Sunday, October 15, 2017

Is Post's lawsuit in the bag?

The cereal industry is struggling, and you know that desperation is in the air when lawsuits start flying. This is what happened just a few weeks ago when Post Consumer Brands sued General Mills for patent infringement of its bagged cereal displays.

Bagged cereals have become a big hit for Post, which now owns MOM, the maker of Malt-O-Meal cereals, most of which are brand-name knock-offs sold in large bags. Consumers have gravitated to these cereals because they are cheaper. And price is a big driver in the grocery aisle. General Mills, recognizing MOM's success, and probably frustrated by the attempts to copy some of their big names, decided to get in the game themselves, but with their genuine cereals sold in bags. The issue here is not the bags themselves, but the way they are merchandised. The suit claims that General Mills is using a "copycat merchandising system that imitates Post's innovative divider and merchandising system for bagged cereals." As you can see from the image here, included in the lawsuit, the presentation on the shelves is almost identical, pitting the big-name branded cereals against the cheaper imitations.

Imitation is sometimes considered the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case Post wants to protect something that is working for them. If the lawsuit is won, this would change the shelf displays, but I doubt that the bags themselves are going away anytime soon. We'll watch with interest.

(Source: Minneapolis StarTribune)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

General Mills ramps up the winter cereal race

It's not only Gingerbread Spice Life that is catching people's attention as we get closer to winter. A number of sources recently revealed that General Mills will soon be making Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms available in limited edition varieties: Cinnamon Vanilla Lucky Charms and Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs. These will be available at Target, and should be fun comfort foods for the shorter days ahead. I'm sure we'll see others as well, including the annual appearance of Christmas Cap'n Crunch.

Further examples of how seasonal cereals are a great marketing strategy for cereal companies!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Gingerbread Spice Life!

There are many new cereals introduced each year, and most are not worth reporting on. But, occasionally some stand out, and here is a great example. According to Candy Hunting Quaker will be introducing a limited edition Gingerbread Spice Life cereal, likely before the Holiday season.

While not the first the gingerbread cereal - there have been a few attempts by fringe brands over the years - this marks a major cereal maker tapping into this flavor. This should do well in the grocery stores, as people will be drawn by the emotional connections the tastes and aromas bring. The packaging also looks great - not cartoony, but a serious variety based on a serious cereal.

Will be you trying it?

(Image source: Candy Hunting)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Trix behind classic cereals

Big news in the cereal world today, as General Mills announced that they would be bringing back Trix with all the artificial flavors and colors you used to love, although no word yet on any change to the sugar content. It was just two years ago that General Mills announced the move to remove these artificial ingredients, as part of a longer trend of making their cereals more healthful. "Classic" Trix is not a limited time promotion, but will sit permanently next to the more tame, "natural" Trix on grocers shelves.

Obviously, the move to a greater health focus has a downside. In the effort to satisfy critics of highly sugared cereals targeted to kids, interest in these beloved breakfast brands has decreased. The newer Trix recipe is much more bland and less interesting, or "boring" as I called it in my review. Despite all the altruism, it was apparent to General Mills that people really want the bright and flavorful version embedded in most people's memories. In a time when cereal sales are sagging (evidenced by other news today that General Mills' profits have declined due to weaker cereal revenues), it was time to go back to what worked in the past.

The initial reaction by consumers has been extremely positive, although some hoped that the one-time popular fruit shapes would return as well, something that General Mills said may still happen. For cereal enthusiasts, this move today is very significant, and provides hope that the good old days of cereal fun may return. We have seen many examples before by General Mills and others of using vintage packaging to tap into nostalgia, and in some cases, successful cereals of the past have been reintroduced, such as Post's recent relaunch of Oreo O's. But, to go back to a previous, less healthy recipe, is largely unheard of. I have long held that reintroducing classic cereals could be a boon for cereal manufacturers, even if these were limited editions. Maybe today's move will inspire other reintroductions.

There is a problem, however. What if these classic recipes take off (as they certainly will), overshadowing their healthier shelf-mates? General Mills and others will have no business choice, but to keep the older formulas, and drop the less interesting newer varieties. In other words, this is the New Coke versus Classic Coke dilemma of the 1980's, but with cereal. The problem is that this puts General Mills back into the crosshairs of those who believe that highly-sugared cereal with artificial ingredients should not be sold, or at least not targeted to children.

No matter how the future unfolds, today's reintroduction of Classic Trix is a significant move in the ongoing cereal saga.

Eat your veggies ... at breakfast

This isn't a new topic, but one that deserves a fresh look.

Recently, UK cereal maker, Dorset, introduced a new variety of muesli: "Gently Spiced Carrot & Apple." That's right, carrot. This comes from a niche company that makes well-crafted muesli and granola cereals, and with some of the most beautiful packaging in the industry. This particular recipe sounds wonderful, and is billed as inspired by carrot cake.

To be fair, Dorset is not the first company to incorporate vegetables into cereal. Others to do so have included Bitsy's Brainfood, Love Grown, and vegetable ingredient options for the custom mixes from Bear Naked. Apart from the fact, however, that Bear Naked is owned by Kellogg, vegetables as a primary ingredient in cereal have yet to hit the mainstream with the major brands.

But, perhaps they should. For consumers looking for novel ingredients and tastes, and maximum nutrition, it may be time for the cereal industry to put their dessert cereals aside, and eat their veggies first. In a declining industry, they have nothing to lose.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Technology to address sugar

Earlier this summer General Mills applied for a patent to reduce sugar in breakfast cereals, but without changing other important properties such as texture, appearance or bowl life. This is accomplished by coating the cereal in high-intensity sweeteners (i.e. maltodextrins, which are essentially short chains of glucose molecules).

The real point of this patent is not actually the technology itself, which, by the way, is fairly innovative. What matters are the problems that this solves. Consumers are wanting a reduction in sugar, but simply reducing the amount of sucrose creates its own issues. Obviously, less sugar means blander taste. In addition, the baked sugar in cereal is what gives it its crunch, brown color, and helps keep it from getting soggy. In other words, changing the recipe is not simple as it sounds.

Because of these extra properties that come from sugar, one cannot just use an alternative ingredient, such as an artificial sweetener (which has additional drawbacks for consumers) or fruit juice, etc. Again, you might help with the actual sweetness, but many of the other desirable properties will be compromised.

Food science may be one of the strategies that could help the big cereal companies address the needs and high demands of consumers, while maintaining a great breakfast experience. In this example, General Mills might just be on to something.

SOURCE: Food Business News

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Monsters and other seasonal cereals

This isn't new (it was actually announced almost a month ago), and it's hardly news (since it happens every year at this time), nevertheless, it's that time of year again when General Mills unveils the latest edition of their monster cereals. This year's Halloween specials are the same, familiar crew: Boo Berry, Count Chocula and Franken Berry. Of course the box design is tweaked, and this year we see the introduction of "monster marshmallows."

Ho hum. Perhaps. But, the truth is that if these three cereals were available year round their ubiquitousness would have killed them long ago. In fact, that almost happened, and two of the monster team (Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy) are no longer with us (despite a brief resurrection in 2013). To prevent the whole franchise going down, General Mills adopted a strategy that now makes them one of the most anticipated cereal events of the year: They are only made available in conjunction with Halloween, and then put to sleep for the rest of the year. Their annual fresh appearance generates lots of attention, and I'm sure, sales.

While this is the best example of a seasonal strategy for cereals, there are some others as well. For example, Cap'n Crunch typically has a "Christmas Crunch" edition, with red and green pieces. The recent trend of Pumpkin Spice appears to be another case, with last year's four cereal contenders back again for 2017. There are other, less prominent, examples as well.

I wonder if cereal companies could do more to capitalize on the annual rhythm of the calendar, and offer special editions that are come out regularly each year around the same time? For example, the Advent calendar concept offers many possibilities. What about a Peeps cereal at Easter? Seasonal cereals could be a tremendous opportunity to generate new interest and reduce boredom at the breakfast table. The cereal industry needs that.


Friday, September 01, 2017

Cereals that "move"

Today, cereals have to stand out in order gain attention among consumers. Typically, the approach is to make either fun cereals or those that are focused on health and nutrition. What if you could combine the two?

Probably the best example of creative, "out of the box" thinking among health-oriented cereals comes from two irreverent startup brands that highlight high fiber and the effects it can have on the digestive system. These cereals definitely get noticed, mainly through their names. Snickers and juvenile reactions aside, it seems to be working, at least for one of them, so far.

Eight years, a small Canadian firm came up with Holy Crap, and since then it has become a well-known, albeit niche brand in that country, but also available in some U.S. stores as well, and online. While the name is bold, the cereal is no-nonsense health food, and now comes in several varieties, and some line extensions.

Now, building on that outlandishness, a U.S. cereal maker has come up with Poop Like a Champion. Their website has a Monty Python feel to it, which is just the anti-establishment feel they are going for. The "ultra high fiber" cereal contains 16g of roughage, and bills itself as "The Number 1 High Fiber Cereal for Number 2's." It appears to be available only on Amazon at this time.

While this type of bathroom humor marketing has its limits, it does represent the fresh approach that may be needed for some cereals to get noticed in today's stuffy cereal marketplace.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Krispies art

From time to time, I have highlighted various artists who have used cereal as their medium. Some of the creations have been amazing, but few have found a sustained niche in cereal art. Except, perhaps for Jessica Siskin, "Misterkrisp," who has masterfully created almost daily works of art predominately using Rice Krispies for a couple of years now. Her Instagram account has over 54,000 followers, a testament to her take on one of North America's leading treats.

While I have highlighted her work before, what is noteworthy now is the release of Siskin's new book, Treat Yourself, a colorful guide for anyone who wants to make Pinterest-worthy creations to eat or just display. If you want to bring more fun back into cereal, this is definitely one way to do it!


Friday, August 18, 2017

Kellogg is ramping up new restaurant experience

As further confirmation of my recent suggestion that we are entering a new era of cereal restaurants, Kellogg just days later announced that they will be launching a "new immersive cereal experience" in New York city, this winter.

In the meantime, this past Sunday the company shut down Kellogg's NYC, their much touted concept restaurant in Times Square to prepare for the move to downtown. With the success they experienced, and from what they learned in the process, it was determined that their initial location was too small. Now they have grander plans in mind: "Significantly larger than our current location, the new spot will be able to contain an explosion of cereal inspiration and fun... [and] a more immersive experience and new kitchen to explore cereal in exciting, fresh ways throughout your day.

Kellogg is not saying much more at this time, but it is clear that they are thinking big and "outside the box." This could contribute further to expansion of cereal restaurants, not only by Kellogg, but other companies as well.

We'll be watching!

(Photo source: Kellogg's NYC)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Has the time finally arrived for cereal restaurants?

Business concepts typically go through natural cycles. Usually, someone launches a new innovation, getting lots of attention, including that from copycats who jump on the bandwagon wanting to cash in on the potential. Eventually, however, the initial enthusiasm is not enough to sustain the idea, creating many causalities along the way, and often consolidation. Eventually, however, once clearer minds are able to better understand the industry and what is required to succeed in it, a second wave of growth occurs. At this point, more mature individuals and companies emerge to lead and dominate. History is full of examples of this, ranging from things like the automobile to computers to podcasting.

A perfect case in point for us are cereal restaurants. It was twelve years ago this month that I first noticed this concept, with a new chain called Cereality. The following couple of years saw other companies open cereal bars as well, but after some lawsuits and many failures, things settled down. Even the pioneer, Cereality, began to struggle, and was eventually bought out by Coldstone Creamery. Today, Cereality has one location remaining, in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

Then things were relatively quiet for a few years, until 2014 when two brothers got tremendous media coverage (and even controversy at times) for the launch of the Cereal Killer Café in London. Since that time a number of entrepreneurs, and even Kellogg's itself, took a fresh look at the concept, and we are seeing a whole new level of activity across several countries. Some of these are small local joints, but others are being launched with sophisticated marketing and savvy, like the soon to be opened The Cereal Box in Arvada, Colorado and Barley in Montreal.

I'm convinced we'll see more of this. Certainly, some will flounder, but others will carve out a whole new niche. I would not be surprised to see the big cereal companies follow on the heels of Kellogg's NYC experiment, and set up cereal cafes across the country in strategic locations to highlight and strengthen their brands.

These could be exciting times!

(Photo source: Kellogg NYC)

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Kellogg UK to sell cereal advent calendar

Cereal lovers in the United Kingdom are excited this week, with news that Kellogg will be selling an Advent Calendar, as a special edition of its Variety Pack collection. That's 24 single-serving boxes of cereal to help countdown the days of December leading up to Christmas!

Gimmick? Of course. But, it's the type of creative marketing that is simple to implement, with the potential for generating some positive cereal attention. To be sure, this is the not the first cereal advent calendar. MyMuesli in Germany has been making these for several years, and with much more finesse. But, Kellogg's attempt is noteworthy, as it comes from one of the big companies.

I have reached out to Kellogg U.S. to find out if we can expect this on our side of the pond, but so far no word if we can expect this gift for Christmas.

(Source: Good Housekeeping)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The expanding world of cereal lines

Our recent report of interesting, new Post Shredded Wheat varieties was a good reminder of how the bulk of new cereals (not including limited edition one-offs) coming out today are extensions of existing lines. At one time, during cereals' heyday, almost every new cereal was launched as its own brand. Those days are long over, with very few new cereal brands introduced by the major players. In fact, when General Mills launched Tiny Toast last year they proudly claimed that it was the first new brand in 15 years, a position I challenged at the time. Interestingly, just a couple of months ago that experiment quickly ended, as the two Tiny Toasts were absorbed into the Toast Crunch line.

In many ways this makes sense, as people are less loyal to or interested in the cereal companies themselves, and it is difficult for new brands to stand out. Consumers gravitate to known and trusted brands, and line extensions are a convenient way for companies to introduce new cereals. If you want to make a chocolate flavored cereal, instead of trying to drum up a new brand, just piggy back on an existing one like Cheerios, or Shredded Wheat. It seems now that virtually every permanent cereal line has been extended to some extent, with some of the more notable ones being Cheerios (13 varieties), Honey Bunches of Oats (12 varieties), Special K (17 cereals plus other food products), and Chex (8 varieties). We also see special edition and seasonal cereals joining lines for a short period on such brands as Cap'n Crunch and Pebbles.

While we still have tons of cereal brands to choose from, in reality the number has basically levelled off. Instead, we have super-brands that dominate grocery store shelves and consumers minds. This makes it much more difficult for new brands to get noticed, but on the other hand, could be a tremendous opportunity for an exciting new brand that wants to disrupt the market.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Post brings new life to a stodgy brand

There have been a lot of new cereals hitting the shelves in the past few months, as cereal companies try everything possible to garner attention. Some are more exciting than others, with the majority hardly likely to make much traction. But, another recent introduction has captured my attention, and this one also comes from Post. They have launched three new varieties of their Shredded Wheat line, one of the oldest cereal brands out there. Shredded Wheat whether as the original biscuit, or one of the Spoon Size versions, is hearty, healthy cereal; but not cereals that most consumers pay attention to.

The new Shredded Wheat cereals are frosted spoon size biscuits. On the surface, this might sound hardly unique, especially in light of Kellogg's highly successful Mini-Wheats line. But, Post (quietly and quickly moving to become the most significant cereal company) did not just to spit out another knock-off. The flavors are bold: cinnamon roll, mixed berry, and s'mores bites. And the packaging jumps off the shelf with color and energy. I am sure people will want to try them. I do!

If it is possible to make Shredded Wheat interesting, then anything is possible at time when the cereal industry needs some big wins.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bringing Back the Oldies

A few weeks ago word was out that Post would be re-introducing a notable cereal that was discontinued over a decade ago. Oreo O's cereal was a novel branding coup when it first came out in 1998, and had many fans. Unfortunately, enthusiasm waned, and eventually the famous cookie inspired cereal was pulled from the market. Now that the Oreo brand has gone into hyper-mode with virtually every flavor combination possible in cookies, Post saw this as a great time to bring it back in its cereal form. Cereal and Oreo fans have been ecstatic.

The real story, however, is not just the return of this particular cereal, but about the comeback of nostalgic cereals. This is the not the first time for such a revival. General Mills did it not too long ago with French Toast Crunch, and a short-term resurrection of two almost forgotten monster cereals. Also coming soon, is Post Honey Maid S'mores cereal (a Honey Maid cereal was also first introduced about 10 years ago, before disappearing).

The point in all this is that for cereal companies looking for growth opportunities, bringing back nostalgic cereals could be one effective strategy. Most of us grew up with certain memorable cereals on our kitchen tables, and nothing would generate an emotional response like getting an opportunity to try again one a cereal like Freakies, OK's, Pink Panther Flakes, etc. (Another approach that companies have used is to simply provide vintage packaging on existing cereals to tap into our memories of the past).

Sure, the reality of reintroduced cereals might not live up to our memories of them, but, it would certainly generate some significant short-term sales, and perhaps one or two of these oldies could become a hit again. At minimum, this would generate some interest in cereal again at time when people seem to be pulling away.

What cereal would you like to see return?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is Hitting the Road

We all know cereal sales have slumped. People are just not shopping the cereal aisle of the grocery store. So, what does a cereal company do? Go to the consumer.

General Mills announced today that they will be going on a road trip this summer with a portable Drive Thru promoting Cinnamon Toast Crunch, currently their brand getting the most creative marketing campaigns. This pop up pit stop is targeted to people on road trips, with the first one showing up this weekend at the Grand Canyon. Travellers can sample the cereal, which will include special recipe concoctions. While their press release does not explicitly say so, it sounds like we could see the big cereal box and milk carton in other prominent tourist locations across the U.S. over the next two months.

Again, General Mills has been doing some fun marketing with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, including a selfie spoon offer, among other things. While limited in scope and actual reach, campaigns like this can contribute to a greater brand profile and buzz. Interestingly, General Mills' European partner, Nestle, has also been experimenting with pop-up promotions in malls in Ireland.

So, watch for this new Drive Thru coming to a tourist trap near you this summer. Where would you like to see one?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Burger King Gets Lucky

First it was Froot Loops, but now two months, later Burger King looks like it's serious about cereal flavored frozen foods with the introduction of the Lucky Charms shake. This time General Mills gets the nod, giving restaurant customers a reason to spend more by purchasing this novelty featuring one of their beloved cereals. Sure, it's a gimmick, but a smart tie-in for the both the fast food and cereal giants. Although, at 740 calories and 107g of sugar, if you eat too many of these you might not live enough to remain a customer.

What other cereal flavors would you like to see in a shake or frozen dessert?



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wheaties is looking to the stars (again)

The most frequent editorial comments on The Breakfast Bowl have concerned Wheaties. I have often wondered why General Mills has not taken better advantage of this iconic brand, especially in marketing to men. Sure, they tried several different strategies over the years, and for a time appeared to have success (or at least prominent brand position) by focusing on big name sports leagues, teams and players. But, about ten years ago, sales were soggy and Wheaties had become mediocre. In 2009 they tried by introducing Wheaties FUEL, but that was not well executed. Since then, the company has appeared to be floundering with Wheaties, lacking clarity and marketing focus. Most recently they tried going after the younger crowd with extreme sports, but I doubt that has achieved its goal.

Last month, however, we saw a glimpse of perhaps a new strategy. Or, at least an old strategy revived. General Mills announced that the young golfing sensation, Jordan Spieth, has now signed on with Wheaties and will be gracing the front of a new box coming very soon. Spieth is a big name, and for many is the new Tiger Woods, another Wheaties alumnus. Obviously, the Big G is hoping that his prominence will sell many orange boxes, and perhaps push new energy into the Wheaties brand. It is the first really big star in many years, and could be a sign that, if this works, we could see more big names back on the boxes. (By the way, yes basketball great Stephen Curry was on Wheaties not long ago, but General Mills was going the cheap route - he only appeared in street clothes, as including him in a Warriors uniform would complicated the arrangement due to licensing costs, etc.).

Overall, getting Jordan Spieth on Wheaties is a good move. I am not convinced, however, that it is a strong long-term strategy. Ultimately, General Mills needs to do more with the Wheaties brand, and part of that might mean a close look at the cereal itself.

In the meantime, we'll be watching the stars.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

When brands are toast

There has been much buzz in recent days as General Mills has revamped and expanded its line of "Toast" cereals, built around the highly successful and popular Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The company just announced the introduction of Apple Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a re-branding of last year's strawberry and blueberry Tiny Toast cereals to also join the family. Along with French Toast Crunch, there are now five Toast Crunch cereals, creating a strong sub-brand, a growing trend in the cereal industry. Previously, there have been other flavors as well, including chocolate, and peanut butter.

Of course, the new Apple Cinnamon flavor sounds delightful. But, of most interest here is the quick re-branding of the two Tiny Toast varieties introduced just one year ago. At the time, General Mills touted this as a new brand, but I questioned the strategy, wondering why they did not go with the Toast Crunch designation. One analyst, quoted in Ad Age, suggested that they went the Tiny Toast route to get more attention and grocer's shelf space. Regardless, the company has allowed common sense to prevail, and now they have a strong family of cereals that should be a leader within their portfolio.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The expanding world of Post

When we think about the major players in the cereal industry, most of the attention goes to Kellogg and General Mills, the world's largest cereal companies. Beyond that are several other players, such as Post and Quaker, but these seem to pale in comparison. Or do they?

Post, in particular, is a dark horse that is quietly and quickly gaining momentum to be more than an also-ran, third place contender. Historically, Post was right there from the beginning as a rival in Battle Creek with the Kellogg brothers. Over the years, however, Post lost its edge, falling behind in the pack. Things have begun to change in the last decade after several ownership shifts and reorganizations. This included a merger with Ralcorp (i.e. Ralston cereals) and the purchase of Malt-O-Meal. Previously, Nabisco was incorporated into the company as well. Other brands in the Post portfolio include Better Oats, Mom's Best Cereals, and Peace Cereals.

Last month, another major milestone for Post was achieved with the takeover of U.K. cereal giant, Weetabix. Weetabix itself (i.e. a wheat and malted barely cereal) is somewhat obscure for most Americans, but is an icon in Britain. The purchase by Post not only gives the company a greater foothold in the U.K. market, but gives Post some additional opportunities in the U.S. In addition to Weetabix itself, the Alpen and Barbara's brands are now Post's as well. Post CEO Robert Vitale has said that with this acquisition, "it’s the right time to bring all our cereal brands under one unit." (Source: Food Business News) All of this means that Post's brand matrix is stronger and more diverse than ever. If carefully managed, this could further bolster Post ahead in an already tight cereal market and race.

The company could truly be poised to "be first past the post" (pun intended)!

Monday, May 15, 2017

10,000 boxes Lucky Charms marshmallows coming soon

General Mills' Lucky Charms is one of the best-selling cereals out there, and one of its most-loved features are the colorful marshmallows that accent the experience. It is not uncommon for people to eat the marshmallows only, or to consume the cereal pieces first in the bowl, saving the marshmallows until the end. General Mills' knows all this, and wants to capitalize on it.

A couple of years ago the company held a contest, where 10 boxes of marshmallow-only Lucky Charms were given awarded. Now, they want to play this up to a much bigger scale, with the plan to give out 10,000 boxes! Starting this month, look for specially marked boxes of Lucky Charms that will contain a special code printed inside the box. Visit their website, and if your code matches, General Mills will send you one of the rare, special boxes.

In the past, some have argued that Lucky Charms Marshmallows should be sold in stores, but this is far more valuable to the company. This generous offer creates tremendous buzz for Lucky Charms, and, at least in the short-term, will sell a ton of cereal as people frantically search to discover whether they will be the truly Lucky ones. Such brand energy is just what General Mills needs, and is one of the creative ways that cereal companies must come up with to restore the fun of breakfast cereal amid sagging sales.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Design Matters

Over the years I have, at times, highlighted noteworthy design changes in cereal boxes. In a crowded grocery story aisle, it is critical that a brand have a clear identity that stands out from the competition. Unfortunately, many cereals suffer from either bad design or being stuck in decades old time warp. This is puzzling, especially considering the struggles that the cereal industry is having. You would think there would be more experimentation and innovation with this aspect.

Every once in a while, however, a cereal company breaks the mold and does something fresh with design. For example, recently, we have seen this with the new look at Kashi. And, now another great example rises to the forefront from the United Kingdom. There, the Good Grain brand has gone through a recent transformation, and it looks great!



As you can see in the before and after photos of one of their cereals, they have a adopted a simplistic look that is bright, fun and captivating. Previously, as is typical with most cereals, the box was cluttered with a lot of text, and the obligatory decked-out bowl of cereal. The new design has been radically cleaned-up, and seems to leap off the shelf into the shopping cart.

I hope more cereal companies are paying attention to these design changes. Again, this is an area they seem to have ignored in their quest to turn around sagging cereal sales. It is not the full solution, but it would go a long way to improve the image of these breakfast staples.

(Source: Brand New)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Purely Pinole: A New Twist to Hot Cereal

One of the objectives of The Breakfast Bowl is to observe and comment on trends affecting the cereal industry. On several occasions, including as recently as two months ago, I have probed into hot cereals, and have wondered when someone is going to truly disrupt this rather boring market segment. Occasionally there are signs of innovation, but most of what we see with hot cereal are just endless variations of oatmeal.

After my last post on the topic, I was contacted by Claudio Ochoa, one of the founders of Native State Foods, a recent startup that specializes in somewhat unusual hot cereals based on pinole. To help me understand and assess this new product, Ochoa had several samples sent to me to try.


So, what is pinole (pronounced Pih-NOL)? The company bills their product, branded as Purely Pinole, as an ancient Aztec power food. According to Ochoa, who himself grew up in Honduras eating this concoction, it originated over 500 years ago with the Aztecs, and is still a traditional food in parts of central America. Pinole is made primarily from ground wild purple maize, and then roasted alongside other ingredients such as cacao, cinnamon and allspice. It is cooked with milk, and eaten as a porridge.

For Ochoa the appeal for pinole is much greater than his desire to rediscover a comfort food from the past. Apart from its novel taste and texture, the value of this product is also found in its nutritional qualities. Most notable about pinole is that it is high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. And it addresses all kinds of other contemporary concerns such as being vegan, gluten-free, and without any artificial ingredients. One group of people who have used this formula for years is endurance runners, but Ochoa and his partner, Angela, are hoping that word gets out to many others as well.

Native State Food was founded about two years ago as a side business, but they are working hard to establish the brand and create a line of products built around this power food. The packaging and marketing are done with excellence, and the story of Purely Pinole reaching back to the ancient Aztecs adds a sense of intrigue. Distribution, however, is still quite limited. Apart from their online store, Purely Pinole is only sold in stores in California and the northeast U.S. at this time, so there is limited exposure. Over time they hope to expand beyond that, but are not in a rush. They are focusing on active weekend warriors looking for performance foods, and young moms looking for something nutritious for their families. Their product line is currently limited to three flavors (original, blueberry+banana, and tart cherry+lemon), but soon they will be launching Grab & Go Snack Cups in four additional flavors that can be prepared in the microwave and eaten on the run.

Overall, I have enjoyed my pinole experiences. Trying something unique in contrast to the many predictable hot cereal choices out there has been in itself fun. I cannot say that I would want to eat Pinole every day, but definitely as an occasional treat. The earthy flavors and spices make for a hearty breakfast, but there is flexibility to use this in other recipes. And, speaking personally, I must admit that I felt real good after eating pinole - not something that one say after eating many other cereals.

The biggest challenge that I see for Purely Pinole, is just getting people to try something new and different. And, with that, learning how to cook it, and taking the time to do so. It took me a few attempts to get the knack so that the porridge thickened just right. (One of the lessons I've learned in all this is: make sure you follow their instructions to dissolve the powder fully!) I also found that that with the basic mixes, I needed to definitely add some sweetener (i.e. sugar, honey, etc.) to make this fully palatable. I also tried mixing in some fresh fruit, which added a wonderful touch. To be honest, the tastes of the Grab & Go cups were my favorites, although the serving size is quite small. They are designed for a quick snack, but at 110 calories, not enough for a full breakfast.

If you are looking for a truly unique cereal for breakfast (or any other time), I would encourage you to give Purely Pinole a try. This is not for the sugared cold cereal fans, but for those who want something hearty and nutritious, it just might become a new favorite of yours!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Burger King goes Froot Loopy

Cereal in restaurants is not new, but this latest twist does not involve individual serving boxes with a small carton of milk. According to several news outlets, such as Today.com, fast food giant, Burger King, is partnering with Kellogg to launch a Froot Loops shake this month. The limited time concoction will be available in the U.S. on April 17th.

Fast food restaurants offering unique cereal desserts is also not new. Two years ago Taco Bell utilized Cap'n Crunch on deep-fried donut holes.

I'm surprised we have not seen more of these combinations, as they are win-win scenarios for both the restaurants and cereal companies. For the beleaguered cereal makers, these types of arrangement are tremendous branding opportunities. This "out of the bowl" thinking reinforces the fun and versatility of cereal, something desperately needed to retain and increase consumer interest.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Will Cereal A GO! go?

Over the years I have highlighted various bowl inventions designed to improve the cereal eating experience. Most of these concepts were designed to solve the problem of soggy cereal, by keeping the cereal and milk separate as much as possible.

The latest concept is Cereal A GO!, a two-container system developed by a retired Army paratrooper. In addition to separate compartments for the cereal and milk, it was designed to be used with one hand, making for greater convenience. The user simply squeezes the liquid side and it sprays into the cereal. The attached spoon can be likewise operated with the same hand while hold the device. The cereal can be eaten directly from the built-in bowl, or transferred to a more conventional one.

The inventor, Jesse Fairchild, has patented Cereal A GO!, and is hoping that cereal companies will license the product for selling their products, but also sees application in other setting, such as in relief efforts.

It's an awkward looking device, but in a tight market, something like this might be a solution for the cereal industry seeking to make cereal consumption more convenient for today's picky consumers.

Would you use it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Froot Loops celebrates Canada's birthday

One of the aspects of cereal culture that has made it so endearing is the fun experiences that some brands and varieties provide. Despite the gloom and doom in the cereal industry, there are occasional glimpses of creativity, and we have discovered one example in Canada. According to Instagramers @junkfoodcanada and @candyhunting Kellogg is about to introduce a special edition of Froot Loops in conjunction with Canada's 150th birthday this year. Birthday Cake flavour Froot Loops look just plain fun, even though we will have to reserve full judgement until we have a taste.

Recently we have seen several innovative cereals showing up in the Great White North, such as Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch oatmeals. Who knows if any of these cereals will make it to the U.S. or other markets, but we can only hope!

(Image source: candyhunting)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Honey Nut Cheerios seeds of hope (or despair?)

It's finally spring, and with that General Mills is celebrating the arrival of the equinox with a marketing campaign mixed in with a dose of social responsibility. A couple of weeks ago the company launched #BringBacktheBees, a program designed to highlight the unexplained decline of bees in the world. To do so they utilized the best-selling cereal in North America, Honey Nut Cheerios, as the platform to get this message across. Specially marked boxes in the U.S. and Canada feature Buzz the Bee missing, with only a silhouette in its place. As part of the promotion consumers were invited to request a package of wildflower seeds so that they could contribute to nourishing the bees around them.

Apparently the seed giveaway has been a resounding success, even exceeding General Mills' goal. 1.5 billion seeds were distributed, and their website says they have none left. This is a feel good campaign that not only raises the profile of the cereal, but creates of lots of goodwill for the company as well.

Except, however, for some controversy. Apparently some environmentalists, as reported on Lifehacker, have urged people not to plant these seeds since many of them are flowers not native to the United States, and therefore not necessarily a good match for the bees. The fear is that this could actually cause more damage than good. General Mills countered these concerns on the Cheerios Facebook page claiming that "the seed varieties in the mix are not considered invasive."

Most of this "buzz" has been good, but it seems that cereal companies just cannot get it completely right nowadays!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The growing significance of Bear Naked

In the past month some new Bear Naked cereals have been appearing on some grocers' shelves. While that might not sound like big news, it actually is since these are the first of their cereals to come in boxes and not as pure granola plays. It appears that there are three new Bear Naked varieties: Chocolate Almond Clusters, Toasted Coconut Clusters, and Sweet Honey Clusters. While they contain granola clusters, these cereals are based around multigrain flakes.

I first came across Bear Naked 11 years ago, and at that time was impressed with their creative marketing and pouch packaging. Kellogg also took notice, and by the end of 2007 had purchased the cereal startup. Since then, despite some branding updates, Bear Naked has largely been a granola manufacturer. Things started to change, however, last year when they began a serious foray into custom cereals, the first time for one of the major cereal companies. Now, in 2017, with these new boxed cereals Bear Naked is ready for the mainstream. Within the larger Kellogg family Bear Naked appears to be focused on delivering hearty, natural cereals; a unique position compared to the health-food image of Kashi, and the more conventional varieties under the Kellogg label. It may also be that Bear Naked will accomplish what big K was hoping to accomplish in their lackluster Origins line launched two years ago.

Bear Naked is quickly emerging as a strong brand, and with continued focus could provide Kellogg a powerful new place in the minds of consumers.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The expanding Raisin Bran(d)

With the literally hundreds of cereal options available to consumers, manufacturers have a challenge keeping their brands from all the clutter. The trend in recent years is to build on already successful brands, instead of trying to launch out with something completely new. For this reason we now see super cereal brands like Honey Bunches of Oats, Cheerios, and Special K, each offering a myriad of flavor and nutrition variants in order to catch people's attention in the grocer's aisle. If you like a cereal such as regular Cheerios, it is not a big leap to venture out for some variety with flavors like chocolate, ancient grains, or honey nut.

The latest example of this strategy is Kellogg's Raisin Bran, one of the best selling cereals on the market. The Battle Creek company has been gradually adding new cereals to the Raisin Bran portfolio, including three quite recently: Crunch Apple Strawberry, Cranberry Almond Granola, and Raisin and Honey Granola. This now brings to seven the number of offerings with "two scoops of raisins" along with fiber-rich bran.

The new Crunch Apple Strawberry, in particular, looks real interesting, and something I definitely want to try. I suspect others will as well, and that is just the way Kellogg wants it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Is it time for hot cereal to be disrupted?



Over the past few weeks, several tips out of Canada (including a segment on NBC's Today Show) have revealed that General Mills is experimenting with some innovations to stodgy old oatmeal. For a limited time in the Great White North consumers can buy Lucky Charms Instant Oatmeal and Cinnamon Toast Crunch Instant Oatmeal. Pairing a traditional hot cereal with an irreverent, popular cold cereal brand is powerful. I am amazed no one has thought of this before.

For years I have been observing the slow, but growing trend toward oatmeal, and porridges in general. Hot cereal is a comfort food, and with the increased convenience factors (i.e. instant and single-serve packaging) offers a nutritious alternative to the typical cold cereals that dominate the marketplace. Already there are dozens of oatmeal brands readily available in the supermarket, and many more niche varieties as well.

General Mills told NBC that their Canadian experiment is an eight-week trial, and that "there are not any plans at this time to introduce the product in the United States." Porridges are somewhat more popular in Canada (any big surprise?), so this is a good test market for them. I would love to hear what General Mills learns from this venture, but I hope they decide to expand their offerings to more brands and to the U.S. as well. At minimum it could get children hyped over oatmeal!

I have long contended that with the breakfast cereal market in decline, innovation is critical. This could be an opportunity for the big players to extend their already well-known brands to hot cereal. Kellogg has already done this with Special K, but they all could benefit from following General Mills' lead with Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and try other pairings. Some naturals that come to mind for me would be Apple Jacks, Cap'n Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, and Froot Loops. What about Boo Berry, Count Chocula and Franken Berry in the fall?

What fun, new hot cereals would you like to see?





Thursday, February 16, 2017

Follow us on Instagram

Things have been quiet around the Breakfast Bowl lately, partly due to work we're doing to expand and improve our site and cereal banter.

One of the enhancements that we are happy to unveil right now is our new Instagram account. Be sure to follow us at @the_breakfast_bowl for photos about cereal, and especially boxes, including many from my collection!








Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year, New Cereals

January has typically been a prime occasion for cereal manufacturers to launch new products, and this new year is no exception. Here are some of the notable cereals to watch for in the U.S. this month (although a few hit store shelves a few weeks early):


Kellogg's Cinnamon Frosted Flakes - Kellogg probably has realized that they can do so much more with one of the most popular cereals out there, Frosted Flakes. While this is not the first variety ever introduced, it might be the most interesting.

Post Cinnamon Pebbles - Cinnamon has become a popular flavor in recent years, and Post (affirming what Kellogg's sees as well) is relying on that with its latest Pebbles iteration.

Kellogg's Keebler Cereal - Most people are not aware that the famous cookie brand Keebler is actually owned by Kellogg. This is not the first time the company has tried a Keebler cereal, but they are wise in making another attempt, and playing off a strong brand to attract consumers. The 2017 version claims to contain "real mini chocolate chip cookies."

General Mills' Girl Scouts - Announced back in the fall, General Mills is also expanding on its cookie offerings with a unique partnership with the Girl Scouts, and two fun cereal flavors.

General Mills' Very Berry Cheerios - This one has not been officially announced yet, but some sites such as JunkBanter and Cerealously have already come across it in stores. Not the first berry flavored Cheerios, but a bright new extension to this leading brand. The O's feature specks of real berry powders (i.e. blueberry, strawberry, cranberry and raspberry).



Regional differences and responsibility

It is hardly news when a special interest group criticizes the nutritional quality of breakfast cereals. So, a recent report from WASH (World Action on Salt and Health) would normally hardly catch our attention, except for one difference.

In WASH's international survey of breakfast cereals they discovered that not only are there big differences in salt and sugar content in global cereal brands, but that even among specific brands there can be dramatic differences from country to country. Again, the fact that there are regional variations among brands is no big shock, but upon closer examination these differences represent some disturbing implications.

The survey revealed, for example, that Kellogg's Honey Smacks have 25% more sugar in Mexico than the same cereals in Belgium, Spain, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE. Similarly, Kellogg's Corn Flakes has 46% more salt than the same product in Argentina and Brazil. Again, this is likely due to different taste preferences in the various countries, but WASH is rightly concerned that big cereal companies like Kellogg and Nestle/General Mills are irresponsible in even offering foods with such high levels of sodium and sugar. The Honey Smacks example is particularly troubling since Mexico already has one of the highest obesity rates in the world.

Again, this all has to do with reputation and public relations, an issue we examined last week. Cereal companies are not immune from this public scrutiny, and need to work harder to establish themselves as brands that can be trusted by consumers who are increasingly cynical of cereal.