BREAKFAST CEREAL MARKET STUDY
A market study on the breakfast cereal category
An in-depth market study on the breakfast cereal category
A brief history of breakfast cereal
Breakfast cereal, especially those loaded with sugar, are losing market share to a whole host of competitors. Yogurt, breakfast bars and even fast food are eating their…breakfast.
Questions that need to be asked. What happened? And what can those brands of cold cereal do to take back market share? More importantly, what should the competitors (yogurt, bars, etc.) fear going forward?
To truly understand this market, let’s begin by looking at the birth of the ready-to-eat breakfast market.
For decades, the traditional breakfast food for the masses was oat-based porridge (a breakfast cereal). While the wealthy ate meat-based breakfasts.
As a result, in the US, as the market became increasingly affluent, porridges and other cereals were replaced by an upwardly mobile aspirational meat and egg-based breakfasts. The old cooked cereals were seen as plebeian.
In the late 1800s, health movements blossomed in the US. And these reformers encouraged health conscious Americans to cut back on meat consumption at breakfast.
The biggest change to the morning diet can be directly traced to one of the world’s greatest brands — Kellogg. And its Seventh Day Adventists beginnings.
The rise of Kellogg
John Harvey Kellogg was a health and fitness force in his time. His sanitarium in Michigan was a recovery destination for well-to-do Americans for many decades.
Health retreats at his sanatorium were more immersive of an experience than ranch-spas and adventure-spas of today. And the important and wealthy retreated there for a rest cure.
Kellogg’s religious belief emphasized exercise and vegetarianism, leading him to invent ready-to-eat breakfast foods made of grains for his visitors.
Eventually, Kellogg of Battle Creek was born. Today, the Kellogg brand is synonymous with Corn Flakes and many other breakfast cereals.
As a result, he began experimenting with grain products. So, in 1898, he introduced Grape Nuts. Now, the war was on over breakfast products. A war that continues to this day.
Cooked breakfast cereal took a path of their own, coinciding with the ready to eat cereals of Kellogg and Post.
The American Cereal Company (Quaker Oats) created an oatmeal cereal in 1877. It invented a brand, using the Quaker Oats’ “Man in Quaker Garb.”As a result, the Quaker man was as a symbol of plain honesty and reliability. It gave Quaker Oats annual sales of $10 million.
Alexander Anderson’s creation of a steam-pressure method changed the game. The new device shoots rice from guns producing puffed rice and puffed wheat, and another breakfast meal was invented without meat.
The brands started using associations with celebrities such as Babe Ruth and Shirley Temple.
By 1964, the Quaker Oats Company sold over 200 products, grossing over $500 million. The company claimed that eight million people ate Quaker Oats each day. In 2001, the much larger PepsiCo bought Quaker Oats and continues to be a success. In 2017, sales rose 1% in North America.
Oatmeal has long been a staple of the hot cereal market
Kellogg had an answer
At the time, Battle Creek, Michigan, was a center for the Seventh Day Adventist Church. And, as it soon became, the center of the ready-to-eat breakfast cereal industry.
Both Kellogg and Post were located in Battle Creek, Michigan. So, the city became nicknamed the “Breakfast Cereal Capital of the World.”
As the category matured, marketing took on a greater and greater role. (Read another study on frozen food.) It did not take long to link breakfast cereals as the healthier choice over meats.
More importantly, children made the choice.
So, breakfast cereals were marketed to them. Brands such as Froot Loops and Sugar Crisps, Cap’n Crunch and Fruity Pebbles emerged. The sugar cereal was born.
Breakfast cereal around the world
Force Wheat Flakes became the first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal in the UK at the turn of the last century. The cereal peaked in 1930, selling 12.5 million packages in just one year.
Meanwhile, back in the US, the 30’s saw the rise and interest in puffed breakfast cereal.
The first puffed cereal was Kix, the result of marketing pushing R&D for new and exciting products to build the “puffed” category.
As a result, General Mills entered the market in 1924 with Wheaties. Almost immediately, General Mills marketed to children with a variety of cereals. To better attract children, sugar was added. Over time, sugar became the main ingredient.
Think about this. Today’s Sugar Smacks carry 56% sugar by weight. (Read about Cinnamon Toast Crunch here)
Spokespersons and mascots helped position the brands for children. Many are still familiar today. The Rice Krispy’s elves, Tony the Tiger, Trix Rabbit and the trending sports figures on Wheaties (the breakfast of champions) are all icons of sorts. (Read how General Mills is bringing the legacy brand TRIX back to the original formulation.)
A World View
Canada has many, if not all, of the US based breakfast cereal in its market. But cooked breakfast cereals, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and Red River remains most typical. And China is famous for rice congee, (a type of porridge) eaten for breakfast.
Meanwhile, Ireland is still famous for its oatmeal. And the most famous variety of these is steel-cut oatmeal (like McCann’s). Competing with oatmeal is the full Irish breakfast of eggs, sausages, broiled tomato and pudding.
In fact, looking around the world, breakfast cereal – especially the sugar-loaded variety – are almost a completely American staple.
Breakfast cereal really took off in the 50’s with the birth of baby boomers.
Milk, orange juice and breakfast cereal (mostly Kellogg’s, Post and General Mills) represented the breakfast of Americans.
In the mid-60’s, however, the market began the change.
More and more mothers began to work outside the home.
And, families eating together for breakfast became more and more unusual. The focus turned to even quicker solutions for breakfast.
Carnation launched its Instant Breakfast. Which was in taste and nutrition not much different than chocolate milk.
Pop-Tarts hit the market and the sweetened toaster pastry became an accepted way to start your child’s day.
The last 25 Years
But the real change in breakfast habits can be seen in the last 25 years.
Outside of yogurt and cheese, diary consumption is down in the US, with a turn from carbohydrates back to protein consumption. In fact, milk consumption has been steadily declining since 1970. Even more revealing, the average American consumes less than two cups of dairy per day, a cup less than recommended by the USDA.
As a result, the trend is nearly destroying the orange juice market and has taken its toll on breakfast foods as well.
So, in many ways, the market has come full circle.
Back to the very protein heavy diet that caused Mr. Kellogg to revolt and express a different view.
At a crossroads
Even diet cereal brands like Special K are extending their brands to breakfast bars. And Quaker markets breakfast bars, rolled oats and steel-cut oats that require 30 minutes to cook.
Meanwhile, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Raisin Bran and Sugar Frosted Flakes still fight for an ever-decreasing shelf space. So, what’s needed? Where will the market go?
What has happened to breakfast cereals and what can be done about it.
Why the slip?
The slip in overall market share can be seen in hard market share numbers, as well as within the primary companies themselves. In 2017, Kellogg began a massive workforce cut that was so severe – more than 11,000 workers – Senator Robert Casey Jr (D., PA) asked Kellogg to clarify its plans he was so alarmed.
In early 2018, Kellogg, the second largest provider of cold cereal behind General Mills, reported breakfast cereal sales declining by 5%, continuing the downward trend. (The company’s growth comes from snacks.) General Mills is performing better with its cereal, primarily led by the Cheerios brand, which has less sugar than most others.
There are numerous reasons and we’ll start with the most obvious. Cold breakfast cereal just isn’t the only choice. Yogurt, as mentioned above, is growing rapidly, having taken a 40% share of the US ready-to-eat breakfast market.
Then there are the energy and cereal bars entering the competitive fray, which ironically are made by the likes of Kellogg, General Mills and Post.
They represent only one competitive segment killing breakfast cereals. There’s also the expansion of breakfast menus at fast food restaurants. As that category has shrunk, many are finding breakfast to be the only growing day part.
That’s the reason you see Taco Bell of all place open for breakfast. McDonalds is even performing better in 2018 that it offers breakfast all day.
There’s increased competition from all angles, event store brands. In fact, combine all the store brands together and they are the market leader. Far ahead of General Mills and Kellogg.
But the increased competition is only one of the factors pushing breakfast cereals downhill. Foremost, there is a perceived unhealthiness of cereal. Especially those in the sugar category, which is about more than perception. It’s the truth.
Studies show many breakfast cereals have one spoonful of sugar for every three spoonfuls of breakfast cereal. Kellogg Honey Smacks and Post’s Golden Crisps have as much sugar as a Twinkie.
The truth is that many cereals are LOADED with sugar.
Breakfast behavior has also changed, especially among those in the younger demographic. And those are the most likely to eat cereal. However, they look for food that is convenient like breakfast bars and fast food. They snack. And don’t sit down to eat.
Additionally, in the US, there are fewer younger people. The birth rate has been in a five-year decline with children below the age of 17 becoming the smallest segment of the US population. In fact, the birth rate in the US sits at an all-time low.
In essence, the target audience for cereal is shrinking.
The cold breakfast cereal playing field
If you look at the individual brands, it’s difficult to draw any hard conclusions.
The category of private label makes the money among the cereals, as mentioned before. But if we’re examining just the individual brands, Cheerios holds the first the first and fifth spots among the brands in 2017 with the sub-brand Honey Nut Cheerios on top.
What’s shocking is how so many of them saw sales dip from 2016, with Frosted Mini Wheats (a cereal marketed as healthy but actually loaded with sugar) dropping nearly 6%. More than half of the top 9 brands sport declining sales.
The confusing part? Cheerios gains a 3.6% increase in sales while Lucky Charms, which admittedly has less sugar than others, and Froot Loops also rising.
What is happening here?
Honey Nut Cheerios is focused on the honey. Its brand is “Must be the Honey,” using a bee named Buzz as its mascot/equity marker.
It is obviously targeted toward children. And its ads are very upbeat, often ending with Buzz tapping the cereal with his honey dipper.
Still, Honey Nut Cheerios is a sugar cereal, but it borrows the whole grain of Cheerios and claims to lower cholesterol. Most importantly, it gains meaning from the Cheerios brand.
Focus on sweet, even if its honey
The chink in sugar marketed cereal
Then there is a cereal brand like Trix, which uses the Trix Rabbit whose told, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”But Trix has declined in market share, becoming one of the many cereals facing the wrath of marketing sugar to children.
Basically, Trix didn’t have the cover of the overall Cheerios brand.
As a result of marketing, Cheerios’ yellow box is instantly recognizable. And, even nostalgic for some. It is currently being marketed under the “Love” tagline. But, promotes itself has being good for a healthy heart.
A new campaign
Cheerios has even introduced a new campaign, hoping to grow the cold cereal market. It is called the Family Breakfast Project. “When families eat breakfast together, amazing things happen.”
This campaign directly takes on the changing trends of breakfast (needing fast meals, snacks, etc.). It encourages viewers to return to the breakfast table.
That approach comes close to what breakfast cereals should do. However, this campaign is a little soft in the belly, unable to capture its youthful target audiences who exist in the fast-paced world of texts and cell phones. This approach to eating at the breakfast table just isn’t all that emotionally important.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Cinnamon Toast Crunch is still among the market leaders, holding the fifth spot in most surveys. But its more than 8% drop in 2013 speaks to a falling brand.
Like most of the sugary breakfast cereals, Cinnamon Toast Crunch uses a character or two. In this case, they are the individual cereal squares that live in the bowl.
Its position remains “Crave Those Crazy Squares,” a strategy still marketing on taste. Even the line, “Sugar on the outside, crazy on the inside,” doesn’t do much to address the current trends. Despite the recent bump, we expect declining sales to re-emerge.
The problem with marketing sugar
There’s a deep problem here by basing marketing on taste (i.e., sugar). EVERYONE does it. Even if it were a reason to buy a particular brand of cereal, it doesn’t represent a true choice because there are so many cereal brands marketing on sweet taste.
This is a problem and not just for breakfast cereal. The messaging, tone and look are all the same. So, they are often seen together, as one bunch.
As a result, the main message for these cereals? Sugar!
Healthy Breakfast Cereal
For every box of Cap’n Crunch on the supermarket shelves, you can easily find a box of Grape Nuts or Kashi.
In a 2017 report published by Mintel, “It’s all about the sugar: the cereal industry being one of the biggest users of the ingredient in its products. Studies show that breakfast cereals have a 1:3 ratio.”
To counterbalance the decline, cereal makers are introducing a basket of healthier options, reducing sugar…There are more organic cereals on the shelves today, as there are gluten-free and non-GMO options.
The public’s desire to live a healthy lifestyle has become important. This means that to be healthy, cereals MUST be healthy to meet the needs of the masses. Cereal makers can’t treat healthy options as being only for a fringe group of shoppers.
Special K is one of the industry’s most interesting case studies. Like many cereals, Special K sales have been slipping each year since 2012, dropping a total 26% in the last six years. Yet, it remains one of Kellogg’s most important brands. The cereal maker leverages Special K’s health brand in breakfast bars, sandwiches, chips and even shakes.
How did it get here? What made Special K stand out? It owns the position of being the healthiest cereal by promising a certain lifestyle, targeting women. And it challenges eaters to meet it.
The Special K Challenge
Special K has mustered up a challenge for consumers, the famous “Special K Challenge.”
“For meal number one, you may have a serving of any Special K Breakfast Cereal with 2/3-cup skim milk and fruit. At meal number two, you may have a Special K Protein Meal Bar. Or, a Special K Protein Shake, or another serving of Special K cereal. (with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit),” says Special K.
Special K continues, “Meal number three can be eaten normally.
Throughout the day, consume two Special K snacks. Choosing from Special K Protein Snack Bars and Special K2O Protein Water Mixes. Or Special K Cereal Bars, Special K Crackers, or Special K Fruit Crisps.
For additional snacks, one may consume fruits and vegetables. Drinks may be consumed normally.”
The key here is consuming Special K products all day long. But Kellogg overplayed its hand. By offering so many products under the Special K banner it began cannibalizing itself, pouring dollars into a brand stretched too thin.
To truly understand what’s happening in the breakfast cereal market, we need to understand its competition. The products that are actually strengthening the bottom lines of Kellogg, General Mills, Post and others, while their standby cereals lag.
Cereal bars and toaster pastries
Cereal bars and toaster pastries are among the bright spots in the breakfast food category. In fact, along with yogurt, they represent the only growing segment of the category itself. Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts owns the segment, with sales crushing all competitors. Its $331 million in sales dwarf all the private label brands five times over.
!Pop-Tarts have etched out their own place in the category
Pop Tarts doesn’t require milk to eat. Rather, all one needs is a toaster. (And many eat them cold).
However, when it launched in the 60’s, Kellogg was so protective of its cereal business that it created a set of detailed instructions for store operators.
Pop-Tarts could not be placed near the cereal because Kellogg didn’t want consumers thinking it was a substitute for cereal.
Times have changed
Times sure have changed. Pop-Tarts continues to grow as a breakfast option. Kellogg markets it toward the youth market, using tagline like “made for fun” and the current “Crazy good.” A peanut butter option features a Pop-Tart swimming in peanut butter to promote the new “Gone Nutty” offerings.
While meaningless, Pop-Tarts’ advertising borders on relentless.
Kellogg has invested heavily in the Pop-Tarts brand. And, although it misses the boat on meaning, it more than makes up for in frequency.
Innovation in Pop-Tarts
Kellogg says that one of the reasons Pop-Tarts remains a success is because of innovation, such as the “Gone Nutty” offerings and college-branded Pop-Tarts.
Kellogg has also “innovated” through cobranding. Using SpongeBob SquarePants as well as Hello Kitty and Barbie.
And even Hardees sports a Pop-Tart ice cream sandwich. You can even order a box of Pop Tarts with your name on it.
Innovation is in the eyes of the beholder
“Innovation” and advertising frequency, however, are not what has made the Pop-Tarts brand a success.
Pop-Tarts Snak-Stix, in fact, was created as an after-school or on-the-go snack. From a message standpoint, the Snak-Stix fails because consumers didn’t want Kellogg telling them how they should eat them. But the versatility of the product made it initially successful – and a sign of things to come.
General Mills/Pillsbury introduced the world to the Toaster Strudel in 1985, claiming it to be part of the “hot, flaky breakfast revolution.”
It does about a third of the revenue Pop-Tarts does. And its sales have been soft as of late, falling 1% over the last year.
As yummy as they are, Toaster Strudels will never catch Pop-Tarts because they must be heated. That makes them less of a viable on-the-go option.
While Kellogg was reluctant to position Pop-Tarts against cereals (and it happened anyway), Pillsbury’s Toaster Strudel embraces being the anti-cereal.
It was a wise position because any market share comes at the expense of cereal.
The category of breakfast bars represents a mix of granola bars, energy bars, protein bars and cereal bars. Kellogg’s Nutri-Gran Bars are the market leader, reaping more than $112 million in 2017. General Mills Milk ‘ Cereal Bars, Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal, the Special K bar and Slim Fast Sank Options make up the top five.
You can place them in two markets. 1) Health. And 2) For lack of a better term, “not-health.”
For example, most people would not look at a Rice-Krispy’s bar and think health.
It is, in fact, Rice-Krispy’s cereal congealed with marshmallows. The same can be said about Golden Graham bars and the like.
However, Clif Bars has a reputation of being a healthier choice. However, it (like some Nutrigrain bars), are high in sugars and high-fructose corn syrup. They may not be healthy in the traditional sense, but they don’t reside in the Rice Krispy bar category.
From a positioning perspective, there are only a couple of basic positions bars occupy. Snack/side item or meal replacement.
On the snack side, you have the unhealthy Rice Krispy bar, Lucky Charms Treats. etc. On the other side, the healthier granola bars, Nutrigrain bars, and Nature Valley.
As a result, many of the bars position themselves not against each other, but against cereal. Even breakfast in general.
So, bars like the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milk and other cereal bars (Cocoa Puffs and Honey Nut Cheerios also have a version) position against traditional cereal.
“When you don’t have time for a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, take it on the go with you.” Even Quaker’s cereal bars are similarly positioned.
Cereal bars are a natural extension for a brand like Quaker
On the meal replacement side, there are a whole host of protein, energy, and fiber bars. This is the area with the most potential for growth. For example, as healthy and on-the-go converge, Clif Bar promotes its Mojo Bar as “Energize your day.”
The meal replacement bars seem to be healthier. And they tend to be more serious in imagery and tone in advertising, web and point of purchase.
The more “snacky” you get, the less serious it becomes.
While cereal consumption is on the decline, yogurt sales have been shooting skyward for years. Sales are now plateauing as market leaders being to take hold.
Yogurt appeals to both a younger and older audience. And it can serve as a replacement meal for any breakfast item. (Heck, many eat yogurt as a snack.)
What makes this group such fervent yogurt lovers?
For the kids of these parents (who are now in that 18-34 demographic), it is natural to have a yogurt for breakfast rather than a bowl of cereal.
It’s an easy breakfast item
Let’s face it, traditional breakfast cereals take time to eat and can’t be brought with you. And yogurt is small, quick and all you need is a spoon (or a squeeze).
Just as importantly, yogurt is eaten as a meal at any time during the day. It’s not limited to just breakfast. In fact, in Consumer Corner’s retail study on the yogurt industry, it was noted that, “Refrigerated yogurts are the eighth largest selling subcategory. In food, drug and mass market.”
Specifically, 45% of yogurt eaters consume it for breakfast. While 32% consume at lunch, or in the late afternoon (32%), late morning (25%) or late night (25%).
With such widespread appeal, yogurt has clearly become the best bet for breakfast eaters.
Yogurt is healthy
Here’s where Greek Yogurt comes into play. Greek yogurt stands out from the other styles of yogurt, with its rich and creamy texture. And the health benefits are abundant. There’s more protein. And, when the lactose is strained as it is in Greek yogurt, the yogurt loses its sugar and carbohydrates.
Greek yogurt has taken over the market. In fact, it’s one of the most popular dairy products period with sales of nearly $8 billion in the US.
Let’s consider a few of the Greek yogurts
Perhaps the most well known name of Greek yogurt (or strained yogurt) is Chobani. It’s the market leader, surpassing Yoplait in sales in early 2017.
According to its owner, Hamdi Ulukaya, what’s made Chobani such a success is the company’s manufacturing process.
For example, the company opted to never outsource any of the Chobani product line. Moreover, Ulukaya set the price point of the yogurt a little higher than the competition. All to meet future price projections.
That has been a wise move. Because there is a general belief among consumers that you always get what you paid for.
Stealing Share has tested that precept with target audiences. And it always comes back emotionally intensive, no matter the category.
Being priced slightly higher than the competition tells the audience you might be better.
And “might be” can be enough to be considered.
It’s working for Chobani. Business Insider recently shared that “[Chobani] now produces 2.2 million cases of yogurt a week.” Its sales have surpassed $2 billion in 2016, beating Yoplait.
In 2017, Chobani commands 37.6% market share of the US Greek yogurt market and 19.8% of the total yogurt market.
Kid’s yogurt brands are rising. From brands available for infants (YoBaby) to drinkable yogurt smoothies (Danimals) to squeezable bags (Plum Organics, Yogurt Mashups), an untapped market is emerging.
Craziest of all is cereal flavored yogurts. Kids yogurt like YoPlait brand themselves as the healthiest and quickest breakfast alternative for children.
Kid’s yogurt is filled with nutritional benefits. It can provide a quick serving of calcium, protein, and a litany of the necessary vitamins and minerals necessary for a growing body.
With so many options to choose from, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that trend increase in the years to come.
The fact is that breakfast cereal may never recapture the prominence it once held. But it still holds the top spot among all breakfast options. It’s still a multi-billion dollar industry with more than 92% of households reporting they eat cereal at least once each year.
But the time has passed when the brands see their market share rise again without major rebranding.
That’s because people have changed.
We are on the go types, having learned from technology (think your smart phone) that everything can be taken on the run.
Plus, it’s not just adults who have changed. Children have too. They have also been taught by technology that’s it is an eat-in-your-car era. Especially for pre-teens and teens, eating at the breakfast table seems childish or old-fashioned.
There are other factors, of course. We are also a healthier bunch, living longer by watching what we eat.
As a result, fewer parents are willing to feed their children sugary cereal that makes them obese. Even those unconcerned with health can opt for the growing breakfast sector among fast food chains.
In the face of that, what are traditional breakfast cereals to do?
Well, for one thing, they need to rebrand aggressively.
Because the model they’ve followed, especially for sugary cereals, is the same as it was decades ago.
Same old crap
This much is true. The sugary cereals always feature a cartoon character, emphasizing fun, and hoping kids clamor for it.
The problem is that there is no differentiation. Characters are interchangeable from each other in terms of meaning, which means there is very little reason to prefer one over the other. In an environment in which sugary breakfast cereals are becoming less valued, it’s time for a different strategy.
But there is a process to understanding those consumers. One based on belief systems and switching triggers.
We have specifically developed this system to uncover the drivers of consumers of breakfast. It dives deeper than simply taste, and even deeper than health.
We’re talking about emotion
In this way, a breakfast cereal can better define its brand so that it is coveted by adults and children alike.
So, right now, many of the cereals – even the most successful ones – look out of touch. If they don’t update their brands, they will go the way of Life, Rice Krispy’s and Corn Flakes as brands falling at a rapid rate.
This also goes for the market as a whole.
Using those powerful triggers, the manufacturers can sell the category of cereal as being relevant in today’s world.
They would raise the waters for all, although it may never regain its peak. But it can stop the bleeding.
Don’t stop there
It’s not just cereals who should beware. Treads are just that. They are trends.
Meaning, that if the yogurts and bars don’t learn the lesson of the cereals, they’ll see their own market share dwindle.
Right now, yogurts are riding the crests of a new wave. But the individual brands also look and sound and taste alike.
If they don’t differentiate themselves – especially in using the emotional triggers of the consumer – they will become just trendy.
So be warned, yogurts and breakfast bars. While you’re riding high now, you are neglecting to build meaningful brands. Which means, you are just as vulnerable as the cereals were when you took their market share. It’s high time to hire a rebranding company. And don’t think we need to tell you that not all rebranding companies are equal. (Read about global branding here)