Friday, August 30, 2013

Has cereal gone soggy?

Earlier this month a story in Bloomberg Businessweek caused a stir when it pointed out that "On-the-Go Americans Are Ditching Their Cereal Bowls". The story highlighted recent financial results from Kellogg and General Mills revealing a decline in cereal sales. To counter the gradual shift way from breakfast cereal companies are experimenting with other breakfast foods, such as drinks and bars. Long-standing alternatives like Pop-Tarts are still doing very well.

There are likely many reasons for this shift. The most likely culprit, as the article suggests, is that our lifestyle is squeezing out cereal. Quicker options are definitely more appealing to many. But, that is not the whole story. The sales results of the big cereal companies may also be partly due to the move away from the big brands to smaller, niche brands that focus on health and innovation, and to more generic cereals sold in bulk or under store-labels.

Whatever the reason, there are some major changes happening around us in cereal. Even the fact that manufacturers are reformulating recipes and changing marketing approaches is an indication that cereal itself is not only changing, but its role within our culture is shifting as well. That's not all bad, but for cereal companies to strengthen their position they can no longer rely on the same old tired strategies. True innovation is necessary, and will be the difference for those who succeed in the future.

What do you think? Is cereal still an important part of your daily routine and life? What would you like to see?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

MixMyOwn mixes it up

I have long been intrigued with the innovation of custom-mixed cereals. Today technology makes it possible for many consumer items to have a high level of customization, and cereal is certainly a commodity well-positioned for such personalization.

Custom cereals are not new. The true trend-setter and leader in this field is mymuesli, a German company established over six years ago. They have done an incredible job of making custom cereal interesting and fun, and in a less-than-saturated cereal market like Germany it appears to have been a great fit. Other companies have tried to copy this model including two notable U.S. start-ups back in 2008: [me]&goji and MixMyGranola. Both companies tried hard, but were unable to make it work. Within the last two years both ceased operation. Up until very recently only one custom cereal company is still around in this country, Custom Choice Cereal, but their niche is the gluten-free market.

Despite the challenges of the U.S. market, a new entrant is in the race, determined to do what no one has yet accomplished: succeed in custom cereals. MixMyOwn was founded by Klara Charvatova and David Filipi, a young couple from Europe, who were inspired by the success of custom cereals there, to launch such a business here in America. Apart from the lack of canisters, there are many similarities with mymuesli, including the fact that MixMyOwn focuses on muesli, not granola like the previous U.S. attempts. 

MixMyOwn recognizes the challenges they face, and they have decided to focus on health conscious people and fitness enthusiasts. For that reason there is an emphasis on organic, preservative free, white sugar free, fillers free, unprocessed, non-GMO ingredients. They currently offer close to 100 ingredients, including 31 freeze-dried fruits and 20 types of nuts and seeds. The well-designed website makes it easy to put your personalized combination together, or you can choose from eight of their own pre-mixes. They gave me an opportunity to try it all out with a complimentary mix of my own design. The ordering process was simple, shipping was fast, and the final product was as promised: tasty and fresh.

I am particularly encouraged by their European focus on muesli. Even though it is possible to put together a granola-based mix, I really believe that muesli is a tremendous growth opportunity for North America since granola is largely passe. Museli has been around for awhile here, but no one has of yet really captured the potential of this cereal option. And, with more and more health conscious consumers out there, MixMyOwn may have an opportunity to be the one. It will require, however, telling a new story about muesli, both in terms of its nutritional value, and how it can be prepared and eaten. They are wise in going after their target market since general consumers are probably not ready for mueslis or custom cereals, and the cost is considerably higher than your average box from the supermarket. 

I will be watching with interest to see if custom cereals finally take off in the U.S.because of the efforts of MixMyOwn!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

All the monsters are back!

One of the most celebrated cereal franchises is General Mills' monster cereals. For decades the company has had a cult following of its monster-themed cereals, which in recent years have only made their appearance around Halloween.

Cereal fanatics will be overjoyed to learn that one of their biggest fantasies is to be re-lived. According to a photo on Serious Eats it appears that for 2013 General Mills will be releasing the entire monster family. In addition to the regulars (Count Chocula, Boo Berry, and Franken Berry) we will see the return of two lesser known monsters who made their debut approximately 40 years ago: Frute Brute (although notice the spelling change from the original "fruit") and Fruity Yummy Mummy. These latter two cereals did not last long in the market, and to this day are rare, collectible boxes. If this photo is legit, this will give several new generations an opportunity to try to them for the first time, and us old folks a fun trip down memory lane.

Good move General Mills! Nostalgic cereals are a great marketing opportunity. We want more!

(Tip from Cereal Fix)

UPDATED 8/20/13: Official statement from General Mills

UPDATED 09/10/13: Even better - Target is now selling vintage versions of these boxes!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Out of Fuel

It is apparent from browsing the cereal aisle and online that General Mills's big push to revitalize the Wheaties brand has ended up with an empty tank. Wheaties Fuel, introduced almost four years ago, is no longer anywhere to be seen. It is missing from the grocery stores and its online presence has disappeared. There is no official word from the company of its demise.

Sadly, I'm not surprised. It was obvious that the cereal and its brand never really caught on. Sure, you can find some loyal fans out there, but I'm not convinced the cereal stood out on taste (and that does matter). Also, it's nutritional profile was hardly what athletic men, their target market, are looking for. General Mills also used Fuel as their first foray into marketing a cereal predominately through social media. That was a good training ground for some of their most recent efforts, but may have been too premature for them to focus on at the time.

I was really hoping that this would work. I called for this back in 2008 and was initially impressed with the marketing push they were giving this when launched in September 2009. But, it ended up being yet another failed attempt to make Wheaties the brand it once was.

I remain convinced that there is a need for a macho cereal that provides an edge to the fitness crazed. As far as cereals are concerned I like what I see in new Post Grape Nuts Fit. If they could combine something like that with a more creative marketing approach (such as I have previously proposed) there is still hope for General Mills or someone else to be successful with this niche market.

Thanks for the experience, Wheaties Fuel. We will all watch with interest how the Wheaties brand fares going forward. Hopefully it can be a champion again.