Consumers like breakfast cereal, but not enough to shore up a category whose fortunes are waning as breakfast eaters seek other foods in a hyper-crowded morning space. In developed cereal markets, the product is losing out to foods with higher protein, less sugar, and more convenience. In emerging markets, cereals are fighting for growth, but are challenged by entrenched eating habits that veer towards more substantial and savory foods.
Cereal sales fall, but snacking may save the category
Two of the biggest and best-established global cereal markets, the US and the UK, saw flattened sales between 2016 and 2017, after facing a steady decline over the past five years. While cereal is still a popular breakfast option, it is not providing consumers with what they need. In the US, for example, 61% of those who have purchased cereal in the past year wish that it kept them fuller longer, while 56% wish that it gave them more energy. If cereal is not satisfying the needs of breakfast eaters, it is not surprising that they are moving towards other foods that provide the energy and satiety they look for in a morning meal. In the UK, changing breakfast habits are also contributing. A third of breakfast cereal buyers often skip breakfast, and about a quarter tend to snack throughout the morning instead of eating one main breakfast.
It’s time to make cereal a real snack food
Cereal's role as a snack, rather than a breakfast food, could help the category reclaim some lost ground, if manufacturers consider the potential to change its positioning. In the US, 76% of cereal eaters agree that the product is a "great snack," and snacking on cereal is a popular practice in other markets as well. In Europe, for example, 24% of Italian cereal eaters snack on cereal between lunch and dinner. Manufacturers should consider better ways to position their cereals as "suitable for snacking”, through packaging that is more portable, package sizes made for grab-and-go, and advertisements that demonstrate the ease with which cereal can make the transition to convenient snack.
Currently only few cereal products are packaged for on-the-go snacking. Resealable pouches encourage taking the cereal from one place to another, as do individual sachets of porridge or other microwavable hot cereals. But cereals have to find a way to be the snack that is truly eaten on-the-go, as opposed to the snack to eat once a person has arrived.
Vegetables try to edge their way into cereal
Asian cultures are well known for their savory breakfasts, especially Chinese congee - a hot rice porridge - and Indian savory oats. Indeed, introducing western-style cereals to the Asian market has been an ongoing challenge as the palates of Asian consumers are not attuned to the sweetness of traditional western cereals. On the other hand, Asian cereal eaters are most likely to welcome vegetables as an ingredient in cold cereals, whereas western consumers are not as inclined to embrace savoury cereals such as oats with eggs or flakes made with vegetables.
Yet, multinationals looking for ways to improve the health halo of cold cereals have been adding vegetables, primarily by selecting those with sweet profiles (beets, pumpkin, squash). The pumpkin spice fad that has informed a range of sweet products in the US is in part responsible for the incremental move towards savory cereals.
Vegan claims in breakfast cereals provide an extra layer of reassurance
Although breakfast cereals are inherently meat-free and most are also dairy-free, breakfast cereal brands increasingly flag up their vegan and vegetarian credentials on-pack. This provides an extra layer of reassurance to consumers who seek to avoid animal-derived ingredients. Such concerns are not ungrounded, as breakfast cereals can contain hidden animal products such as gelatine or dairy ingredients, often as part of coating or filling. Also the use of other, sometimes less obvious, ingredients may not agree with vegetarian or vegan values. Honey, for example, does not correlate with the vegan ethos that seeks to exclude all forms of animal cruelty and exploitation.
Vegan claims in breakfast cereals are becoming increasingly embedded in a wider clean label positioning, featuring alongside other health and ethical claims. Considered a hallmark of clean label, a short list of ingredients is becoming an important consideration for many consumers when purchasing food and drink. In breakfast cereals, consumers are increasingly opting for products with simple recipes, recognisable ingredients as well as clearer and simpler claims.
1. Müsliglück Garden Love Organic Muesli with Carrots, Tomatoes, Courgette and Pumpkin Seeds (Germany) contains dried vegetables and wholegrain oat cereal. The crispy, nutty, fruity and chocolatey product is suitable for vegetarians
2. Quaker Overnight Oats Toasted Coconut & Almond Crunch Oats (USA) is a chilled oat cereal with quinoa, flaxseed and coconut. It can be prepared by adding milk in the evening and leaving it in the fridge overnight to be enjoyed cold in the morning.
3. Nature's Path Organic Coconut & Cashew Butter Crunchy Granola (Canada) contains creamy cashew butter, potassium-filled cashews and fibre-filled coconut chunks. The packaging suggests use in a bowl or “in your hand”, for on-the-go convenience.
4. EcoAndino Purple Corn, Quinoa, Yacon and Cacao Flakes (Peru) are organic, gluten-free and sugar-free flakes. The product is a great source of antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates and essential fatty acids which are easily digestible.
5. Veríval Organic Pumpkin & Tomato Porridge (Germany) is a savoury oatmeal with tomato chips, pumpkin flakes and whole vegetable pieces, seasoned with herbs and spices. It requires simply adding hot water and is ideal for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a side dish.
6. Creative Snacks Co. Pumpkin & Pecan Granola (USA) contains real pumpkin, often used in pies, breads and cakes in the US thanks to its sweet profile flavour. This granola adds pecans for a crunchy texture.
7. Granola Crispy Cereal with Chocolate & Biscuit (Austria) blurs the line between cereal and biscuits.
8. N'oats Porridge with Apple, Strawberry and Crisps (Germany) is a porridge with a twist. In contrast to classic smooth porridges, this product contains nuts, apples, crunchy corn crisps and white chocolate, providing a dynamic range of textures.
9. Quaker Oats Oat & Fruit Apple & Cinnamon Breakfast (UK) is ideal for time-poor consumers who can’t afford a sit-down breakfast. It contains a blend of oats, natural yogurt, real fruit purée and juice, and is free from added sugar, artificial flavours, colours and preservatives.
10. Onda Zen Salted Granola (Brazil)
is a savoury, ready-to-eat granola that can be eaten on its own, or added to snacks, salads and soups. Suitable for vegans, it contains peanut, pistachio, Provence herbs and Himalayan pink salt.
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