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.