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?


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)

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The perfect snack?

Every cereal lover knows that grabbing a handful of cereal from the box is a delightful treat, anytime! Cereal is a very versatile and convenient food, and the sweeter varieties in particular make a great, sweet snack.

I'm surprised that cereal companies have not worked harder at capitalizing on this fact, especially as they look for ways to boost sales. Certainly some have tried. Cheerios, probably the favorite snack that parents give toddlers, has attempted this on several occasions. So, have some candy companies.

The latest intentional effort comes from Kellogg. New Munch Zone delivers some sweet cereal favorites in small pouch servings.  These snack pouches are currently available only at Target, and come in one of five flavors: Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, and Krave (Chocolate, and Double Chocolate).

The limited availability at Target suggests this is test marketing. There is much they have done right with the packaging, but I am concerned as to whether there is enough consumer awareness for this to get traction. Also, the fact that these come in boxes of five may limit the quick, impulse buying that most snack cravers need. Ultimately, to be successful, cereal companies like Kellogg need to find a way to sell individual packets alongside candy in convenience stores, vending machines, etc. In Target these are sold in the cereal aisle and without much fanfare.

In any case, it is good to see Kellogg recognizing the potential for cereal as a snack. Maybe this will inspire further innovation in this category.