Bringing cereal back to the breakfast table

Bringing cereal back to the breakfast table

A perfect storm of cultural, culinary and demographic trends has led to a stubborn weakness in the breakfast cereal market.  As all-day snacking replaces sit-down meals for on-the-go Americans, an increasing number of consumers treat breakfast as an on-the-run, away-from-home eating occasion rather than an at-home, sit-down meal.  Many Americans are increasingly turning away from breakfast cereal and embracing alternatives such as cereal bars, bagels and yogurt.

In an effort to get their beleaguered businesses back on track, the major marketers of breakfast cereal-Kellogg Company, General Mills and Post Foods- have intensified their efforts to return cereal to the breakfast table at home and expand its presence at breakfast occasions away from home.  One tack they have taken is to follow in the footsteps of smaller marketers of breakfast cereals.  These niche players continue to generate excitement and raise the bar for major marketers with a wide range of innovative and healthy-ingredient cereals.

A new Packaged Facts report-Cold and Hot Breakfast Cereals in the U.S.-shows how major marketers of breakfast cereals are picking up the challenge from smaller marketers by making their products more attractive to health-conscious consumers, a move that is particularly vital to capturing the growing number of aging Boomers.  However, data from Packaged Facts’ January/February 2014 consumer survey highlighted in the report suggest that marketers may encounter unexpected behavior on the part of breakfast cereal buyers with healthy eating on their minds.

For example, women have traditionally been a prime target for breakfast cereal marketers because of their influence on what their families eat and their perceived concern about providing healthy foods for their children as well as themselves.  Yet, one potentially surprising finding of the Packaged Facts survey is that when deciding which cereal to buy men are more likely than women to be mindful of healthy ingredients such as high fiber and high protein.  Men also are more concerned about whether the breakfast cereal they purchase is vitamin-fortified or non- or low-fat.

The Packaged Facts survey also uncovered some intriguing consumer reactions to the “free-from” culinary trend that has begun to heavily influence the breakfast cereal category along with other segments of the packaged food industry.  Based on the perceived expectations of healthy-eating consumers, breakfast cereal marketers have begun to define “good-for-you” as “not including ingredients that are bad for you,” such as gluten and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Consequently, major marketers of breakfast cereal have set out to offer some of their flagship brands in non-GMO varieties.

Paradoxically, however, these efforts may not necessarily result in a direct and noticeable impact on retail sales, although they may have a broad positive impact on consumers’ perceptions of corporate images and brands.  Packaged Facts survey data show that when buying a cold breakfast cereal only a tiny percentage of cereal purchasers assign a high level of importance to whether the product is non-GMO or gluten-free.  A much higher percentage of cereal buyers are impressed by more traditional healthy-ingredient claims such as no/low sugar, vitamin-fortified, high protein, low calorie and low sodium.

This blog is based on research featured in Packaged Facts’Cold and Hot Breakfast Cereals in the U.S., published in February 2014.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through May 1, 2014. Use code PFCereal.