Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Cereal Year in Review

As we come to the end of the year it is a good time to look back on the major developments in the world of cereal. Like always there are new cereals that hit the market, interesting marketing tactics, and the occasional controversy, but the big story for 2013 is the realization that, in North America at least, the cereal industry is facing some major challenges. In fact, someday we may look back on this year as a critical point in the history of breakfast cereal.

Certainly purchasing and eating trends have been changing for quite some time, but this is the year that the big players were forced to make some big adjustments. This summer there were a number of commentaries on analysis suggesting that cereal has gone soggy. Cereal consumption is not as ubiquitous as it once was as consumers have so many other options available to them. And, despite a proliferation of new brands and varieties, very little innovation has taken hold. The result is that at least two of the big three cereal companies are feeling the pressure. Kellogg recently announced a sales decline and closure of some plants, and Post posted a loss.

The 2013 bright spot was definitely General Mills, indicative of the disproportionate amount of coverage they have received on this blog. They have actually had sales growth, and this is due to taking on the shifting cereal market aggressively. As I've already pointed out Big G leads the industry in use of social media, and gained attention with such things as provocative advertising and their popular monster cereal re-launch. They appear to be the company to beat right now.

In light of the challenges facing the industry 2014 should be an exciting one to watch. The Breakfast Bowl will be there to bring you the latest developments! (And, be sure to follow us on Facebook for even more cereal information and tidbits!)

Final word...

CEREAL PICK OF THE YEAR: There weren't any earth shattering cereal introductions this year, but the new one that stood out to me was Post's Grape Nuts Fit.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Super Bowl for Cheerios

General Mills continues their aggressive assault against the slide in cereal popularity. This year we've seen the focused use of social media, a willingness to be controversial, the return of the entire monster cereal family, and cereal box premiums, among other things. Their latest tactic is the announcement that the 2014 Super Bowl will include a Cheerios commercial, the first for the brand and something unusual for cereals overall. While details on the commercial are still secret, indications are that it will focus on "the power of family love and the important role that Cheerios and breakfast can play in building family connections".

We'll be watching.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Return of the Free Prizes?

Those of us who grew up in the 50's, 60's or 70's know that a fun part of breakfast cereal was the free prize inside many boxes. This was a marketing ploy that really worked, drawing in kids and sometimes adults to get a small toy, sports card, etc.

Cereal premiums still show up from time to time, but rarely. General Mills, who already is on a roll this year with some great new marketing initiatives, is offering free Stars Wars Pens in specially marked boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese’s Puffs, Golden Grahams, Cocoa Puffs, Trix and Lucky Charms. The eight different pens are each based around a character in the Star Wars movies, and will likely be in demand by the many movie fans and collectors out there, especially as we all anticipate the final trilogy, currently in production.

Hopefully this will see more free prizes in cereal boxes. I'm not sure why they ever went out of fashion. Perhaps it was an extra cost companies didn't want to absorb, or maybe they felt consumers were too sophisticated. But, at a time when cereal companies have to innovate to stand out this could be a winning strategy for the industry and for children building memories with little plastic toys.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cereal targeted in new nutrition ratings

Cereal has long been a target of nutrition advocates, mainly because such a popular food consumed at the most important meal of the day has not always been a paragon of good nutrition. There have been moves to curtail the advertising of unhealthful cereals, especially to children. In recent years cereal companies have responded by tweaking their recipes to at least appear more nutritious.

One of the tactics used on many cereal boxes are simplified nutrition statements and graphics to help consumers make better choices. While this has likely assisted (or at least swayed) people's decision making in the store, there are still tons of sugared, artificially-flavored cereals sold each year. Let's face it, people buy cereal for more than nutrition, and for some it is still very confusing.

For several years now the Maine-based Hannaford Supermarket chain introduced the "Guiding Stars" program which displays up to three stars for food products to indicate their relative nutritional value. In a recent study of that program cereals that didn't qualify for a star saw a reduction in sales by at least 10 percent.

If such a program were to be more widely adopted, what would be the impact on our buying habits and our health? Certainly, there is much to be said about giving consumers information to make good nutrition decisions. But, can a star system really address the complexities of food and nutrition? Who determines the rating system, and how valid is it? And, could it give people a false sense of security on their overall eating habits?

One thing is for sure, the pressure is still on the cereal aisle. At least this approach takes the onus off the manufacturers to convey all the information, although they will still be forced to work harder to meet consumer demand.

In the end it's about choice. Giving consumers information is valid, but let's remember that there are many reasons why people buy the cereals they do. Many will make decisions despite the number of stars on the grocers on the shelf.

(Source: AP)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kashi too "Mainstream"

Last week a big announcement in the cereal industry was Kellogg announcing another disappointing round of cereal sales, and a workforce reduction of 2000 employees. As we've discussed here before cereal has gone soggy in American culture, and the big companies are struggling to maintain, let alone grow, revenues.

Lost around that story was a much more interesting tidbit that came from the mouth of Kellogg CEO John Bryant. As he relayed the state of the company's financial performance he commented on the problems with Kashi, Kellogg's natural food brand. The reality is that health foods are now mainstream, and Kashi no longer has a unique place in the market. When Kellogg purchased Kashi 13 years ago they saw this as an opportunity to reach a population segment that was looking for something much more wholesome than regular cereals. If it has worked, that success is now waning, and Kellogg is in dire need of a new strategy.

Kellogg is not alone in the attempt to broaden their market reach by buying out healthy food brands. General Mills owns Cascadian Farms. Kraft bought Back to Nature cereals. Barbara's is owned by the U.K's Weetabix. And, Kellogg's has yet another natural brand in its arsenal: Bear Naked. These revelations could be a shock to many of you who thought you were thumbing your nose at the large corporations.

In other words, the big cereals companies have jumped on the bandwagon over the last decade or so to capture a portion of the breakfast bowl, knowing that consumers were increasingly looking past the nutrition mediocrity of popular cereals. But, nutrition conscious consumers are not stupid. They know the facts, and are easily put off by companies acting without authenticity. In fact, they also react negatively to inconsistency such as when it was discovered that Kashi used genetically modified ingredients. The result of all this, as CEO Bryant inferred, is that brands like Kashi are no longer desirable brands, they're as mainstream as Froot Loops.

The future for cereal companies is nothing less than innovation, reaching out to a broader base of consumers in fresh new ways. It appears, however, that going natural is no longer one of those ways.

(Source: Huffington Post)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: General Mills Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy

The biggest cereal story this year has been the major re-launch of General Mills' monster cereal family. Since the announcement this summer I have wanted to do a review of the two recent re-additions: Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy, but it has taken me until this past week to finally get my hands on Frute Brute. For some strange reason, despite checking numerous stores across my state, I couldn't find it.

My hunt is over, and it is time to take a closer taste of what all the marketing hype is about. In many ways this is a somewhat unusual review for me. Instead of doing just one cereal, I am doing two at once. The reason is quite simple. The fruit-flavored monster cereals are essentially the same products, just with different flavors, colors and marketing applied. For General Mills this is a fairly simple way for them to make cereal, and probably profitable considering the boat loads they must be selling leading up to Halloween.

So, let's get out our bowls and pull up a chair. It's time to go down memory lane!

To no one's surprise these are sugared cereals laden with flavor. For those who do not remember these two lesser known monster cereals Frute Brute is cherry flavored, and Yummy Mummy features orange cream. Of course, the key word to go along with these descriptions is the adjective "artificial". In fact, without the insane use of artificial flavors these cereals wouldn't be worth eating. Between the two, Yummy Mummy has much more pronounced flavor. The cherry in Frute Brute is much more subtle. In fact, I'm not sure I could even identify it as cherry without having first known it. Having said all this, one or two bites of these cereals is fun for the palate, but beyond that the taste ends up being too much. I'm not crazy about them.

The monster shaped cereal is lightly crunchy out of the box, and surprisingly retains its shape and remains somewhat chewy even after considerable time in milk. Texture is average.

Let's be honest, these cereals would hardly sell if it weren't for the brilliant marketing. Even the fact that General Mills only makes monster cereals available at this time of year adds to the excitement. These cereals are just plain fun to eat, probably more than any other cereal out there right now. The boxes are fantastic, both in the new wild, colorful designs, and the vintage boxes especially targeted to adults wanting to relive their childhood. The experience is absolutely fantastic!

Now another downer: nutrition. Anyone who purchases these cereals for their health value is either completely stupid about nutrition or delusional. Having said that, however, the modern version of monster cereals are not as bad as the originals or compared to a number of other sugared-cereals on the market. There is actually less than 30% of weight as sugar - not as bad as I would have thought. And, of course General Mills alleviates guilt by emphasizing the token whole grains. Still, not a truly wholesome breakfast, but deserving nonetheless of more than a one bowl rating.

What can I say? Overall this cereal ends up quite average, but because of the experience alone they are highly noteworthy, and worth at least one taste this fall. Enjoy!
(Review protocol HERE)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Digital cereal experiences

One of the main reasons for cereal's success is the experience it has provided people at the breakfast table over the years. And, we're not talking about the cereal itself, but the boxes, promotions, and even premiums accompanying it.

Times are changing, and innovation is essential. About one and a half years ago General Mills announced that they were working on enhancing their products with digital content. (Others have previously considered other ideas, such as bringing hi-tech boxes to our tables). In a new promotion with Wheaties, General Mills is delivering on one such digital experience. Partnering with the mobile app, Blippar, it is possible to have an augmented reality experience while eating the breakfast of champions. 

Gimmicky? Yes. But, a valuable experiment nonetheless. Credit is due to General Mills for being the leader in leveraging popular consumer technologies to enhance their products. They have been doing it with social media, and now this. Very promising.

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.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Lucky Charms expand the rainbow

Last week General Mills released their quarterly earnings, and among many announcements indicated that they would be bolstering their cereal line with new products and stronger advertising. Well, the marketing efforts are already underway with such things as a new focus online. But, the marketing strategy that is getting the most attention is their new outreach to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.

Obviously, the recent attention given to marriage equality and other LGBT rights is part of a massive social shift taking place around us. Regardless of where you stand on these issues, one cannot deny that change is happening before our eyes. As a result, more and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon, trying to take advantage of the purchasing power of this segment of the population.

General Mills' tactic is Lucky Charms and the #LuckytoBe campaign, just in time for Pride month. Building on the rainbow marshmallows in Lucky Charms they are encouraging LGBT individuals to celebrate who they are, and this is being heavily promoted at Pride parades and online.

In many ways this is a bold and risky move for General Mills. This has the ability to both strengthen their  public relations among the LGBT and their supporters, and to alienate those who find these societal changes offensive. The company must believe that the trends are on their side. Interestingly, this is the second somewhat provocative marketing tactic from the company this year. At minimum the company is getting lots of attention.

From a purely cereal perspective, the use of Lucky Charms seems somewhat strange, at least on the surface. Why would they use what has been largely a kid's cereal in this campaign? The answer is in some market research that General Mills also recently announced. Apparently Lucky Charms is one of their strongest brands, and has become particularly popular with adults.

So, Lucky Charms is being re-branded, and will no longer be same. How will consumers and other cereal companies respond?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Is the future hot?

The western United States, where I live, is in the midst of an extreme heat wave. So, talking about "hot" may seem appropriate, except when it comes to cereal. Hot cereal is much more suitable topic for the middle of January!

Nevertheless, Kellogg recently announced a new sub-brand within its rapidly expanding Special K line of cereals and weight conscious products. Nourish is a line of hot cereals and bars "specifically designed for people who are seeking positive nutrition to help manage their weight". Although I thought this is what Special K was trying to accomplish all along, it appears that this new offering ramps up the nutrition even more. Of particular interest are the three hot cereal varieties: Cranberry Almond, Cinnamon Raisin, and Maple Brown Sugar. This is the first time in years that Kellogg has attempted a hot cereal.

While there is a niche market for hot cereals, the trend over the years has been away from this. They are generally not as convenient and sometimes, especially in the case of oatmeal, have a reputation of being mushy. Nevertheless, porridge is a perfect comfort food, especially in colder weather.

The question here is: Is there growth potential for hot cereals? Kellogg must think so to a certain degree. Could hot cereals done right be a innovative growth engine for cereal companies?

Let's talk about it more once this heat wave passes!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: General Mills Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme

It's been awhile since I've conducted a review here, mainly because there have been few new significant cereal introductions since the onslaught at the beginning of the year. From what I'm observing, that's about to change.

The latest cereal to catch my eye is General Mills' Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme cereal, a product that taps into the widespread familiarity of the popular U.S. chocolate company, and specifically their Cookies 'n' Creme candy bar. This is not the first time a cereal company has co-branded with a candy. The most notable example is Reeses' Puffs, also a Hershey brand cerealized by General Mills. And, the similarity doesn't end there. Both of these cereals are flavored corn puffs, so in many ways this latest offering is just another variety in a "Hershey chocolate candy line" of cereals. (Could this mean other Hershey cereals in the future, like a Hershey's Milk Chocolate cereal, or even Hershey's Eggs cereal around Easter?)

Chocolate cereals have been one of the major trends in recent years. Who could go wrong making a chocolate cereal? Cookies 'n' Creme cereal definitely contains chocolate, but it's balanced with the "cream" pieces. A nice change from chocolate laden cereals like Cocoa Puffs or Count Chocula. To no one's surprise this new cereal is sweet and enjoyable to eat, even as a snack without milk.

As corn puffs Cookies 'n' Creme are light and airy, and really easy to eat (you probably don't even need teeth!). Put them in milk and even after 10 minutes they retain their shape, but become extraordinarily soft. This is not for those looking for a hearty cereal, but the texture works for what it is.

The real strength with this cereal is its experience. The Hershey branding gives you the feeling that you are eating legitimate candy, but for breakfast. And, if that's what you need to kick-start your day, this marketing position works.

The weakness, of course, is nutrition. Apart from the branding, this is yet another sugared cereal (over 30% of weight) with artificial flavors and low fiber (despite the laughable "made with 100% Whole Grain" badge on the box). You will not be buying this cereal for its powerhouse nutrition qualities.

If you're looking for a fun cereal or snack, Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme is worth trying. At minimum it will make your breakfast a little more decadent!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Controversial Cheerios

Cheerios is one of the most loved and venerated brands of cereal. At least until this week.

Cheerios has come out with a new TV commercial, "Just Checking", that is designed to highlight its heart health characteristics. The commercial is cute and even tugs at you heart a little.

There is one catch, however. The family featured in the commercial is biracial, and that has sparked controversy among a small, but vocal, segment of the population. So much so that comments on the YouTube page had to be shut down because of the nasty responses. The video has had over 3 million views there so far, and the number of thumbs-up exceed the thumbs-down by over 20 times. General Mills is standing by the commercial.

It's hard to believe that in 2013 an ad featuring an interracial family generates that type of reaction since it is a prevalent reality in American society. Nevertheless, it is a bold marketing move, and intended or not, Cheerios is getting tons of publicity.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Kellogg settles lawsuit

Consumers and regulators alike are demanding more honesty from companies, and the latest sign of that is the announcement that Kellogg has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over health claims it made for Mini-Wheats. At the time it was stated that the cereal would increase children's attentiveness, among other things. This story actually has its beginnings four years ago when the company settled with the Federal Trade Commission over the same issue. And, Kellogg is not first company to get their hand slapped for inappropriate health claims. For example, General Mills got in trouble with the FDA for its cholesterol claims for Cheerios.

In an ever increasingly competitive cereal market companies are looking for an edge. In recent years it has been over the health benefits of its cereals. The danger is that it is easy to step over the line with claims that are hyped or exaggerated to draw attention.

It was much more fun when cereal companies attracted customers through creativity with cereal recipes, boxes, free toys and special offers!

By the way, customers can submit a claim for refund at

(Source: Huffington Post)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CowWow Cereal Milk

"There is nothing new under the sun" and that is often true in the cereal world too. It certainly is the case with cereal milk, an idea that goes back at least 7 or more years, but has never really taken off. The idea is simple: For people on the go and who want the taste of cereal without the crunch why not just provide the milk, like it is at the bottom of the bowl. Past attempts include Liquid Cereal and even a General Mills attempt, but neither succeeded.

Maybe the timing wasn't right. At least that appears to be the thought of CowWow, a company that offers organic milk in two "bottom of the bowl" cereal flavors: Fruity Trudy and Chocolate Chip Cathy.

It is questionable as to whether this will take off without a closer link to some major cereal brands, but the company does have one marketing accomplishment, the endorsement of Jimmy Kimmel.

We'll keep watching to see if this one Mooves.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Cap'n goes late night

Just when you thought the drama over Jay Leno and NBC's Tonight Show was dying down, Quaker is entering the fray to go head to head with Leno, Letterman and Kimmel. Kind of.

Within the last month "The Cap'n Crunch Show" YouTube channel appeared, announcing a new episode "every other Tuesday at 11:35PM ET", exactly the time that the leading late night talk shows make their daily debut. The first episode appeared May 7th and was one minute and 29 seconds of senseless, animated drivel. I doubt that NBC, CBS or ABC have much to worry about. But, it does represent a fresh marketing idea from Quaker, who just two years ago were struggling to find a social media presence for the Cap'n despite the efforts of fans. Today the Cap'n Crunch is one of the leading brands engaging customers on Facebook and Twitter.

See for yourself what the "show" is all about:

Friday, May 03, 2013

It's in the Bag

This is not really new, but something I've been wanting to post for several months now.

A trip down the grocery aisle in recent years reveals the growing trend toward low-cost cereals, often packaged in bags. For cereal purists the mass marketing of cereal in plastic bags seems to take away much of what has made cereal a staple of the breakfast table. The box accompanying your bowl is part of what has made cereal such an integral part of our culture.

Nevertheless, consumers are increasingly realistic. Breakfast cereal is not cheap, and when the economy goes south, people are looking for the best deal. MOM brands, the largest alternative manufacturer of cereal has increased its market because it has taken advantage of this trend, primarily through its Malt-O-Meal brand of bagged cereals that copy big name brands. But, MOM has diversified with other brands as well.

One of the new, creative MOM brands is Spooners, a premium edition of its Malt-O-Meal Mini Spooners, a Mini-Wheats knock-off. Multigrain Spooners come in five flavors, but the real story here is the bag. This is not the flimsy cellophane bag of Malt-O-Meal stacked in bins in the cereal aise. These bags are a thicker plastic that is self-standing. Very attractive. Practical. Potentially revolutionary.

The stand-up bag is not new. We spotted it six years ago used by the UK cereal maker, Jordans. At the time I wondered how long it would take for others to tap into this innovation. MOM appears to be a company willing to "step outside the box" and that is probably why they are experiencing the success they are.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cereal lovers, get social

Social media is changing our world, and cereal is not immune from this trend. While this has been happening for a few years now, it is fair to say that apart from a number of Facebook page and Twitter accounts cereal companies have yet to really capitalize on this technology.

General Mills, however, has recently made an attempt to get ahead of the pack. They recently, quietly introduced Hello, Cereal Lovers, a Tumblr blog "to celebrate all of the reasons people love cereal." But, this is no blatant General Mills marketing ploy. It's much more subtle. In fact, you have to dig deep to find out that the company is behind it, even though it is quite obvious since the only cereal brands featured are from the big G.

Hello, Cereal Lovers is big on photos, and has the layout and content similar to what you would see on Pinterest. It's designed to make cereal not only fun, but also the content sharable on Tumblr or a range of other social media sites.

Despite what one may think of this venture, General Mills should be complimented on their effort and recognition that social media cannot be ignored, even when it comes to cereal.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: Post Honey Bunches of Oats - Greek Honey Crunch

I'm still working to review some of the many new cereals introduced earlier this year. While my intent is not to review every new cereal that comes out, some are noteworthy and deserve the attention. Such is the case with the new Greek yogurt flavored Honey Bunches of Oats. Honey Bunches of Oats has become Post's leading cereal franchise, now with 12 flavors. What makes this one stand out above the others is the way that the company is taking advantage of a current food fad, Greek yogurt, and capitalizing on it. The marketing for the cereal has been fairly heavy.

This is not the first cereal made with yogurt, but the first major brand utilizing the high-protein, low-sugar dairy Greek type. Additionally, this variety is comprised of two granolas made with real Greek yogurt, whole grain flakes and honey. So, how does it stack up as a breakfast cereal?

Let's start with taste. I believe that a big reason for Post's success with the Honey Bunches of Oats brand is the creative combination of ingredients that are big on flavor. This latest variety is no exception. Apart from the more standard ingredients like granola and flakes, the yogurt clusters do add a bright flavor to the mix when you bite into them. Along with the slight sweetness, it makes for a tasty breakfast. So far, in my opinion, it's the best tasting new cereal of the year.

Medley cereals can be a challenge when it comes to texture. While variety in the mouth can bring about a kaleidoscope of sensations, once exposed to milk things can go awry quickly, as is the case with Cheerios new medley. Greek Honey Crunch balances it all quite well. The cereal is easy to eat out of the box, and even after soaking for 5-10 minutes it is still worth eating, although the flakes start moving toward the end of their life.

Marketing has contributed to this being perceived as a unique, healthy cereal. Even the stylized lettering (which is barely Greek) on the box contributes to the experience that consumers will have as they chow down. Combined with the solid taste and texture, the overall experience is very positive.

Post is definitely emphasizing the nutritious values of Honey Bunches of Oats in general, and this Greek yogurt version in particular. The claims here are on 5g of protein and 33g of whole grains per serving. Not bad, but all is not perfect. First, I am surprised considering the high protein qualities of Greek yogurt that the numbers are not higher. Also, fat (3.5g) and sugar (22% of weight) contents are little higher than what I would desire in a highly nutritious cereal. Nevertheless, you really can't go too wrong offering this to your family.

As you can tell from the individual categories and ratings this is a well-crafted cereal and one that deserves the attention it is getting. My only question is whether it will be able to sustain popularity once people move onto the next health food fad. Nevertheless, it will contribute to the overall popularity and strength of Honey Bunches of Oats. That has to be good news for Post, which seems to be getting it together in recent years.

(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cereal alternatives: Breakfast Drinks?

The focus of this blog is cereal, but there is no doubt that cereal has inspired several new food trends over the years as our society has changed. Most notable in recent years have been cereal bars, the ultimate in convenience. While food bars of all types have become mainstream, traditional breakfast cereal has not been usurped, but it does indicate that cereal manufacturers have new competition, even if many have themselves entered intro the fray.

Now for the latest quest for the cereal alternative: breakfast drinks. And, this is coming from two of the biggest names in cereal, Kellogg and General Mills.

Liquid breakfasts are not new. Almost 50 years ago Carnation introduced its Instant Breakfast (now known as Carnation Breakfast Essentials), and within the last decade a few companies, including General Mills and Kellogg, were experimenting with cereal beverages. And, of course, there are all kinds of meal replacement drinks already available, most of them targeted at dieters.

But with the two big boys going after this again, maybe Carnation's original vision might itself become truly mainstream. With some people too busy even to get out their bowl and milk, with fresh marketing this could catch on to a greater degree.

Kellogg's entry into the market is with Breakfast to Go shakes. General Mills has announced BFast shakes. These are milk-based drinks, but with higher levels of protein, fiber, and other nutrients.

It's probably too early to tell how successful this latest attempt at breakfast drinks will be. Nonetheless, it will be an interesting development to watch, and taste.

(Sources: Huffington Post, and brandchannel)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Review: Post Grape-Nuts Fit

At first glance doing a review of a Grape-Nuts cereal sounds boring. How else could you describe a cereal that's not only been around for over 100 years, but in its original form comes close to ground gravel. Besides, it has the image of being the choice of health nuts (no pun intended). How much fun does all that sound?

What got my attention, however, was the newest version of Grape-Nuts, the first in decades: new Fit. Post has been up-dating their cereal lines since going independent, and has done some creative work. Even the stalwart Grape-Nuts has had a packaging facelift, and now a new variety to add to the brand. New Fit "fits" into the health orientation of the brand, and is promoted as "power-packed nutrition for your everyday adventure" and targeted to an active, younger customer. Fit comes in a unique cranberry vanilla flavor, and I'm sure that if it goes over well other varieties might be introduced as well.

One of the notorious facts about Grape-Nuts is that it contains neither grapes or nuts. The original formula was mainly made from wheat and barley. New Fit contains these same staple ingredients, but is expanded with such things as dried cranberries, oats and natural vanilla flavor. Overall, the range of flavors in these constituents makes for an interesting taste sensation, all without being sweet. It's not a taste knock-out, but it provides a pleasant palate experience that goes beyond the ordinary common in most cereals.

Fit is a medley, and one advantage of such mixes is that they can provide a variety of texture experiences. Fit contains crunchy nuggets of wheat, oat granola, puffed barley and dried cranberries. It holds together even in milk, although puffs tend to become slightly gummy. Also, I noticed that at the bottom of the bag the cereal broke down into crumbs much more than normal, so the last few bowls might end up somewhat disappointing.

Admittedly, eating healthy cereals doesn't have the same excitement as a highly-sweetened kids' cereal. Nevertheless, for their target audience Fit makes for an emotionally satisfying breakfast. There is no guilt, and you feel that this could actually boost your ability to stay active. You can't go wrong with that.

Fit lives up to its reputation as a healthy cereal. It has 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, a reasonable amount of sugar (only 16% of total weight), and a range of vitamins and minerals, including 50% of the Daily Value for folic acid. It also boasts 90% of the DV for iron, but this might be a little high, especially for men who are encouraged not to consume excess iron as they get older. Nevertheless, this is overall a nutritionally solid cereal.

As I commented in an earlier blog post, the target of new Grape-Nuts Fit is somewhat similar to Wheaties Fuel. Although less macho, it is directed at active people who want to look and feel great. In many ways, I prefer Fit over Wheaties Fuel. The latter is too sweet and doesn't have near the protein, so Fit might be a more sincere option for those who really want a breakfast of champions that they can also enjoy. 

(Review protocol HERE)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: General Mills' Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch

General Mills' Cheerios is one of the most popular cereal brands on the market today, and the company knows it. From the original oat O's they extended the brand to now include 13 varieties, the latest being Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch. What makes this particular formula unique is that of all the current offerings it is the only one to include more than O's. Medley Crunch is a blend of the popular Honey Nut Cheerios, whole grain flakes, and clusters made with almond slices. So, how well does this new Cheerios stack up with the the others?

Most of the variance among Cheerios has been around taste, and they have an impressive array of varieties from which to choose, including chocolate, Dulce de Leche, peanut butter, and cinnamon burst. Medley Crunch seems to have been developed for more than just taste since at this level they are sticking with the tried and true Honey Nut Cheerios base, which have a sweet edge to them. I have never been overly excited about the taste of Honey Nut Cheerios, and adding the flakes and clusters doesn't really improve on it. The cereal is pleasant to the palate, but for me not a standout.

Texture is one area in which I am sure General Mills was trying to accomplish something special. And the idea of adding extra components certainly gives this cereal extra crunch, and gets beyond the limp texture of conventional Cheerios in milk. That said, this cereal is best right out of the box, and in this way makes for strong snack food. But, let it soak in milk and all the fun begins to disappear. The actual O's are still there and eventually degrade into their usual mush. Certainly the flakes and clusters stand up better, but in the end you have nothing more than three distinct cereals floating around your bowl.

Medley Crunch was not designed to stand out in any unique way, but provides consumers an alternative within the comfort of a very well-known and trusted cereal brand. And, that's about it. There just isn't much to get excited about here, unless you like the idea of having a cereal mix and don't want to be troubled creating your own.

I have never understood the nutrition hype behind Honey Nut Cheerios, and this Medley doesn't change my opinions. General Mills knows that the oat base behind Cheerios is nutritious and that there is some research which supports the role of the soluble fiber in oats in reducing cholesterol. For that reason they have utilized Honey Nut Cheerios as the vehicle to convey that message. Even the box of the new Medley Crunch has the heart shape with the words "Can Help Lower Cholesterol". So, this must be a health cereal. Right? Not so quick. First of all, the amount of soluble fiber is not that significant (the Nutrition Facts say "less than 1g" per serving). And, the high sugar content of this cereal (almost 30% of total weight) is far too high for this to be considered truly nutritious. Sure, there are no artificial flavors or colors, and it contains the typical fortified vitamins and minerals, but nutrition-wise this cereal is not as significant as the marketing would like you to believe.

As you can see from my comments and ratings above this is a fairly average cereal from my perspective. It's by no means a bad choice, but neither is this going to be a knock-out. I suspect in a year or two it will be replaced with yet another innovative Cheerios variety. As it stands now, this is a cereal lacking a clear identity, one of the hazards when you create a mix. Nevertheless, if you like your Cheerios, and want a slightly different texture for a change it's worth trying.