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What will become of the breakfast cereal?

Emily Harrison By Emily Harrison Published on March 9, 2016

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The cold breakfast cereal market is declining. According to recent statistical research, the consumption of cereal dropped 7% from 2009 to 2013 and has been falling 1% every year since 1996.

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What has occurred for this staple diet of the western world to so rapidly decline? 

A few decades ago the full “English” breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausages was sidelined to make way for the healthier option of breakfast cereal.  Historically though, this pursuit of a healthier breakfast goes back as far as 1878 when John Harvey Kellogg, a fitness activist, invented the grain-based breakfast which later was turned into a multi-million dollar breakfast cereal conglomerate by his brother.

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, originally known as Granula, was designed to help treat illnesses such as dyspepsia. “The Sanitarium wanted something to give its patients instead of breakfasts with sausages and eggs and bacon,” says Martin Gitlin, the author of The Great American Cereal Book.

The success of granula (or corn flakes) inspired Grape Nuts. C.W. Post, after a stay in Kellogg’s sanitarium, was inspired to invent a cereal that could do the same for patients as Kellogg’s’ cereal. Early ads claimed Grape Nuts could do everything from prevent the desire for liquor to malaria. Unfortunately it cured these disorders as well as Granula cured dyspepsia which was not at all. 

It was not until the 1950s however that the breakfast cereal market really started to boom. Companies were able to advertise using television and this enabled the brands to become household names. By this time, Kellogg’s and Post’s dreams of cereal as a kind of medicine had already begun to fade. Sugar was added to the cereals to make them more appealing to children. The phenomenon went on to include iconic characters like Tony the Tiger (Frosted Flakes) and Snap, Crackle, and Pop (Rice Krispies).

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In the 1960s and 1970s, sugar became slightly less popular. Subtler terms like “honey” and “golden” were added to the names in an effort to make them seem more healthy. Products, like Sugaroos, suffered as consumers became aware of the large sugar content and steered clear of any products indicating high levels of sugar.

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As time went on eating breakfast at home, or at least with all the family together, became more and more unusual. The need was for more rapid meals and foods that could be eaten on the go. The dawn of Pop Tarts was born and children craved this fun, tasty and sugary food. In an attempt to create an alternative to the Pop Tart, companies introduced cereal bars which were supposed to have all the goodness of whole grains like breakfast cereal in a box but easier to eat on the go.

The breakfast bar (or cereal bar) product line is made up of a mix of granola bars, energy bars and protein bars. Caution must be taken with the labeling of ‘healthy’ as some bars contain just as much, if not more, sugar than regular cereal.

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For example, Rice-Krispy’s bar or Golden Graham bar is obviously not going to conjure up the words nutrition and health for parents but it will please many people’s taste buds and give the kick of energy needed to start the day. More nutritious alternatives,  such as Nature Valley and Nutrigrain bars, were brought out to market to cater for the more savoury palate. Recent scrutiny has however revealed that sugar content is also very high in these more 'healthier' alternatives. 

It is not all doom and gloom as many healthy cereal products do exist. Nature’s Path, Kashi and Dorset Cereals, to name a few, offer low sugar alternatives with healthier types of grain and seeds. These options may not be so appealing to the children in our lives but they at least offer more nutritious alternatives.

However, healthy or not, breakfast box cereal is being replaced by breakfast and even these may start to be a less popular choice. Why? Because people want a different type of breakfast. 

Yoghurt is the grain's new worst enemy. Research shows that more and more of us are turning towards yogurt as a healthy breakfast option, whether it be at home or on the go.The NDP Group pinpointed the key demographic of yogurt eaters being between the ages of 18-34. The NPD group reported “200 million extra servings of yogurt being sold a year.” Yogurt contains protein, which is now a popular choice for health conscious individuals. It is also easy to transport and fits the needs of the movable breakfast eater.

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With the rise in the quest for protein filled breakfast recipes it would seem that we have gone full circle in our quest for nutritious breakfasts. Meat, cheese and eggs were once scorned on as a breakfast food but now as nutritionists claim high protein breakfasts being the best for weight loss and energy conservation, these three ingredients are very popular on the breakfast lists. Breakfast burritos, whole grain pancakes with yogurt, chia smoothies with cottage cheese are what this century's breakfast gurus want to eat.

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As much as cold cereal sales have decreased, sales of hot cereals like oatmeal, have increased in recent years as health-conscious consumers conclude that the less-processed grains are high in fiber and protein and therefore worth the time.

So is there a solution for companies looking to make cold breakfast cereal popular once again? Cereal companies clearly know what increasingly health-conscious consumers are looking for so they need to align their ingredients list to this.

British Canadian with a passion for travelling, languages, food and all things books. And most importantly, a loving wife and Mummy to two wonderful boys.

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