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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