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)