Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year - New Health Emphasis

It's that time of year. Holiday excess has us feeling extra full and guilty, and we're resolved to begin the New Year with an emphasis on health and fitness. Marketers of food, exercise equipment, gyms, etc. are quick to take advantage of this momentary blip of sanity that invades our life before we return to the lifestyle patterns that contribute to our demise.

With 2016 now almost here, the cereal companies are poised to take advantage of the New Year's health craze. It can be argued that healthier cereals are already becoming more and more the trend, but to launch these in late December / early January is perfect timing. This year there are at least two notable examples appearing on grocery store shelves.

General Mills is putting its bets on a massive launch of an expanded Nature Valley line of oat cereals. Nature Valley is already a strong brand, but up to this point has been mainly about cereal bars, granola and muesli. Now, they have three new more conventional breakfast cereals: Honey Oat Clusters, Chocolate Oat Clusters, and Baked Oat Bites. The latter looks particularly interesting, and I will review it in the near future.

Kellogg, already having introduced its Origins line earlier this year, is of course placing its emphasis on its Special K brand of cereals and other food products. Previously the company tried to position Special K as a diet food, but came to its senses over a year ago recognizing that a broader health focus is the way to go. For 2016 they have introduced two new cereals under the "Nourish" sub-brand, both of which are multi-grain flakes with trendy quinoa. Flavors are: Apple Raspberry Almond, and Coconut Cranberry Almond.

These new offerings will have to compete with all the other health oriented cereals that are taking over the grocery aisle, but for health conscious consumers they may provide something new and novel to try before going back to their Lucky Charms and Froot Loops in a few weeks.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cereal photos

Over the years I have highlighted certain creatives who have used cereal artistically, either as a medium or as a way to reveal the unique nature of this food and its place in our culture. With the rise of social media, and Instagram in particular, several notable individuals are regularly posting some fascinating photos incorporating cereal.

By far the biggest Instagram account of this genre is @mister_krisp, the work of Jessica Siskin. Almost daily she creates some amazing items in the form of Rice Krispies Treats, molded and colored. Her work is both fun and spectacular.

Another example is @travels_with_cheerios, a less frequent contributor, but nonetheless cerealicious. This is the artistic expression of 15 year-old Emma Wezeman. Mixing the sometimes absurd placement of cheerios with beautiful photography this feed makes for an enjoyable addition to what often ends up as fairly routine from other Instagramers.

Check them out, and let us know of any others that you are aware of.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Misleading the way to sales

As first pointed out on this blog 18 months ago, General Mills is playing some games with consumers when it comes to its relatively new Cheerios Protein cereal. While not really lying, they nonetheless manipulated the serving sizes on the cereal compared to regular Cheerios to make it look like the Protein variety has substantially more protein, when in fact the difference is minor.

Others have noticed as well, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who recently launched a class action lawsuit against General Mills alleging false marketing. They point out the protein discrepancy, and reveal that Cheerios Protein also has more sugar.

The sad part in all of this is that in an effort to gain market share companies can sometimes resort to trickery to fool consumers (the recent Volkswagen debacle is another great example). General Mills and other cereal companies need to focus on true innovation if they want to increase (or at least hold on to) sales. They can do it, but these kind of shenanigans are not the way to go.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Startups and Innovation

A few weeks ago General Mills announced the formation of a new business development and venturing unit called 301 INC, designed to help entrepreneurs obtain the capital and resources they need to expand their businesses. 

This is a significant move, as it is a recognition from a large food corporation like General Mills that some of the best innovation comes from creative startups. As I've said here many times before, innovation is absolutely essential for the future of the cereal industry, and with this initiative we are seeing lessons being learned from other industries like high-tech where venture capital investing is all the rage.

Over the years we have watched a number of exciting cereal concepts emerge, but few have survived. Sure some reached a point of success that enabled them to be bought out by bigger companies, but many have perished due to lacking the finances needed to get their ideas off the ground.

Hopefully this will foster some exciting new cereal ideas for the breakfast table.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice

Thanks to Starbucks Pumpkin Spice has been a popular fad the last several years, but this fall it seems as if everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to take advantage of the annual rite of heading toward winter. Kellogg is one example of a me-too company that hopes to capitalize on this taste frenzy, and has released a Limited Edition of Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice. Is this just another copycat effort, or is it a legitimate cereal? Let's find out.

The whole point behind pumpkin spice is the flavor, and this cereal had better live up to its expectations. Well it does. My biggest fear is that would be laden with artificial flavors or over-dosed with the spices. It does neither. Kellogg uses only natural flavors and their is only a hint of the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Just enough to ensure that this is what the box says it is, but allows the mild, lightly sweetened pumpkin taste to come through. Pretty impressive.

Texture for this product is no surprise, as Mini-Wheats are Mini-Wheats. But, the combination with the pumpkin spice flavor is a great combination. Even right out of the box, the grainy nature goes well with it, but after soaking in milk for 5-10 minutes its even better as the smooth texture is a great fit for what we want from pumpkin.

Pumpkin spice has become a hot item because it is a comfort food, and therefore the experience it delivers is critical. Kellogg has made sure to conform this cereal to the larger cultural demands. There's orange frosting, and the box speaks autumn and wholeness. It works.

Cereals that are designed for experience are typically not paragons of healthfulness. But, this one comes pretty close. As they highlight on the box with milk it delivers up to 9g of protein, and like all Mini-Wheats the whole grains provide an excellent source of fiber. With the one exception of the sugar content a little higher than the 20% of weight threshold, this cereal has a well-rounded nutritional profile. Even the sugar content can be forgiven considering the enjoyable, seasonal nature of this product.

What more can I say? If you crave pumpkin spice, this is one cereal you will want to eat. And, because it is a limited edition you may want to stock up. Otherwise it will be an entire year until you can have your fix again!

(Review protocol HERE)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Creative Packaging

Over the years I have highlighted innovations in cereal packaging. If companies are looking to innovate this is definitely one area in which there still is lots of room for creativity and new thinking. Unfortunately, it seems to be difficult for the major players to think "outside the box."

Recently I came across some concept projects developed by a graphic design student, Mun Joo Jane, at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. She came up with a couple of cereal packaging ideas that truly draw attention. In particular, her Special K package (rebranded as K+), while elaborate, would certainly stand out on the grocery store shelves and at home.

Take a look at this idea, plus a much more austere concept, and tell us what you think:

I wonder if the cereal companies are paying attention?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Selfie Spoon

Creative, viral marketing could provide a great boost for cereal companies, and it appears that General Mills might be on to something.

Building on the success of their wildly popular Cinnamon Toast Crunch they have come up with a Selfie Stick that will make it easier for you to take a photo of yourself eating your favorite cereal (i.e. CTC). What makes this selfie stick stand out is that it has a spoon on one end, providing the perfect combination that will allow you to engage in your social media promotion while having breakfast. I'm sure we've all wondered how we could make this happen. Right?

The best part of this new marketing novelty is that it is free, except for shipping and handling. The only problem is that it is sold out (no surprise) on their website, but the promise is that more are coming. Just keep checking.  


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: Kellogg's Origins

Earlier this year Kellogg announced Origins, a new line intended to tap into the growing market for more natural and healthy cereals, and as attempt to turn around the sales struggles that the company has had. While the six varieties making up the brand have been showing up in stores for several months already, more recently their presence has been noticeable with significant shelf space and deliberate marketing.

It's time to give these cereals a spin in the bowl and see what they're really like. With six different products to choose from, this will not be a detailed and rated review on each product like I've done with other cereals, but a more general overview of how Kellogg is doing with this new venture.

With Origins Kellogg, not quite sure of what will really work, does not want to miss any opportunities. There are actually three categories: cereal, granola and muesli; and two of each of those:

  • Fruit & Nut Blend Cereal
  • Ancient Grains Blend Cereal
  • Raisin Apple Granola
  • Cranberry Almond with Pumpkin Seeds Granola
  • Apricot Cashew Coconut with Raisins & Almonds Muesli
  • Raisin Apricot Cranberry with Pumpkin Seeds Muesli

On first glance Origins products definitely stand out. The Kellogg's name is boldly emblazoned on the front and the red theme gives these products a distinct look apart from what the other big companies are offering at this time. The one puzzling aspect of the packaging is that the Origins story is not as pronounced as it could be. Sure, on the back they talk about "Real food, prepared simply" but more could be done in the overall design to convey the natural, wholesome nature of the cereals. I'm not convinced that the average consumer will pick up on this.

The emphasis with Origins is on wholesome and nutritious. They are clear to point out features like the lack of artificial flavors and hydrogenated oils, and the quantities of fiber and whole grains. While there is a certain simplicity to the ingredient list, the nutritious virtue is not perfect. For example, sugar content is still higher than ideal (> 20% of weight).

From the taste samples that I have had, I can say that these are certainly pleasant eating. Being naturally focused, they don't want overpowering flavors, but the blends they have come up with are tasty. The sweetness level helps as well. But, these are far from knock-out recipes, although the mueslis may be the most interesting.

In the end, Kellogg's Origins are a solid new offering that you should at least try. Whether they turn around Big K's fortunes is yet to be seen, but they may have found a way to attract consumers looking for healthier cereals who might not be ready to jump to their nerdy Kashi line.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Kellogg goes natural too

It was just a few months ago that General Mills announced that they would be eliminating artificial flavors and colors, a big move. Not to be out done, in their recent investor call Kellogg basically announced the same thing, promising to eliminate artificial ingredients by 2018.

This is welcome news for health enthusiasts,and certainly not a surprise for those watching the trends in the cereal industry. It just makes one wonder, how much of this is reactionary in order to maintain market share?

If Kellogg and General Mills are going to reverse the slide in cereal sales they are going to have to do much more than just just eliminating some ingredients.

We keep hoping.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cereal at the Movies - The Sequel

Recently I posted on the recent proliferation of cereal boxes from General Mills and Kellogg that are movie-themed. As these big companies struggle with their sales and market share working on licensing arrangements with movie studios is a smart move.

Since then, an even more interesting set of movie-themed cereals have shown up, this time from MOM Brands. In case, that doesn't ring a bell, MOM is now the third-largest cereal manufacturer in the U.S. and is mostly known for its Malt-O-Meal brand (and the company's original name), which is largely comprised of mainstream cereal knock-offs. Early this year they were bought by Post.

In partnership with DreamWorks they have launched four new cereals: Shrek Ogre O's, Madasgascar S'mores Jungle Party, Penguins Operation Chocolate Mix, and Dragons Dragon Adventure Crunch. So far these appear to be only available at Walmart.

The significance of these new cereals is that it suddenly propels MOM even further into the big leagues. They are no longer cheap, bagged cereals but are showing that they want to and can compete in the premium brand space too.

Breakfast is getting fun again!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cereal at the Movies

One of the reasons for my personal fascination with cereal is its close link with pop culture. For decades cereal companies have recognized the emotional connection they could generate by giving bleary eyed consumers some fun at breakfast with cereals and boxes linked with sports figures, cartoons, movies, and more!

Movie-themed cereals, in particular, are not new. They have been a breakfast staple for years. Of course, movie-promotions on existing cereals have been quite common, but things get really exciting when cereal manufacturers go all out in their licensing agreements to create cereals with fun shapes and beautifully crafted boxes. Who can forget a classic like Jurassic Park cereal? And over the years, we have seen others, ranging from Indiana Jones to High School Musical.

In the last six months we have witnessed a resurgence in movie-themed boxes. Perhaps cereal companies, desperate to turn around declining sales, are reaching back to marketing formulas that have worked in the past to generate some new breakfast enthusiasm Here's a brief recap of some of the cereals we have spotted:

Kellogg's Frozen - Following on the heels of this wildly popular Disney movie, Kellogg introduced a Frozen cereal (not in the freezer section!) featuring a gorgeous box with both major panels with a different design. A sneaky way to get people to buy two, not realizing that one box has both images!

General Mills' Star Wars - With newly anticipated Star Wars movies coming, new themed cereals are in order, as they have in the past, going back to the original 3-CPO in 1984. This year General Mills gets the rights, with two characters to choose from.

Kellogg's Avengers - The successful Marvel Avengers movie was supported not only by an dedicated new cereal, but Kellogg also plastered characters on Corn Flakes (utilizing the two-sided trick again) and Krave!

General Mills' Minions - On the fun side General Mills recently launched a banana berry cereal featuring the Minions of the Despicable Me franchise. The cereal itself has Minion designs imprinted on them.

All in all, good cereal fun. The way many of us remember breakfast!

Monday, June 22, 2015

General Mills is getting "real"

For regular followers of this blog I apologize for the recent hiatus in postings. Life has been very full! But, here's a story to get back into the bowl:

Breakfast cereals really began to stand out for their culinary creativeness, not only because of marketing, but due to chemistry. Back in the 1950's and 60's as a society we were introduced to a myriad of innovations from laboratories that concocted a wide range of new experiences and solutions for a everything from cleaning products to food. Food chemistry enabled manufacturers to try things in their recipes that were never before possible. Preservatives enabled food to last longer on the shelves. New colors and flavors gave rise to food with powerful taste and appearance. We believed that life was not only better with chemicals, but that perhaps someday chemistry would solve all of our problems, possibly even world hunger.

A lot has changed since then. As consumers became more health conscious and suspicious of these Franken-foods there was a growing move back to more natural, whole foods and away from things artificial. We see this with breakfast cereal. Whereas a few decades ago we were enamored with out of this world cereals, today, as evidenced by work of startups, the trend is definitely toward health. Chemicals are out. Low-processed, high fiber, natural (and even exotic) grains are in.

It's no secret that the cereal industry is struggling, and the big companies are especially trying to figure out to reverse the overall trend and their own sales. Innovation, a frequent theme in this blog, is the key.

Today we learn that General Mills is taking a bold step (at least for one of the big three cereal manufacturers), and has announced that they will be eliminating artificial flavors and colors (or more accurately "colors from artificial sources") "over the next two or three years". They clearly see the handwriting on the wall and know that most consumers want this. Even if 60% of their cereals already meet this standard, having others that still contain these artificial ingredients tarnishes the brand. This is not, however, the first time the company has made this type of across the board recipe change. Several years they committed to including "Whole Grains" in all their cereals.

In many ways this is a significant move that cannot but help their brand, and General Mills seem to be doing all they can to send these kinds of messages (even if polarizing), such as when they appealed to the LGBT community.

Despite all of this it is important to remember that removing artificial colors and flavors does not mean that General Mills has suddenly become an uber-health food brand. It's a welcome tweak, but does not commit to removing any other artificial ingredients, nor does it make some of the suspect highly-sugared cereals any more nutritious.

But, it is a sign that cereal companies are getting more real. And, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kellogg looking to Origins

In the last few years much attention has been given to the decline in breakfast cereal sales, a point highlighted on this blog from time to time (but not nearly in keeping with the increasing hype this story is getting across the general media). The big companies are especially feeling the pressure, with much of the recent attention given to Kellogg and their almost 5% drop in breakfast food sales.

Kellogg and the others know that they cannot rely just on the same old formulas and strategies that worked in the past. Innovation is needed, but unfortunately is often coming from other players in the industry. With the announcement of their dismal financial results last month big K also revealed that their next attempt to get back on the growth curve is to launch mid-year a new cereal brand called Origins. The focus of this brand will be wellness and "real food prepared simply". The cereals, granolas and mueslis will have no preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, and will be packed with whole grains and fibers.

Of course, at first glance this hardly sounds new. Healthy cereals? Aren't there tons of them in the market? Yes, but there is a noteworthy difference here. Most of the cereals claiming to be natural and super healthy are under the names of smaller brands, even though two of them (Kashi and Bear Naked) are owned by Kellogg itself. This new line will prominently indicate that it is from Kellogg, and that could be the start of a deliberate campaign to change consumers' perceptions about what Kellogg stands for. If these cereals take off, the company could become known as a brand to trust, not just one of the mass-marketed cereal companies delivering the typical fare.

This could be the last real chance for Kellogg to get it right. We will have to see how consumers respond to a return the company's Origins.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cereal podcasts

Are you looking for more cereal fun? Perhaps listening to a cereal podcast is what you need.

Last fall podcasting got a major shot in the arm with the very successful Serial podcast that came from WBEZ in Chicago and the creators of This American Life radio show. Podcasting technology has been fairly geeky up to this point, but Serial along with the ubiquity of smartphones has generated a whole new interest in this audio media.

Recognizing the opportunity for a play on words, several creative individuals have initiated their own spin-offs of Serial, utilizing the homophone, cereal. At least two podcasts have launched, and a very brief spoof. One Cereal Podcast, even featuring a knock-off logo from Serial, seemed to fizzle after only four episodes. But, the bowl looks much fuller for Cereal from the Heritage Radio Network, which is now on their fifth episode and provides entertaining shows bantering about different cereals and cereal news.

Is podcasting the best vehicle for pondering the wonder of cereals? There are so many visual and sensory dimensions to cereal that would be greatly enhanced if brought to video. Perhaps someone will do the same with regular video episodes on YouTube, like was done with the now defunct Cereal Wednesday.

In any case, if you can't get enough cereal in your life, here's an enjoyable way to get more during your commute, while preparing dinner, walking the dog, etc.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Porridge cafe

Cereal restaurants are not new, but the start of the innovative Cereal Killer Café in London last fall may have launched a resurgence of this format, at least outside the U.S. There are reports of other cereal restaurants opening in the U.K., and now in other places like Australia. And, one that has caught my attention is the Porridge Café, also in London.

Not another copycat cereal restaurant Porridge Café focuses on cooked cereals, the ultimate comfort food, and has created a creative gourmet menu that extends well beyond breakfast.

I have noted on several occasions in recent years a growing trend toward hot cereals. Perhaps a unique concept like Porridge Café might be on to something that could fuel this growth.

We'll be watching.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Taco Bell goes for Cap'n Crunch

Taco Bell restaurants announced Friday the testing of a new co-branded breakfast item featuring Quaker's Cap'n Crunch Berries cereal. The trial is currently underway in Bakersfield, California, and if it goes over well the chances are good we'll see it spread elsewhere. These "Cap'n Crunch Delights" are deep-fried donut holes stuffed with icing and rolled in the cereal, and will be available all day.

Certainly this is a novel addition to Taco Bell's menu, and perhaps it represents some out of the box thinking at Quaker as a way to strengthen brand awareness. This could be the type of innovation cereal companies need to try to keep relevant, bolster traditional cereal sales, in a marketplace that seems to shrug with indifference over the typical breakfast fare.

(Source: Nation's Restaurant News)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: General Mills' French Toast Crunch

The big cereal story a couple of months ago was General Mills' reintroduction of a previously discontinued cereal, French Toast Crunch. After vigorous campaigning from passionate fans the company decided that was a good PR move, and hopefully a revenue generator as well.

With all the hype surrounding the return of this cereal I figured this would be a great opportunity to discover what I missed over eight years ago when the cereal disappeared from the store shelves. For some reason I do have not any fond memories of French Toast Crunch, so it was not particularly exciting for me to hear of its return. So, this could be my second chance to find out whether this is the best thing since Corn Flakes. Or not.

So, what's the draw? For most people the allure of French Toast Crunch is the taste. The cereal claims to be "bursting with cinnamon and syrup taste," and while it is not first one to imitate other breakfast foods (e.g. waffles) the flavor sensation is unique while tapping into familiar tastes. The recipe works, and is enjoyable to eat.

So how do the little french toast slices hold up in milk? Straight out of the bag, this is all about crunch. Hardly authentic french toast, unless you like it dehydrated. But, like most cereals it comes alive in milk, and this is one case where the longer it soaks the better. French toast sopping in syrup is supposed to be soggy, and after 5 to 10 minutes the cereal's association with the real thing is surprisingly strong.

Taste and texture are big aspects of French Toast Crunch, but they're all part of something greater, the overall experience. Again, I believe what has made this such a popular cereal for many people is the fact that this cereal is not only a great imitation of a traditional breakfast favorite, but just plain fun.

So far this cereal is a winner, but now we have to deal with the reality of nutrition. You don't buy this cereal because you're looking for organic, high-fiber grains, naturally packed with antioxidants. Certainly it's not the worst cereal on the market, but it is sugared (30% of weight), low in protein (1g per serving), and comprised mainly of enriched vitamins. But, who really cares. Remember, it's about the experience.

I must admit this was a fun journey back to the past. It is an enjoyable cereal to eat, and I understand the appeal. Having said that it's still not one of my favorite cereals, but if you were a French Toast Crunch lover in the past you won't be disappointed. And, even if this was not on your radar, it's still worth giving it a try. Maybe you'll discover why so many people wanted it back.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Post doubles down with MOM acquisition

As I get back into winter blogging mode, there is one big cereal story in particular that I must comment on. A couple of weeks ago number three cereal maker, Post, demonstrated that it is not only committed to solidifying its number 3 spot in the cereal industry, but is eyeing the future with growth definitely in mind. They have agreed to buy MOM Brands for $1.15 billion, adding the latter's successful bagged cereals and other varieties to its portfolio.

MOM (formerly Malt-O-Meal) has been a cereal disruptor with its focus on knock-off cereals sold in larger sizes, and often at a lower price than the mainstream boxed cereals. It will now be interesting to see how Post leverages the purchase, either through branding changes and/or manufacturing efficiencies.

Consolidation in the cereal industry is inevitable, especially now with the larger companies struggling to find an edge in a tight market.

(Source: Bloomberg)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wheaties: Going forward by going back

January is typically a busy month for me, so I've been rather quiet here on and on social media, but with all that's happening in the cereal world, it's time to get back!

Over the years Wheaties has been one of the favorite topics on this blog. The venerable brand has been a showcase of cereal marketing and how it expresses itself in American culture, but for at least a decade has struggled to find itself. There have been numerous attempts to revive the cereal, including the ill-fated Wheaties Fuel, but nothing has seemed to work.

It was not that long ago when Wheaties was known for its representation of high profile professional sports teams and athletes. I'm sure, however, General Mills discovered that after all the licensing fees and costs associated with that, sales just did not warrant continuation of that strategy. Last year, however, we began to see a definite shift more toward high profile athletes outside of the major professional sports leagues, that is, athletes from extreme sports that attracted a much younger audience. Even the box design was updated to reflect greater energy and with a more contemporary feel. And, last summer the company engaged consumers in a way to vote for the next star to grace the cover of Wheaties, from a roster of athletes representing motocross, para-athletics, lacrosse, mixed martial arts, and women's soccer. The winner of the contest was Anthony Pettis, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion in 2013, a definite sign that Wheaties is being taken to a whole new generation.

Apart from the new breed of athletes that are starting to appear on the boxes, of equal interest is the new, or rather old, Wheaties design that has appeared with this rebirth of the cereal. Gone is the noisy, colorful redesign attempt of the last year or so. Instead, Wheaties is returning to its roots, with a simple orange and white box, with no extraneous markings to distract from what really matters, the athlete. While millenials do not have memories of the boxes of 30 or 40 years ago, the stark throwback nature of this design is bold and should stand out on the grocery store shelves.

It will be interesting to watch whether this latest strategy is the one that General Mills needs for success with Wheaties.

Now, if they could only update the cereal itself, but that's another story...