Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Holiday cereal showdown

With Christmas almost here it is a good time to review cereals related to the season. If you are looking for ways to get into the Holiday spirit perhaps having the right cereals around the house might help. And, this year there are four to choose from, all extensions of exiting brands: General Mills' Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch, Post Sugar Cookie Pebbles, and Quaker Cap'n Crunch Christmas Crunch. The General Mills varieties are brand new this year, whereas the Pebbles cereal is a repeat from last year, and the Cap'n Crunch one is a long-standing favorite.

So, here's a quick review to evaluate the 2014 Holiday cereal offerings, and I will use the same four criteria that are used in my normal reviews: taste, texture, experience, and nutrition.


It is obvious that the theme of this years' Holiday cereals is cookies, one of the favorite treats for this time of year. The exception is Cap'n Crunch Christmas Crunch, which is really Crunch Berries reformulated with green and red balls. As far as taste is concerned the Cap'n Crunch just doesn't do anything for me. It's nothing special, way too sweet, and far too dependent on artificial flavors and colors.

The three cookie cereals are much better. Sugar Cookie Pebbles and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch do have the billed taste, with the Toast Crunch the better of the two. The Holiday Sprinkles Cooke Crisp are somewhat similar, coming much closer to  shortbread cookies.

Overall, the taste winner for me is Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch.


There are few surprises here as the cereals bring with them the texture of the original brands upon which they are based. If you like a crunchy cereal that holds its own against milk Cap'n Crunch is the clear winner, but perhaps is to harsh right out of the box. Pebbles turn to mush quickly, especially after 5 to 10 minutes, whereas the Toast Crunch and Cookie Crunch find a more ideal middle ground.

In the end, Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp is my favorite for texture, retaining its cookie form and a certain degree of crunch even after time in milk.


These cereals are ultimately about experience. You buy them because they're fun and contribute to the feel of the season. On packaging alone, the Pebbles box by far provides the best breakfast table gazing, with Cap'n Crunch following close behind. But, it's about more than just the packaging. The cereals themselves contribute to the experience, and the Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp is the most authentic because the cereal has the look, feel and taste of cookies. As good as the Toast Crunch and Pebbles are for mimicking sugar cookie taste, their form factor provides little resemblance to what they are representing.

For me the experience winner is a toss-up between the great looking Sugar Cookie Pebbles box and Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp.


Let's be honest. You don't buy these cereals for their nutritional qualities. All four are relatively high in sugar (Cap'n Crunch the highest at 46% of total weight, Toast Crunch the lowest at 29%), low in protein and fiber, and contain artificial ingredients. Of course, there are fortified vitamins and minerals in an attempt to make up some of the other shortcomings.

It's really hard to declare a nutrition winner here. Perhaps Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is the lesser of the evils, but does it really matter?


So, is it possible to pick a champion in this year's Holiday cereal showdown? Not really. Ultimately, it will come down to personal appeal and taste, and any of these will liven up your Holiday breakfast times. If I had to make a recommendation it would be to at least try the two new General Mills cereals because they are brand new this year and offer something fresh and interesting. Hopefully, cereal manufacturers will keep innovating in future years, with other holiday flavors and tie-ins. Perhaps someone will even attempt a fruit cake version. OK, maybe scratch that latter idea!

Whichever you choose, may you and your family have a wonderful Holiday season!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Consumers Want: Favorites from the Past

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote on how General Mills may have misread consumers in their recent push to use non-GMO ingredients. It seems like the company is starting to get it, now going after what consumers really want. Evidence of this comes just a few days ago when they announced the return of a cereal they discontinued eight years ago, French Toast Crunch.

Obviously, in 2006 the executives at General Mills figured that sales were not sufficient for this variant of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch series (which incidentally just celebrated its 30th birthday) so they dumped it. What they did not realize is how passionate some people were for this cereal. The loyal following made their disappointment known, and some even went to great lengths to get some from Canada where it has remained available. With the recent growth of social media the pressure on the company seemed to increase, with even one fan (@FTCtoUSA) creating a special Twitter account to rally fans around the purpose of getting General Mills to bring their favorite cereal back.

It has worked, and in the New Year grocery shelves will be brimming with the red boxes. Fans are ecstatic, a point that General Mills is quick to highlight. Who knows if French Toast Crunch will really make a difference in overall sales for the company, but at this point it is better for them to listen to what consumers really want and to tap into their passions. At minimum they have earned tremendous goodwill and have a powerful story to tell.

I personally do not have any special memories of French Toast Crunch, but I will be trying it out again (and featuring a review here). I do hope, however, that it becomes a trend that other cereal manufacturers will follow. As I've discussed on several occasions before, bringing back nostalgic cereals (not just retro boxes, but actual cereals) would be a great way to re-energize consumers who are tired of many of the current offerings on the market. General Mills has done this previously with their Halloween monster cereals, and I believe that there are many other opportunities out there. For example, Adweek just highlighted five other cereals from the past that appear to generate significant Twitter chatter: Oreo-O's, Waffle Crisp, Nesquik cereal, Pop Tarts Crunch, and the monster cereals.

What cereals would you like to see return, even if for a limited time? (My short list: Freakies, OKs, and Pink Panther Flakes).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Weight Watchers cereal

With Holiday excess in full swing, there are many companies preparing themselves for the annual ritual performed by those who try to counteract the effects of too much egg nog with the discipline of weight loss. In the cereal world, up to this point Kellogg has dominated this market with its broad and diverse Special K line, but recently they have struggled targeting weight management and appear to be adjusting their approach.

But with the next wave of weight loss seekers striving for a solution to their waist lines, MOM Brands is entering this niche market with a line of cereals taking advantage of a licensing agreement with Weight Watchers. This new line-up will likely have credibility for many consumers, and will appeal to those following the Weight Watchers program (each cereal lists its PointsPlus value) and those simply hoping to shed a few extra pounds.

The new cereals will come in five flavors: Frosted Shredded Wheat with Protein, Whole Grain Honey Nut Toasted Oats, Oat Clusters with Cherries & Almonds, Chocolate Frosted Shredded Wheat, and Oat Clusters with Almonds.

Whether or not these cereals will actually help people lose weight is still to be seen, but for MOM this is a smart marketing move. More companies need to establish strategic licensing agreements like this to gain a foothold in consumers' minds. We'll see if they can supplant Special K in this category.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What do consumers want?

As cereal companies struggle to find the product and marketing strategy that will bring success, it often feels like they are throwing Jell-O at the wall to see what sticks: New products, new flavors and varieties, re-designed packaging, niche targeting, etc. Unfortunately, these seldom bring breakthroughs.

At the beginning of this year General Mills thought that non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients in Cheerios and Grape Nuts would attract consumers who had to choose between many different brands (including generic knock-offs) in the grocery store aisle. Naturally they would pick the non-GMO cereals and see General Mills as a trusted, safe brand. Right? Not so quick.

According to an AP report not long after the change, there is no evidence that sales of General Mills' GMO-free cereals have increased. While it could be argued that it is the right thing to do, and certainly many consumer advocates have praised the decision, the bottom line is that most people simply do not care. A couple of months ago, General Mills' shareholders reinforced this view by casting a vote 98% against a proposal to remove all GMO's from the company's products.

The point is that making a move like this is not the answer to the downturn in cereal sales. Consumers are not easily impressed with all these marketing maneuvers. For the small minority that are committed to eating non-GMO foods Cheerios might now be an option, but the reality is these individuals are likely buying other cereals from a brand with a stronger, more consistent health focus. Perhaps General Mills is already understanding this, as is reflected in their recent purchase of Annie's.

Again, it's innovation that is going to turn around the cereal industry. Hopefully this recent experiment at General Mills will reinforce the fact that grasping at straws rarely works.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Killer concept in London

In my last post I highlighted how mymuesli is creatively reinventing cereal in Germany. But, this is not the only European company taking cereal to a new level. This time we go across the pond to London where two brothers (and identical twins!) are preparing to open a cereal restaurant called Cereal Killer Café. Sure cereal restaurants are not new - I've been talking about them here for over eight years - but this goes beyond the much more limited attempts in the U.S.

Alan and Gary Keery have a grand, passionate vision for their cereal amusement park. Claiming to be "obsessed with everything cereal" they are going all out, offering over 100 different kinds of cereals from numerous countries. And to make it even more interesting there will be 12 varieties of milk and 20 different toppings. But, this is more than about cereal as a food. For true breakfast enthusiasts they are creating a nostalgic café  where hundreds of pieces of cereal memorabilia from the 80s and 90s are displayed. Here you will not only be able to get a great bowl of cereal to consume, but you can immerse yourself fully into an experience that celebrates cereal culture.

This will be a fun venture to watch, and it may provide a template for what cereal restaurants should be like. Cereal Killer Café may not be easily scalable, but it offers far more excitement than the much simpler model adopted by early innovators like Cereality. In the home of breakfast cereal, the U.S., there is no reason that something like this could not be successful.

(Special thanks to several Breakfast Bowl followers who brought this to my attention: Lynda, Luke and Jerry!)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is the future of cereal in Germany?

A theme that has come up regularly in the last couple of years, both here and in the larger media, is of the troubles facing the cereal industry. You've heard it: Americans are turning away from cereal and manufacturers are floundering trying to figure out what to do.

While there are exceptions to the doom and gloom, we may want to look to Europe to see an example of fresh, creative thinking that may provide some ideas as to how the North American cereal industry could reinvent itself. Specifically, I am thinking of a seven year-old German company that has been thinking outside the box, both literally and figuratively, and creating a whole new market for cereal.

I first came across mymuesli in 2007 shortly after its launch, and at that time I asked whether it was the "cereal of the future?" They were offering custom-made cereals that could be ordered online and packaged in canisters. Their marketing was slick and obviously the product must be equally impressive because they have grown and are now expanding through 15 modern, trendy stores across Germany and Austria, plus their cereals are now available in over 100 cafes and stores.

Of course, American ingenuity was quick to copy. If it would work for mymuesli, it should work in the cereal center of the world, the U.S. Right? Not so quickly. Some tried, like [me]&Goji and MixMyGranola, but both eventually failed. More recently we've seen MixMyOwn enter the market, but it is hard to gauge their success.

While American attempts at customized cereal have been lackluster, this does not mean it cannot work here. I strongly believe that with the right business model this could be one of the ways in which cereal could have new life in the future.

First, let's learn from what makes mymuesli successful. Their success is not simply because they setup a website and sold personalized mixes. Certainly that was novel at the time, but innovation and creativity remain hallmarks of their work. Yes, they continue to give people the opportunity to customize their own recipes, but they are putting much more emphasis on unique pre-made formulas(like a current season's paprika-pumpkin granola and an autumn muesli, and unusual varieties like a cereal for those following a paleo-diet) in specially-designed canisters,  convenient "mymuesli2go" portions, and super-creative ideas like a cereal advent calendar. They have created a premium brand that goes way beyond the mass-marketed cereals found in supermarkets. And, now with their boutique stores they have accentuated the brand even further among the discriminating tastes of Europeans.

It is important, of course, to point out that the place of cereal in continental European society is much different than in North America. They do not have a history of eating cereal for breakfast, and although cereal consumption is increasing it is nowhere close to the U.S., even with recent declines. This definitely gives mymuesli an opportunity to create a new market for itself. It is also important to understand how muesli fits into all of this. Muesli is very European, and in some places like Switzerland is a regular part of their diet, but more in the evening than at breakfast. Muesli is a wholesome cereal built around whole foods, unlike the highly processed cereals of North American laden with sugar, sweeteners, and artificial colors and flavors.

Despite the differences, I still contend that while American entrepreneurs should not simply copy mymuesli, there are numerous things to learn that could not only lead to success, but could ultimately reinvent the cereal industry on this continent. In simple format, here are some key insights that may be transferable to a North American attempt of something this bold and innovative:

1. Go after the high-end. Don't bother trying to compete with the mass-market cereals. There are enough people out there looking for something nutritious, fresh and different.
2. Don't just rely on an Internet store. Cereal needs to be an experience. Boutique stores in upscale shopping areas in larger cities that also offered a cereal bar experience (remember the cereal restaurant craze of few years ago?) could be a hit if executed well.
3. Customization is more than giving people the ability to create their own. Use that small-scale customizing ability to come up with a whole range of unique formulas that incite creativity and viral conversations.
4. Get beyond granola, and possibly even muesli. Granola is passé, and muesli (while an opportunity for growth) is not understood in North America. There is room to work with ingredients and forms familiar to us, but presented in exciting new ways.
5. Success in the U.S. is going to require adequate capitalization. A small start-up without adequate funding may not be able to get the traction to breakthrough in this highly competitive climate.

In my opinion, mymuesli is possibly the most exciting cereal company in the industry today. Period. I know that during my next trip to Germany I will be checking them out personally. I hope that cereal entrepreneurs and companies will take them more seriously, and take another look at this amazing company.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kashi returns to its roots

It was not even one year ago that I commented on Kellogg's disappointment with Kashi, the natural food brand it had acquired fourteen years ago. It was becoming obvious that Kashi had lost its niche appeal and was becoming just another mainstream cereal brand. Coming under the Kellogg umbrella and relocating to Battle Creek has domesticated Kashi and lessened the passion that some consumers had for its cereals.

According to Food Business News Kellogg is recognizing that its big corporate approach to such a loved specialty brand isn't working and that Kashi needs to return to its roots. Last month the company announced that David Denholm, the former General Manager for Kashi in 2006-2008, is returning as the CEO of Kashi and that business will return to La Jolla, in southern California, where it was founded. Kellogg executive Paul Norman admitted that "when you come off a trend of health and wellness, you slip to the side, it can be quite painful," and that these latest moves are designed to "get on the front foot and get forward back into progressive nutrition."

This is an important move for Kellogg during a time when cereal consumption is shrinking and the big companies are struggling to be competitive. Breakfast cereal is not just about big business, but taps into people's passions and emotions. Executed well, this has the potential to give Kashi the boost it needs. If it works we may see similar moves at other brands.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monster evolution

This is not new news (I highlighted it on the Facebook page last month) and in many ways I wonder whether it deserves yet another complete blog post, but the annual release of General Mills' Monster Cereals has become such a highly successful and expected campaign that it probably does require special attention. At least this year again.

Just in time for Halloween every year General Mills provides a limited release of these popular cereals that have their origins back in the 60's. These are nothing less than fun cereals that fit the season and elicit all kinds of nostalgia for those of us who grew up on these sugar-laden breakfast treats.

Last year General Mills went big time with the Monster Cereals, even re-releasing two of the franchise that had been hidden in the vaults for many years, Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy. In addition to the bold, modern artwork they also released vintage boxes of all five varieties at Target.

So, how does a company keep up their past successes? Try a new twist. This year, they have acquired the talents of artists from DC Comics to give a fresh look to the three mainstay monsters, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry. Unfortunately Frute Brute and Yummy Mummy have returned to retirement, but for cereal enthusiasts and box collectors the three redesigned monsters are must buys. And, those looking for retro boxes can return to Target for a new, old version of those (complete with cut-out masks)!

General Mills has a real winner here, and it's good to see them mix it up every year with something different.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Special K is thinning

With summer winding down I need to catch up on a few recent stories. One of the most notable comes out of Kellogg's latest financial update. Normally I do not comment on most of these earnings calls and corporate news items, but this one is of particular interest. Not only are cereal sales down (no real news here), but their current flagship line, Special K, has been losing appeal as a weight management brand.

Over the last decade Kellogg has found a winning solution in a highly competitive market with Special K. They took an old, stodgy cereal product and created an entire franchise out of it. In 2006 they expanded the line and today Special K is not only on the labels of at least a dozen cereals, but the line also includes frozen foods, bars, treats, chips, crackers, shakes and drink mixes. Despite the strong branding, it now appears that consumers, still struggling to control their waistlines, are beginning to move on to other solutions and fads.

According to an AP interview, Kellogg CEO John Bryant sees that consumers want more than just calorie counting now - they are looking for cereals with more specific nutritional benefits. He said that "there's a shift in consumer expectations." To counter this they will be developing new products that highlight the nutrition qualities people are looking for. For example, they have been recently focusing on "The Protein Effect", a group of Special K products higher in protein (a trend also recognized by General Mills), and they have introduced hot cereals with trendy grains like quinoa.

It is good to see Kellogg recognize the shifts around them and make adjustments. The question is: Will they be able to rise above the clutter with an emphasis on good nutrition? At least with weight loss they had a cereal category all their own. Now they will have to go up against many other cereal brands fighting the same battle and competing for the same dollars, including some of their own brands like Kashi. We'll be watching.

(Source: newser)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

General Mills sharpens focus on cereal

The cereal industry has been struggling as of late, despite some positive signs here and there. The big companies, in particular, have been trying to figure out how to stem the tide among many shifts in consumer habits and preferences.

I typically avoid commenting on all the quarterly financial reporting, etc. coming out of the cereal industry, but last month General Mills announced some plans they have for the future. While most of this is the expected PR stuff, it was interesting to see them doubling down on cereal, despite the diversity of their brand portfolio. They still see cereal as a tremendous opportunity and want to insure that they remain a leader in this industry.

How will they do it? A few key strategies were described:

1. Focus on nutrition qualities such as protein, gluten-free and fiber. They recognize that consumers want healthful cereals and they want to capitalize on that.

2. More flavor. Cereals must taste great, and they will be tweaking their recipes to meet that challenge. For example, more cinnamon taste in Cinnamon Toast Crunch and fruitier Trix.

3. Play off of adult nostalgia. Cereal has an emotional attachment to many people, and to help adults return to their childhood every morning could be a winner.

4. More advertising, especially online.

It is good to see a company like General Mills hone in on their core business. Their strategies seem sound, but the key will be execution. Can a large corporation respond quickly and creatively enough to the trends, and will consumers trust these moves when they are sometimes less than authentic?

We'll be watching.

(Source: Business Week)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Review: Kellogg's Jif

Summer is keeping me extremely busy, and I will be getting to a backlog of stories on some recent developments, but it is time for another review!

One new cereal that has caught people's attention is Jif Peanut Butter cereal from Kellogg. When a cereal takes on a popular co-branding arrangement it quickly cuts through the clutter in the grocery story and stands out. This has been done many times before, and with peanut butter General Mills' Reese's Puffs provides a good example. Jif is a popular brand of peanut butter, and for Kellogg to work this into a cereal is a brilliant marketing move. Peanut butter is a great breakfast and comfort food, so featuring it in cereal not  just as an ingredient (as has been done before) but linked to a strong brand is powerful.

Beyond the obvious marketing, the real question is how does it stack up as an actual breakfast cereal? Let's get our bowls out and find out!

With the cereal built around peanut butter taste is going to be a critical element for its success. And, it doesn't disappoint. Claiming to be "made with Jif Peanut Butter" (although artificial flavors are in the mix too) the flavor is obvious and pleasant. Not over-bearing, but as with Jif Peanut Butter itself enhanced with sugar. This is a joy to eat.

Texture was the biggest surprise. Jif cereal is not the hardened balls found in Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch or Reese's Puffs. The little donut pillows are delightfully light and silky. They are smooth, as close as possible to eating peanut butter out of the jar. And, that's even without milk. Of course, add milk to these light pieces and as would be expected they soften even that much more, especially after 5 and 10 minutes. Normally that would be a mark against a cereal, but in this case it actually reinforces the smooth nature of what one would expect with peanut butter.

Although there are other cereals with peanut butter, this is still a novelty that in itself makes for a desirable experience. But, what really makes this fun to eat and connects the eater with all that is wonderful at breakfast is the brand linkage with Jif. The fact that the taste and texture mimic peanut butter is an additional bonus. Kellogg has executed it well.

With this much fun in your breakfast bowl it is understandable that nutrition might not be the cereal's strong point. Despite the claim of "made with whole grain" there is nothing that really stands out here health-wise. While peanut butter is eaten by many because of the belief that it is nutritious, do not be fooled. Peanut butter is only a flavoring here, not the main ingredient by far. Also, the sugar content is quite high (almost 40% of weight), so while this is fun and could be a great snack food, it's not the power breakfast you will want your kids consuming on a regular basis.

In the end this is a great new cereal from Kellogg that should help their struggling sales. Innovative it is!

(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kellogg goes dark

Summer has kept me busy and somewhat behind, but some interesting cereal tings have been popping up. One of those over the last month or so has been the appearance of a new marketing campaign from Kellogg that reinforces what many already know: cereal is a great snack food, especially at night.

This is more than just a few ads highlighting the convenience and taste of cereal for those with late-night cravings. They have gone all out with special night-themed cereal boxes for a number of their brands, and displays in stores. This will be a limited-time campaign but it is a way for Kellogg to remind those who have perhaps lost interest in cereal that it's not just for breakfast. This fits well into efforts to expand sales and with Kellogg's own foray into snack foods with other brands.

What's your favorite cereal for night-time snacking?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Kellogg and Danone team up for convenience

One of the reason for cereals' recent decline is the desire by many people for greater convenience. Many want to eat on the run and don't have time to sit down to a bowl of cereal. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to make cereal more convenient, with cereal bars the biggest winner.

Kellogg is trying yet again, and this time they have partnered with global yogurt maker Danone to have several varieties of cereal like Special K, Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops atop a bowl of Greek yogurt, a very popular food right now. This will fit into Danone's YoCrunch brand where combo packages of toppings and yogurt have long been for sale. The purchaser simply mixes the two together for greater flavor and texture.

This appears to be a win-win situation for both companies, and might start a new trend for cereal consumption.

(Source: Marketwatch)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

General Mills and numbers

Cereal companies continue to look for an edge in today's competitive market. This means finding a way to stand out among the countless varieties of cereals on the grocers shelf. Recently, we've seen some creative innovation among some upstarts, but the big companies sometime appear a little more desperate.

A good example of some puzzling attempts comes from General Mills. Like all the big companies they've been trying to figure out how to have consistent revenue growth from cereal. It hasn't helped that they've recently had some public relations disasters which have not helped their cause. Their latest tactic is go for the nutrition conscious consumers, knowing that many are looking for cereals with more protein and less carbs. So, they recently introduced some protein-rich varieties of certain cereals, most notably Cheerios Protein, in two flavors, Oats & Honey and Cinnamon Almond. There are others as well, including a Fiber One Protein cereal.

It sounds good, except for one thing. In order to achieve this perception of high protein they've been less than forthcoming. They tout the fact that Cheerios Protein contains 11g of protein per serving with milk. That's all fine and dandy, but when you look a little closer at the numbers it's not as impressive as it might appear. First, that number does include milk. Factor that out (because you will probably use milk regardless whatever cereal you eat) and you are left with 7g of protein per serving. Still not shabby, but again somewhat misleading. A careful look at the Nutrition Facts reveals that these calculations are based on a 55g serving. What is interesting to note is that original, regular Cheerios have 3g of protein per serving. Obviously the new Protein variety has much more. Right? Not so quick. Regular Cheerios is based on a 28g serving, half the size. So, if you compare by equal weight measurements the actual difference is far less impressive, probably closer to a 1g margin. Looking at the Fiber One Protein cereal comparison with its original counterpart, the same game is being played.

To be fair, General Mills is truthful, both implicitly and explicitly. Cheerios Protein does have more protein, but the problem is that it's really not that significant. Oat-based cereals are already higher in protein than most cereals, so considering the real advantage of this new product this whole thing appears to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Consumers who don't take the time to read the labels or who are not well-versed in nutrition might be left with an impression that is well overstated.

It is shenanigans like this that is turning off many consumers to the mainline cereal brands. If General Mills wants to strengthen their market share a good place to start might be with less hype and a higher degree of honesty and transparency.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: Love Grown Power O's

It's been awhile since I've last done a cereal review. I like doing them and would love to do more, but I'm not into reviewing every new variety of Special K, Cheerios, etc. that hits the grocers' shelves. Instead, for my readers' sakes I want to try new cereals that are truly interesting or innovative.

Love Grown Power O's are a great way to get back into review mode. I wrote about them a few weeks ago, intrigued by the fact that they are made with some unusual ingredients, namely beans (navy beans, garbanzo beans, plus lentils and brown rice). Curiosity alone prompted me to want to try them. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them in any stores near me, so the good people at Love Grown sent me a box of each of the four flavors so that I could discover whether this is all hype or truly the next great thing in cereal history.

I do occasionally receive cereal samples from companies, but do not feel compelled to review them. In fact, this is the first time I have actually done so - normally I buy my own cereals. This is definitely an exception. I think we all want to know whether breakfast cereals made from beans are worth buying, and for your benefit I will be the guinea pig.

I am also going outside of my normal protocol by reviewing four different varieties at once. This is such a unique, niche product that I felt it would be best to lump them all together in one review. The four flavors are: Original, Chocolate, Honey and Strawberry.

So, let's pour four bowls and see what the fuss is all about.

The most obvious question I had, and I'm sure most of you have, is: How do Power O's taste? This could be the healthiest cereal on the planet, but if tastes disgusting or like cardboard no one will really care. In the end breakfast cereal is an experience that is part of our culture and, for many, an important way for to start their day. Taste matters. So, what's the verdict? Three of the four are not bad - actually taste reasonably well, especially considering their position as health food. Perhaps the biggest barrier for most people to try Power O's is psychological. If they don't know the cereals are made from beans they probably wouldn't notice anything unusual. There is one exception, however. The Original flavor is awful. On the front end it's just plain bland, and on the back end it leaves a taste of burnt milk. So, unless you want nothing but the benefits of beans in your diet avoid the base flavor. Chocolate, Honey and Strawberry, on the other hand, taste fine. Of course, there is nothing that sugar and flavorings cannot fix! The flavors and sweetness are not overpowering, but just enough to keep them pleasant. Overall these cereals are not going to win any food taste awards, but if you are intrigued by what these cereals have to offer you can be assured that three of them will work on your palate. My advice is stay away from the Original, unless you want to use it just for complementing other cereals.

Another question in my mind before trying Power O's was: What is the texture of cereals made from beans, and how will they stand up in milk? The fat little O's are fairly light, and lacking density they are easy chews, and in milk they quickly get soggy within just a few minutes. The Honey ones have the best texture out of the box, and the Chocolate and Strawberry formulas seem to hold out best in milk.

Let's get to the emotional side of eating Power O's. This is serious stuff, definitely not "kid's cereal", but there is a strong experiential aspect to them. Just the fact that you are eating cereal made from unusual ingredients is an adventure in itself. It says you are bold and willing to go outside the box (no pun intended!). Aside from that, the packaging is contemporary and contributes to a positive breakfast.

The whole reason for the "bean" thing is health. At the core of Love Grown Foods is a commitment to nutritious foods, and it extends to their oat-based cereals as well. Power O's, of course, with their beans are novel and speak nutrition loud and clear. The claims include high protein and fiber, low-fat, non-GMO and only natural flavors. The Original flavor offers the best nutrition profile. Unfortunately, however, the sugar content of the three better tasting varieties is higher than the optimal maximum 20% of weight.

If I could rate these cereals on innovation alone this would be a "five bowl" winner. In the real world, however, Power O's are unlikely to become mainstream champions anytime soon. Nevertheless, give Love Grown credit for trying to make something highly nutritious that meets the expectations of today's consumers. They haven't yet fully succeeded, but they are on the way. This could be the future of cereal. At minimum I'd encourage you to give them a try (but stay away form the Original)!
(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Black cereal

One of the ways that cereal companies can innovate is through the use of novel ingredients.

BakeryandSnacks.com has an interesting article citing research that suggests that cereal makers should consider including black grains into cereals for China, as they view such grains as healthier. This not only should be seen as a strategy for those wanting to break into China itself, but even as a way to reach out to ethnic Chinese in North America and other parts of the world.

Black could be a new color coming to your breakfast bowl soon? Would you eat black cereal?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Cereal turnaround?

Things have been looking bleak for the cereal industry. For example, last month Kellogg revealed sales decline, and many other industry signs are likewise not hopeful.

Yet, despite the negative trends, some are much more optimistic. Packaged Facts marketing research recently issued a report predicting a 10% growth in the U.S. breakfast cereal market between 2014 and 2018. Here a couple of noteworthy trends they noted:

First, there is growth in the sales of hot cereals, a trend previously noted here.

Second, much of the growth that will occur is likely to come from Hispanics, who generally consume much more cereal than non-Hispanics. We've already seen a few cereals targeted to Latinos. Expect more.

Packaged Facts also see positive signs in innovation and marketing from major companies. This, combined with some of the other innovations we are seeing from upstarts, might mean some brighter days ahead for the cereal industry.

We can only hope.

(Source: BakeryandSnacks.com)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why not veggies?

We're on a roll. Innovation is in full gear this year, evidenced by some recent posts highlighting cereal that doesn't require milk and some made from beans. The novel use of ingredients may be a significant way for new companies to gain a foothold in this challenging market.

Now we turn our attention to cereal made with vegetables! Bitsy's Brainfood is a company that's been making children's "smart snack foods" for a couple of years. Recently they expanded their offerings to include three vegan cereals that include veggies among other ingredients. This does make the cereals stand out from competition, especially for parents that are wanting highly nutritious foods for their children. Perhaps this is about marketing to a large degree, but the company highlights the highly nutritious qualities including the fact that they are organic, good sources of some key nutrients, without GMOs, among other things.

Currently the three varieties are Banana Squash Squares, Carrot Raisin Crunch and Fruit & Veggie 1,2,3. With limited retail distribution I haven't actually seen these for sale, but look forward to getting my hands on some to try.

So, what's next?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Beans for Breakfast?

If you think my recent post on cereal with water marks innovation, you may be even more impressed with what Love Grown Foods has to offer. The health food cereal company has introduced Power O's, a new line of cereals made from navy beans, garbanzo beans, lentils and brown rice. The rice sounds right, but beans?

Why not? As more and more people seek after highly nutritious foods, the use of beans might be a unique selling point that stands out in the market. Of course, this cereal had better taste good if it's really going to make a difference. Power O's currently come in strawberry, honey, chocolate and original flavors, and that sounds intriguing. Nutritiously they contain 4-6g of protein per serving, low sodium, and 1.5g fat or less per serving.

I haven't tried Power O's yet. In fact, apart from online sales they don't appear to have wide retail distribution. Nevertheless, when I do get my hands on some I will definitely give them a spin for a review.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mornflake - just add water!

Life has been extremely busy the last month, and I haven't posted here for quite some time. With things starting to get back to normal, watch for lots over the next week!

In order to turn around the slump facing big brand cereals it is going to take innovation. And, one aspect innovation needs to address is convenience. From the across the pond in Great Britain we just might have one of those solutions.

Mornflake claims to be the oldest cereal company in the UK, but their latest idea is fresh and new. Their new Superfast cereal pots contain dried skimmed milk powder meaning that all you have to do is add cold water and you are ready to eat breakfast. No need to have milk around. A great idea for eating on the run, etc.

The biggest challenge is changing consumers habits and perceptions. The convenience factor could help people change their habits, but powdered milk also has mental barriers for some people to overcome. Nevertheless, if the cereal tastes great and is well marketed this could be a breakthrough.

There's no word when will these will be available in the U.S. Perhaps this is an idea some enterprising American company wants to undertake?

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Cereal sales are in decline. We know that, and so do the cereal companies.

In going over some of last month's chatter from big cereal CEO's it is interesting to read what they think the solution is. They all recognize that cereal is core to their business, and that some fine-tuned strategies are required to get back to the prominence they once had.

I encourage you to read some of the reports on the CEO's comments (see links below), but here are the major highlights:

Kellogg recognizes the need to reinforce the benefits and value of cereal at breakfast.

General Mills is planning on more product innovation and targeting marketing to four growth sectors: older consumers, millenials, middle-class consumers in emerging markets, and multicultural families (particularly Hispanics).

Easy to say. Hard to do. But are these strategies that will really turn things around? Only time will tell, but while these general statements are on the right track implementation will be critical, and I wonder whether the big companies have what it takes to really respond to what consumers are looking for.

Sources: brandchannel, and BakeryandSnacks.com

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ingredient trends

Innovation in the cereal industry takes many different directions. One of the ways that companies try to gain attention is by incorporating ingredients that are either novel or in high demand. In recent years we have seen various ingredient trends emerge, everything from chocolate to chia. Industry publication, BakeryandSnacks.com has recently identified a couple of current hot ingredients to watch.

One is green tea, something already being used in South Africa. Green tea has been shown to assist in weight loss, and with the obsession of many people to lose the bulge this could be appealing to consumers looking for an edge.

Another ingredient is carob. The dark brown flour is being researched for its antioxidant properties, and could offer some unique qualities in a breakfast cereal.

We'll keep watching. Of course, we will want to taste as well. In order for cereals based on unconventional ingredients to take off they have to be flavorful and something people will love to eat!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Perfecting Cereal Milk

It's not a new concept. For several years now a number of attempts have been made to convert the cereal experience into a beverage. So far nothing has really stuck. Breakfast drinks themselves have been around for years and are still readily available. The deliberate introduction of a cereal-flavored drink goes back nine years, and several have tried since, even has recently as this past year. But, as a category this has not become the sought after breakfast alternative.

The latest entrant to the race is an upstart simply called "Cereal Milk". Even though the product isn't even available yet, I am intrigued with their creativity. They are still working on the formulas and trying to arrange licensing agreements with major brands (no easy feat), but if they can get it right their vision could be the breakthrough that will make this fly. I especially like the glass bottles!

Check out their website, including the video. It will be worth watching their progress.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sink Bowl

Over the years it's been fun to report on new concepts for cereal bowls. Inventors try to overcome some of the challenges we face when eating cereal, mostly the issue of sogginess. The latest is the "Sink Bowl" a design concept by Sherwood Forlee.

The Sink Bowl is actually two bowls, one stacked on top of the other. The top bowl has a small plug in the bottom. When your cereal has been in milk for just the right amount of time you simply pull the plug to let the milk drain out to the lower bowl.

Perfect? The Sink Bowl does not appear to be available for sale so I haven't actually tried it, but for those are picky about soggy cereal this could be a solution. My concern is with the small little plug and the attached cord. There's got to be a better way to handle that, but then of course it wouldn't be a sink!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

When all else fails change the box

A regular topic on this blog over the years concerns the struggles of General Mills' Wheaties and the various attempts to revitalize this brand. So far nothing has really worked.

With Wheaties' sports emphasis it's no surprise that they just unveiled two new boxes featuring two Sochi gold medalists. Even though General Mills is not an official sponsor of the Olympics they are capitalizing on the athletes themselves, this time Mikaela Shiffrin and Sage Kotsenburg. This post-Olympics strategy has been going on for quite some time, 2012 and 2010 as recent examples.

The story here, however, is not more Wheaties boxes with athletes on them. It is that this is an opportunity for General Mills to highlight a major redesign of the core Wheaties box itself, the first such move in many years. In actuality they released a generic version of the new design back in the fall, but now with these star athletes the fresh look is fully expressed and promoted.

The boxes have a new energy to them, with a revamped wordmark all brighter and gradient oranges, all obviously targeted to a younger audience. The boxes definitely will stand out more on the grocery store shelf.

But, will this new look result in more sales and a rejuvenated brand? Only time will really tell.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal featured an article the same day on Wheaties' struggle, including a quote from yours truly. Unfortunately, they got the quote partly wrong, as I was referring to the now discontinued Wheaties Fuel, not the base Wheaties. So, Wheaties lovers relax. I know there are some of you out there!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sweet potato cereal?

At first glance this appears to be either a joke or perhaps disgusting, but it is a real possibility. Food giant Nestlé has filed a patent for manufacturing crunchy, extruded purple sweet potato puffs for use in breakfast cereals and cereal bars. This could offer a natural way to add color to cereal from a plant that has a number of valuable nutritional qualities.

A patent does not make a product, and we still need to see what Nestlé or its licensees come up with. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see some innovation at the ingredient level.

Still, are we ready to buy a box of Sweet Potato Pops at our local grocery store?

(Source: BakeryandSnacks.com)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Bakery on Main - Extreme Fruit and Nut

It's time for a review of a fringe cereal brand. I can't and won't review every new cereal that hits the market. That would be overkill, besides who is really interested in every little nuanced new variety of Cheerios or Special K that is introduced? But, every once in a while I come across some unusual cereals that catch my attention, and for the next two reviews I will try them and share my findings.

Recently during a trip to Target I came across some pouched cereals from a company called Bakery on Main from Connecticut. In many ways the packaging was not that spectacular and it said that it was a granola (a largely passé cereal type), but upon closer examination I was intrigued by what I saw through the clear window on the bag. This was no ordinary granola, but clusters largely embedded in miniature corn bowls. In fact, granola is a misnomer as there are no rolled oats to be found anywhere. This is something different so I fell for it and brought a bag home.

Bakery on Main had its start as a health food bakery creating items for Celiacs, those with sensitivities to gluten. The Gluten Free Granola I brought home obviously is targeted to that audience, but the unique nature of the cereal pieces themselves might just stand out enough to the rest of us as something worth trying.

Bakery on Main makes several different granolas. The one I chose is "Extreme Fruit and Nut" as that sounded like a great combination to me. I must say, before I really dig into the review categories, that my biggest disappointment with this cereal is that it could not fully live up to its billing. Opening the pouch I did discover a smattering of almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts, but virtually no fruit. The ingredients list raisins and cranberries, but I had to look hard to find any. Digging deeper it was evident that there were a few lone pieces in the bag, but so few that it in the first bowl I poured not a single fruit particle appeared. This is hardly extreme, unless by that one means extremely stingy. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming that being a small operator they haven't yet figured out the quality control issues of mixing and packaging cereals with very small ingredients of various weights. Nevertheless, this was not a good way to start my review.

As far as taste is concerned this is a delightful cereal. Don't be put off by the gluten free talk. The combination of nuts (and fruit, supposedly) along with a wide range of other ingredients such as rice, coconut, sunflower seeds, and flax seed in the little corn shells add up to what they promise: "Happy Taste Buds". I agree. It's not overly sweet, and the blend of flavors make for a pleasant experience.

With such a wide range of wholesome, natural ingredients one shouldn't be surprised that cereal's strongest suit is its texture. Out of the pouch or soaked in milk this cereal keeps its crunch, and provides a wide range of chewing experiences that make eating enjoyable.

This is serious food, and if you are truly focusing on a healthy breakfast you will find this cereal an experience to enjoy, which is not something you can always say about health foods. Besides the quality taste and texture, the unique nature of this "granola" is in itself intriguing and worth exploring.

Bakery on Main prides itself on the nutrition qualities of its foods. This cereal is not only gluten free, but emphasizes that it is casein free, non-GMO, transfat and cholesterol free, low sodium, etc. The focus is on natural ingredients, and as a result there are no fortified vitamins and minerals. Overall it is a fairly nutritious cereal, but as with many "granolas" the fat content, albeit low in saturated fats, is somewhat high at 43% of calories. Fiber and protein quantities are OK, but not great. A positive is that the sugar level is within the 20% of weight range.

In the end this was a pleasant surprise for me. Except for the mysterious missing fruit, this is a quality cereal that stands up to most cereals on the market. If you are looking for a new cereal experience from a small manufacturer this should be on your list. In fact, you might just want to try one of their other varieties as well, such as "Cranberry Orange Cashew Granola".

(Review protocol HERE)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's about the Meal

There has been much talk about the decline in cereal sales and the challenge that provides to cereal companies. There are many options available to consumers today, and decreasingly is conventional cereal one of them.

General Mills, like the other big companies, is trying various strategies to turn people back to cereal and their brands in particular. One of their more interesting recent attempts is to change the focus from cereal to families eating together, something that rarely happens today at breakfast. The Family Breakfast Project is "a way to help you get creative about your morning – to make it easier, more fun and meaningful". The idea is that if people put more focus on breakfast as a family meal, cereal will be a more frequent choice than the quick, grab-and-run options that are appearing.

Changing the conversation might just be what really needs to happen for cereal's future.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Review: Post Poppin' Pebbles

Recently I pointed out the introduction of a new variety of Post Pebbles cereal that seems to be getting lots of attention and buzz. Pebbles limited time variants are becoming quite common, but this one is rather innovative because of "Poppin' Pieces" that fizz in your mouth. Again, I don't normally review every new cereal that shows up in the store, but this one deserves a closer taste.

Starting with taste, it is by and large conventional Pebbles: highly sweet and loaded with both natural and artificial flavors. If you like candy for breakfast Pebbles is the closest thing to it. This particular variety highlights "Burstin' Berry", which is evident but still within the range of what I expect from Pebbles. Certainly it is flavorful, but way over the top for what I like in a breakfast cereal.


Another gripe that I have with Pebbles is that like most rice-crisp cereals the small pieces quickly turn to mush, and for the most part Poppin' Pebbles lives up to the expectation. There is a twist, however. The green balls (i.e. the "Poppin' Pieces") which cause the fizzing sensation are designed to breakdown slowly, and even after 10 minutes in milk are still intact. A definite slight improvement for Pebbles.

Without question the main feature, and for me the only redeeming quality, of Poppin' Pebbles is that this is simply designed to be pure fun. Apart from the modest sounds of Rice Krispies, what other cereal physically interacts with you? This is gimmickry that is unlikely to have lasting interest, but for now it will move boxes off the shelf. The cereal quietly talks back, and everyone will try swishing the green balls around in their mouth waiting to feel the fizzing. Sadly, the fizzling is very modest; hardly exhilarating. Nevertheless, this makes for a fun morning over your cereal bowl!

Nutrition? Seriously? There are really no significant nutritional qualities to Pebbles of any variety, and every consumer should understand that. The main problem is sugar (33% of volume), although not the worst one out there. Sure there are fortified vitamins and minerals, but no fiber and only 1g of protein.

If it wasn't for the unique innovation here, this would just be another highly sweetened cereal representative of an earlier age in cereal development. But, Post has tried something new that will not only generate sales, but ultimately strengthen its Pebbles brand. Children of all ages will be delighted, at least until they tire and move on to something else.

(Review protocol HERE)