to separate the Lucky Charms cereal from the marshmallows. It's simply a custom cup with the perfect-sized holes on the bottom. LINK.
Stocking stuffer anyone?
(What will they think of next?!)

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Challenges at Kellogg

Recent quarterly financial reports from Kellogg suggest the company continues to face some major challenges. Profits are down 14%, and like a growing number of countries the company is facing a rating review from Moody's Investor Service. The pressure comes as a result of several factors including higher grain prices and a highly competitive marketplace, all this despite trying to cut costs and increase prices.

As I've been saying for awhile now, the big cereal companies are in a difficult position despite their strong brand positions. Consumers are restless and exploring new, authentic options. Can Kellogg's stand out in this environment?

Source: Wall Street Journal - article 1, article 2

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween cereal

Halloween and cereal are a perfect fit, and a number of companies have taken advantage of the marketing opportunities over the years, and none more than General Mills. Again, this year, they released their monster cereals in time for Halloween, but they were largely unchanged in box design from 2010. Several other children's-oriented cereals feature similar seasonal graphics again this year.

But, in my opinion, the award for the best Halloween cereal for 2011 goes to Quaker for the introduction of Halloween [Cap'n] Crunch. This is a unique, limited-edition cereal that should provide the most breakfast fun this year.

And the milk turns green!

Friday, October 28, 2011

How healthy are "Natural" cereals?

Recently, a study from The Cornucopia Institute has stirred considerable discussion because of their claim that many so-called "natural" breakfast cereals are merely marketing hype, and deceptive. Compared to organic cereals, they often contain residues of toxic pesticides and genetically modified ingredients; and sometimes are even more expensive.

The "Cereal Crimes" report is certainly worth reading, even just for its exposure of the marketing of cereal brands. There is no doubt that many companies are jumping on the "natural" bandwagon to entice consumers. It should be pointed out, however, that Cornucopia enters the discussion with its own biases, "promoting economic justice for family scale farming". Obviously, for them large food corporations are a threat on a number of levels.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cereal mascots given reprieve

A long, on-going controversy has been over the use of cartoon characters to market cereal, especially sugared ones targeted to children. The fear for manufacturers has been that the government would step in and regulate this, and ultimately prevent the use of mascots and other enticing images for children.

The industry can sigh a temporary breath of relief, as U.S. government officials recently indicated that they won't tamper with these brand icons at this time. Nevertheless, things could still change down the road, and at minimum there is still the possibility of further restrictions on nutritional composition of foods targeted to children, even if in the form of voluntary guidelines.

In any case, Tony the Tiger, Cap'n Crunch and others are safe, for now at least!

(Source: USA Today)

Monday, October 24, 2011

General Mills and DC Comics

Last week General Mills announced a partnership with DC Comics, and that for a limited time some of their prominent, sweetened cereals would feature custom Justice League comic books. A special website will allow readers to continue their adventure reading. Incorporating books, DVDs, computer games and now comic books, is not a new concept for General Mills. And, this certainly taps into a dedicated niche market of comic fanatics.

A good marketing move.

I am wondering, however, if the execution on this one is enough. This would have been a great opportunity for General Mills to either introduce a new, comic-based cereal, or to feature the comic book heroes more prominently on specially-designed boxes. In my opinion, the simple banner approach lacks vigor, and misses out on an even greater marketing push.

(Thanks to @antonioortegajr for the tip!)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cereal in Europe

Recently I've been traveling in Europe, which explains the lack of blog posts here.

Of course, regardless of where I go I am always interested to discover what I can about cereal in that location. And, Europe is a great place to observe a different take on cereal. It's been a number of years since I've had the opportunity to visit there, and I was pleasantly surprised with the changes I noticed.

First, the interest in cereal is definitely growing. Certainly, breakfast cereal consumption is nowhere near what it is in North American, but it is no longer an ethnic food for ex-pats. Evidence of this abounds in the grocery stores. Whereas at one time on the continent you would have seen very small shelf space devoted to just a handful of cereal brands, now it is possible to enter any supermarket and see a significant section featuring dozens of varieties. I also noticed that at some of the bed and breakfast places we stayed cereal was available, something I never saw before outside of big hotels catering to international travelers.

It was also evident that that there are some differences between cereal in Europe and the U.S. Even those who do consume it tend to eat smaller serving sizes, and as a complement to their traditional breakfast. For this reason the boxes for sale in the stores are much smaller than what we would typically find in North America. Also, muesli is big in Europe influenced by its popularity in Switzerland, where it is often still consumed during the evening meal.

I also noticed some interesting innovations in Europe. Not only are the big cereal companies tweaking their recipes and producing varieties in tune with the local preferences, but there are packaging innovations as well. In Poland, for example, I couldn't find any actual boxes. All the cereal comes in attractive bags. There are other signs of innovation in Europe as well, as is evidenced by the fact that customized cereal has its roots there with such companies as mymuesli and The Cereal Club.

Having said of all this, I must qualify the above statements by pointing out that the United Kingdom stands out in its relationship with cereal. While I wasn't there on this trip, it is a fact that cereal consumption is much higher in Britain than the rest of Europe, and has many more similarities to its U.S. brand counterparts.

I had a great time in Europe, and enjoyed the cereal sleuthing that went along with it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cereal claims

This is hardly news, but nutritional labeling on many foods, and cereal in particular, is often hype more than substance. Now, there is evidence that seems to support the contention that cereal box claims are misleading.

A University of Yale study published in Public Health Nutrition found that most parents misinterpreted the claims made on cereals targeted to children. Except for cereals purported to be organic, parents were more likely to purchase the products because of their understanding of the claims. The study recommended increased regulation of nutrition claims.

I know that we can’t control how people interpret information, even if it is accurate. But, in a highly competitive cereal market it is incumbent on manufacturers to remain on the high road when creating their packaging and marketing. Their reputation depends on it.


Friday, September 09, 2011

Wheaties revisted

It was two years ago today that General Mills launched Wheaties FUEL, a new variety of sports oriented cereal targeted at men and those seeking athletic performance.

I have been watching the progression of this brand since even before its beginning, and I am still not convinced it has been the success General Mills had hoped for or that it could have been. While sales figures for specific products are not released, it is my observation that it hasn't been selling that well. I base my less than scientific analysis on several factors: it doesn't appear to get much grocery store shelf space and few people I talk to are even aware that FUEL exists or is a separate Wheaties cereal. Also, I am not hearing much excitement about its taste characteristics.

General Mills worked hard to launch FUEL using social media, one of the first cereals to be primarily promoted by this means. But, I wonder if they've done enough to build brand awareness through at least some mass marketing campaigns.

Interestingly, just yesterday two new limited edition boxes (Wheaties and Wheaties FUEL) were introduced at the beginning of the NFL season featuring Green Bay Packer stars Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. But, these are limited edition boxes for sale only in Wisconsin. I'm sure they'll sell truckloads there, but by limiting it there they have missed out on significant sales elsewhere among football fanatics.

I hope I am wrong about Wheaties FUEL, but without a finer tuned and broader marketing approach, it may never fully capture the market it was intended to reach.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kellogg wants monopoly on Toucans?

Kellogg recently entered into a public relations quagmire by taking legal action against the non-profit Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI) claiming that the MAI's logo infringes on Kellogg's Toucan Sam character from Froot Loops.

Obviously, trademark infringement needs to be taken seriously, but sometimes corporations go to absurd lengths to prove their case, and in the process hurt their own brand image. In my opinion, MAI's toucan is not similar to the the current Froot Loops version and it is highly unlikely that there will be any confusion among the public. As MAI's president, Dr. Francisco Estrada-Bell, said, "This is a bit like the Washington Redskins claiming trademark infringement against the National Congress of American Indians".

Source: MAI

Thursday, August 11, 2011

[me ] & Goji to close

Now that I'm unpacked its time to get back to all things cereal. And, there's no better place to start than with breaking news from a company I have followed with interest over the past for years: [me] & Goji
Today the upstart company announced it will he shutting down at the end of the month. Here's an excerpt from a company email today:

When we decided to launch Me & Goji three years ago, our goal was to take a common product—cereal—and completely rethink it. We aimed to offer the best cereal on the market, from our packaging, to the quality of ingredients to the story and values behind it. We believe we succeeded in doing these things and our amazing customers have been the validation.
Ultimately, what led to our decision was our inability to progress out of the bootstrapping startup phase and into a scalable business.  Having tried everything from creating the first cereal of the month club, to a retail product, to a cobranded line of cereals with a teen pop star, we feel comfortable that we have tested all waters.
This is unfortunate news as [me] & Goji has been an impressive entrant into the crowded cereal marketplace. But, as I've pointed out before, it is difficult to compete in this environment, and especially to break into consumers' minds. The future will be won by those who innovate, but the journey there will not be an easy one. Sadly, there will be casualties along the way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Breakfast Bowl is unpacked!

Followers of this blog have probably wondered what happened to me, as I haven't posted here in over two months. In the almost six years of running this blog I have had periods of extreme busyness, but never like the past few months. I apologize to those of you who have been faithful followers of my musings on cereal, and related news and culture.

In short, the primary reason for my hiatus is because of moving to a new house. This has taken far more energy and time than I ever expected, and coupled with that I also recently began a doctoral program. Life has been full!

In any case, I am now settled in my home and looking forward to getting back to sharing my cereal passion with you. Watch for more posts coming very soon!

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Thursday, May 05, 2011


Things have been relatively quiet in the cereal world, but two reports in the last week or so are changing that.

First, some speculation has emerged that Swiss food giant Nestle is interested in a take-over of General Mills. This is not completely surprising, as the two companies have worked together closely in the past, including the recent launch of a new innovation research center.

And, this week ConAgra has made bids to take over Ralcorp, maker of Post and various private label cereals.

On the surface, this just appears to be nothing more than corporate consolidation. But, it does represent the shifting nature in the food business, with a growing bifurcation between large corporations and small niche ventures. I've been observing this in cereal for quite some time, with large mass-market brands, but with increasing opportunities for smaller, nimbler companies that can target specific consumer needs and tastes.

(Source: Bloomberg)

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Choco Zucaritas

This weekend I came across Kellogg's Choco Zucaritas for sale. This are Chocolate Frosted Flakes, but with a twist: Imported from Mexico but packaged for the U.S. market, although predominately with Spanish labeling. This is not the first time a foreign cereal is being sold here to connect with immigrants, but I'm surprised it isn't done more.

As breakfast cereal becomes more global this may be a trend companies may be trying more frequently.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

How natural are they?

A growing segment of the cereal market is devoted to cereals that are especially healthful and natural. Some brands have targeted this niche specifically.

But, a recent survey conducted by The Organic & Non-GMO Report found that many breakfast cereals labeled "natural" may contain genetically modified ingredients. This includes those from Kashi, Bear River Valley, and Mother's Natural Cereals. Technically companies that do this are not doing anything wrong, but it does irk health food advocates who believe that it is misleading. Unfortunately, what qualifies as "natural" is not highly regulated, leading to confusion and inaccurate assumptions among consumers.

(Source: Eat Drink Better)

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cereal leftovers

Now that we're through March it's time to clear out a collection of recent cereal related items that caught my attention but didn't make the cut for a full blog post:

urlesque provides a fun visual listing of "54 Cereals We Loved and Lost"

KBTX in Texas reports on a young girl who had friends coming to her birthday bring cereal for the local food bank

The Telegraph reports a study on how recycled cardboard may be a health risk when used with food, such as cereal

The Pitch lists possible career paths for five cereal mascots

Twin City Business reported that the Lucky Charms Leprechaun rang the New York Stock Exchange bell on St. Patrick's Day

Betty Crocker has a recipe for a wedding cake (or for any other celebration) using Trix

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Cap'n is alive and well!

Cap'n Crunch has been getting lots of attention recently, partly because of the recent social media blast by the Giant Steps. But things really heated up this week when a Daily Finance article speculated that the Cap'n might be heading into retirement, indicative of the inattention he has received from Quaker.

But, the word today is that the Cap'n is in good health and should be around for awhile. Quoted in AdAge, Quaker said that "Reports of Cap'n Crunch's demise are greatly exaggerated". In fact they have launched an official Facebook page, but were quick to point out that they are targeting "adult consumers". (See my previous stories on cereal and cartoon characters).

All of this publicity for one of their brands has to be a pleasant surprise for Quaker, unless they were really trying to eliminate a cereal icon!

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Cartoon characters on cereal boxes influence children

This is hardly new, but recent research confirms what we've all known for years and what previous research has confirmed: "The use of media characters on food packaging affects children's subjective taste assessment". That is the result of a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. In the study children were asked to test a "new" cereal that was in one of four professionally designed boxes. Children rated the cereal's taste higher when the box featured a popular media character. But, on the flip side, on name alone children tended toward the cereal when it was called "Healthy Bits" compared to "Sugar Bits".

Again, this is hardly rocket science, but obviously we need objective research to back what our gut already tells us. Of course, health advocates will be demanding cereal companies to exercise more responsibility, and possibly for more government regulation. The concerns are legitimate to a point, but it does mean even more so now that in the future there will be less fun at breakfast table.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Which day is it?

Earlier today I pointed out that March 7th is National Cereal Day. Admittedly, these designated "national" days are usually nothing more than arbitrary marketing gimmicks. Hardly sacred, or acts of Congress.

It appears, however, that Kellogg is changing the rules, and declaring tomorrow, March 8th, as the first ever "National Breakfast Day". A big part of this will take place in New York at Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall. This is all in conjunction with their Share Your Breakfast campaign to assist children in "food-insecure households". Certainly a worthy cause.

For cereal lovers, we now have TWO consecutive days to celebrate! But, why the confusion, Kellogg?

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National Cereal Day

Today (March 7th) is National Cereal Day. It's hardly a national holiday, but for true cereal lovers, it should be!

Enjoy a bowl (or two) of your favorite cereal today!

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cereal leftovers

As February comes to a close it's time to clear out a collection of recent cereal related items that caught my attention but didn't make the cut for a full blog post:

Reuters reported that, despite continued decline in cereal sales, Kellogg is raising prices.

USA Today details how New York Yankee's CC Sabathia lost weight by cutting out Cap'n Crunch from his daily diet. Not good PR for Quaker!

The Cornucopia Institute comes down hard on natural cereal company Peace Cereal for suggesting their products are organic.

treehugger highlights 10 healthy, green cereals

Guyism lists "9 of the most secretly creepy breakfast cereal mascots"

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Finding the Cap'n

Last month I reported on an attempt by independent fans to bring Cap'n Crunch to social networks such as Twitter. Typically, many grassroots movements like this die after their initial burst of enthusiasm. But, Where's the Cap'n is growing with a concerted push by its creators, especially in recent days. Their goal of reaching 1000 followers on Twitter is being encouraged with the giving away of a FlipHD Cam once they reach the magic number, and every multiple thereafter.

This is getting serious. All from two guys, Michael Gutweiler and Corey Smale, who started this campaign because of their passion for Cap'n Crunch cereal and discovered that Quaker had no social networking presence for their hero. Gutweiler and Smale run "the Giant Steps", a Chicago-based marketing agency, and decided to start it themselves. They told me they are "having fun with it right now", but it certainly has the potential to bring greater exposure to their own business. But, they seem content to allow Quaker to respond by giving the Cap'n his own long overdue "official", online presence. But, so far the company has stated that they have no plans to do so, even though the Giant Steps has offered their help.

This is an interesting story as it shows the loyalty and passion that many consumers have for their favorite brands. Quaker is missing an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the love of Cap'n Crunch by a significant number of people. Will Quaker respond, or will they just let this party go on by itself? And, will other companies see the possibilities they might have to strengthen relationships through their brands? Some candidates could include Post with Fruity Pebbles; General Mills with Lucky, Trix, or the three monsters; and Kellogg with Tony.

This will be fun to watch!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Kellogg to introduce Gluten-free

Report out today that Kellogg this year will be introducing certified gluten-free varieties of some of its cereals. Rice Krispies and Corn Pops are early examples.

Gluten-free cereals are not new. Custom Choice Cereal offers them exclusively, and General Mills and some other companies have a few. But, for gluten-free alternatives of mainline brands to be offered is significant, especially for the many people who are needing and desiring this option.

(Source: Gluten Free Appetite)

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Big and Small, no Middle?

Financial services company Credit Suisse, after analysis of the cereal industry, projected this week that the two leading cereal companies, Kellogg and General Mills, are expected to grow, mainly at the expense of Quaker Oats and Post. The latter companies "are facing structural challenges" that make them vulnerable to the much stronger corporations.

This seems to be an ongoing trend toward bifurcation, not only in the cereal industry but across a wide range of sectors. In other words, the future for cereal appears to be in the large corporations targeted in the mass market, and smaller, start-ups that can respond quickly to emerging trend and niches. The ones that will struggle are the companies in-between who do not have the same clout as the mega-companies or the innovation of the smaller ones. While Post (Ralcorp), Quaker, and Malt-O-Meal are all still in the game, within a shifting economy will they be able to find their place, not only in brand positioning but in their own financial sustainability?

I believe the next few years will reveal the answer.

(source: Barron's)

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cereal for your Valentine

Monday is Valentine's Day, the occasion to express your love to the very special person in your life. Chocolates, flowers, and jewelry will be popular gifts, but what about cereal?

Cereal is hardly ready to be the premiere choice for demonstrating one's affection, but at least some companies are hoping that some will see it as unique and special. Both major U.S. custom-cereal companies have special Valentine's promotions, ranging from Gift Certificates to a Valentine's Day Mix.

What's really significant about this is that the newer, startup companies can get away with this whereas the established cereal companies can't. No one would dare risk their relationship by giving an off-the-shelf box of Kellogg's or General Mills cereal for Valentine's. That could spell disaster, or a long sleep in the doghouse. But, giving something out of the ordinary could actually earn you points! All this reinforces the idea that newer, innovative brands have a higher perceived value. That's the challenge that the big companies are going to have to deal with more and more. How can they move their cereals from mere commodities to high value brands?

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

More global

This week General Mills and Nestle opened up their new innovation research center as part of their Cereal Partners Worldwide joint venture. This is not really news, as it first was announced back in 2009, although the joint venture began even 20 years before that.

But, the real story here is that it comes at a time when both research and global trends in cereal are in the news, as I pointed out in the last few weeks with Kellogg. Again, big cereal companies recognize that status quo is not acceptable, and that more has to be done to innovate. Also, there are tremendous growth opportunities in global markets, many of which are not yet real big in breakfast cereal.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this latest effort between General Mills and Nestle actually attempts to take on both. It will probably take more than a research center to make this all happen, but it certainly will have an impact.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011


For many of us, memories of our childhood include getting toys in our favorite cereal boxes!

Unfortunately, in recent years the use of premiums has become virtually non-existent. Certainly, many of the toys we desired were just plain junk. But, it made the whole cereal experience much more fun than the more serious tones today.

Well, word is out this week that Mattell has partnered with General Mills to give away custom-designed Hot Wheel racers in five cereals. To add even more excitement, each box will have a promotional code that can be used on the Hot Wheels Racing Circuit website to race against other players online.

This is not the first time that Hot Wheels have been given away with cereal. Hopefully, it will spark a new trend toward more premiums, and more breakfast fun!

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Cereal leftovers

As January comes to a close it's time to clear out a collection of recent cereal related items that caught my attention but didn't make the cut for a full blog post:

GoodGuide has conducted one of the largest evaluations of 519 cereals and rated them according to health, environment and society

The New York Times has an interesting article on Kellogg's marketing to adults on taste with their new Crunchy Nut cereals.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fake ingredients

Several stories in the last couple of weeks have revealed that what you expect in your cereal is not always what you get.

Most notable is the revelation by "Health Ranger" Mike Adams that several foods purporting to contain blueberries actually do not contain actual, whole blueberries. For example, Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats really only contains "blueberry flavored crunchlets" made from sugar, soybean oil, red #40, and blue #2. General Mills' Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal is a double whammy: apparently no actual blueberries or pomegranates. This has been getting considerable attention in the media and among health advocates, both attacking various food manufacturers and the FDA for having loose regulations that allow for the loopholes. This also does not help the already negative public relations that Kellogg and General Mills have received in recent years over their labeling practices and nutritional quality.

Competitors have been quick to point out that use actual blueberries. Me & Goji tweeted Thursday that "While the cereal giants use fake blueberries, ours are all natural from Bar Harbor, Maine". This is certainly an opportunity for the upstarts and natural cereal companies to differentiate themselves.

In a related story, Post recently released a press release highlighting the fact that they "say 'no' to fake fibers that are often found in so-called “healthy” competitive cereals", and that Post uses only whole grain fibers, not the highly processed, novel fibers that other companies use.

It's getting nasty out there, all playing on the growing health concerns of consumers.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011


If you're not yet convinced of the power of social networking as it relates to cereal, you probably didn't see what was happening Wednesday in the Twittersphere. Like many random things that happen in Twitter, thousands of people started using the hashtag #awfulcereal sharing their opinion as to what cereals they didn't like. Although many responses were weak attempts at humor and even in bad taste, a wide range of legitimate tweets were made. For awhile #awfulcereal was one of the trending topics on Twitter, a true mark of significant traffic.

While this was a short-lived burst of nonsense, it should remind cereal companies that there are millions of people out there ready to talk about cereal through social networking. Hopefully, for their sakes the next topic will be #greatcereal.

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Going global

One of the most fascinating part of traveling is seeing the differences in things familiar from country to country. Cereal is a great example of this. Looking at cereal boxes from other countries is a fun experience as even among some of the big companies, like Kellogg, some dramatic differences are obvious. It could be in the name, mascot, promotions or the cereals themselves. Some of these cereals look great, others potentially disgusting.

Food is more than just another commodity. It is closely linked to culture, and therefore is expressed and experienced in unique ways from location to location. This obviously must be challenging for large global food corporations as they try to balance local preferences with large scale efficiencies.

But, we are also living in a global community that is, in many ways, shrinking before our eyes. Global brands are becoming more prominent across the board, and this includes food. For this reason, Kellogg is in the process of re-examining its  global marketing strategies, which have been largely decentralized to this point. The result could be stronger cereal brands that have a much great global recognition and appeal. This could be a tremendous growth opportunity for cereal companies.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011


With a new year there have been several new cereals that have hit the market, none of which are that exciting, in my opinion. In any case, what caught my attention is not the cereals themselves, but what I saw on a box of new Kellogg's Crunch Nut cereal.

Prominently displayed on one of the side panels is a box soliciting feedback: "Tell us what you think about this cereal" along with a website where a consumer can complete a short survey about their impressions of the cereal and how it was purchased.

On the one hand this is not completely new. Feedback notices have been used for years by cereal and other food manufacturers. But, typically these were small and inconspicuous, and related more to customer service issues. This new effort by Kellogg suggests that there is a greater desire to hear directly from consumers. If the responses are taken seriously it could mean better cereals and buying experiences. We hope.

Despite the positive nature of this, I am also somewhat puzzled. A couple of weeks ago I questioned why major cereal companies were not taking more advantage of social networking in their relationships with consumers. This would have been a great way to get even better feedback, by engaging in a conversation. I understand they want a well-controlled survey to provide quantitative data, but so much more could be gained by developing connections with people through Facebook and Twitter. Then a much more complete feedback loop would be in place, benefiting both the company and consumers. Another example of where the big companies are trying, but often a few steps behind.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Innovation through research

Followers of this blog will know that I believe the future of cereal will hinge on innovation. There are many ways for companies to stand out from their competitors and that can include ingredients, cereal forms, packaging, marketing, etc. But, with the ongoing rise in health awareness by consumers, innovative nutrition research that leads to "functional foods" is another area that holds great promise.

Nutritional innovation in cereals is not new, but there may be signs this is increasing. For example, Kellogg recently announced funding of research at a Belgian university into cereal-derived prebiotics. The use of prebiotics and probiotics (both of which enhance intestinal microflora) is not new in cereal, but the fact that Kellogg is pouring money into this is significant. According to Vice-President Margaret Bath, "this is the first time that in its hundred-year history that Kellogg's is financing fundamental university research".

Of course, it is yet to be seen whether this research results in real innovation for consumers, but it may be the initiative that cereal companies need to take for long-term success.

(Source: Kellogg and

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Cereal and social networking

I recently came across an interesting website called Where's the Cap'n, created by a passionate lover of Quaker Cap'n Crunch. Along with a Facebook page and Twitter account this Cap'n fan is on a campaign to get Quaker to establish a social networking presence for Cap'n Crunch. Apparently this is a genuine "grassroots campaign" (and not a marketing ruse) as the claim is "No brand affiliation, independent movement".

Apart from one's opinion as to whether this is a worthy cause or just a waste of time, it does raise the question about the role of social networking in marketing cereals. If cereal is comfort food and consumers have passionate relationships with some cereal brands, why aren't cereal companies using social media more?

As I observe the social networking landscape I notice the following: 1) Most major cereal companies are doing very little in this medium; 2) There are exceptions, such as during the launch of Wheaties Fuel, but even in that case it has diminished significantly; and 3) Startup and specialty cereal companies appear to be leveraging social media more aggressively since they have less access to mass advertising.

In a highly competitive marketplace establishing relationships with consumers is essential. Will the big cereal companies get more involved in social media, or will they also fall behind in this aspect of innovation?

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Hi-tech cereal boxes

Last week all the buzz was about the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the massive trade show for companies showing off the latest computers, mobile phones, gadgets, etc.

Amidst all the big names, some smaller companies were demonstrating their technologies, including Fulton Innovation. Utilizing their ecoupled inductive charging they demonstrated the possibility of retail packaging that can blink or light-up helping you identify products on the shelf. It's an intriguing concept, but do we need to have the cereal aisle light-up like a Christmas tree everytime we walk down it?

(Source CNet)

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