The best way to start the day is with a healthy breakfast. But these days, convenience is king in the early part of the day. We're rushing around in the morning more, so everything in a breakfast meal -- if you can call it that any more -- needs to be portable, so we can quickly grab and easily eat it as we dart off.
Breakfast product sales dropped 5 percent between 2009 and 2014 to $11 billion, according to Mintel. More food purchases are made away from home, and together with the convenience factor, lower-cost, nutritious breakfast items are more appealing. This isn't helping boxed and hot cereals, although Mintel predicts the cereal category will inch up 2 percent from 2014 to 2019, to reach sales of $11.1 billion.
Hot cereals sales in 2014 were up 2.5 percent, according to Euromonitor, but cold, ready-to-eat cereals sales slid 2.1 percent. Flavor exploration is equally hot, and consumers aren't afraid to experiment with new textures, flavors and concepts, even at breakfast. Nutrition is still on top of consumer minds, however, and there is great potential for healthy breakfast product introductions.
"Convenient, single-serve packs that you can grab, throw in a bag and open easily [are popular]," says Ricardo Rodriguez, marketing manager for confectionery & bakery at Ingredion, Westchester, Ill. "Consumers are more knowledgeable than ever and are taking the time to read what ingredients are used [in products] and what functional benefits they're getting. This applies to on-the-go breakfast foods, which can be seen in the increasing popularity of nutritional bars and cereal bars. These bars come in appealing flavors that deliver nutritional value and fortification all while maintaining great taste and texture."
The breakfast category is so attractive even Snyder's-Lance, a maker of chips and vending machine crackers, jumped in. The company in January debuted its own version of the portable mid-morning breakfast with its Lance Quick Starts sandwich crackers. Similar to the company's other filled crackers, these come in single-serve packs containing six crackers each – but their flavors are blueberry muffin, cinnamon roll and maple French toast. They have 3g of protein, 3g of fiber and 13g of whole grains.
More of the good, less of the bad
Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., says it's working hard to deliver cold cereals that give consumers more of what they want and need and less of what they don’t. They want ingredients they're familiar with, Kellogg reports. While consumers are accepting of functional ingredients like protein and fiber, they don't want artificial anything.
The company announced in late June it will introduce more than 40 new products to its U.S. lineup this year that will match trends linked with both nutrition and convenience. Included are Kellogg's Origins ready-to-eat cereals, granolas and muesli, a series of products prepared without artificial flavors and hydrogenated oils. The new line blends traditional and ancient grains -- such as oats, barley, spelt, quinoa and the Kamut brand of Khorasan wheat -- with the tart and sweet tastes of cranberry and coconut as well as apricots, apples, walnuts, almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds. The results have a rich, nutty taste, hearty textures and a good source of daily fiber.
Portable nutrition from Kellogg was introduced in late May with Special K Chewy Nut Bars in cranberry almond and chocolate almond flavors. Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Breakfast Biscuits, another hand-held on-the-go breakfast item, also will debut, made with 22g of whole-grain oats and real fruit. The biscuits are suitable for a multi-stage breakfast, a trend in which consumers have some of their breakfast at home and have the rest later in the morning. Eggo Breakfast Sandwiches, which launched in February, are microwavable sandwiches available in four varieties that can go from the freezer to plate in minutes. Each has less than 300 calories and provides a good source of protein.
Meanwhile, General Mills, Minneapolis, is one of an expanding number of food processors and restaurant chains pledging to remove "artificial" flavors, colors and other artificial ingredients from its food products. Will Kellogg follow the lead?
In June, General Mills announced a multi-year project to get rid of artificial ingredients and colors in its cereals. While 60 percent of its cereals already are free of artificial flavors or colors, and many have been that way for several years, the company's goal is to boost that number to 75 percent for breakfast cereals by January 2016 and to 90 percent by the end of next year.
General Mills also launched Gluten Free Fruit & Oats Chex Clusters in Natural Berry Flavor, with no colors from artificial sources, no artificial flavors and no high-fructose corn syrup. With 200 calories, 250mg of sodium, zero saturated fat and 17g of sugar, the cereal looks like traditional Rice Chex pieces, but is fruit-filled and features small clusters of oats and crispy rice. To bump up dry cereal sales, this launch is one of several new gluten-free cereals the company will be introducing this summer, along with gluten-free Lucky Charms and five gluten-free Cheerios varieties.
Reformulating cereals to match the taste consumers want and have come to expect, with little to no visible difference in cereal color or appearance, could be tricky. Some cereals like Trix may look a bit different, as existing colors are removed from artificial sources, explained Jim Murphy, president of the General Mills cereal division, at the time of the announcement. "For cereals like Trix, we will be using fruit and vegetable juice and spice extracts for color. In Reese’s Puffs, we will use flavors like natural vanilla," said Murphy.
“We’re simply listening to consumers, and these ingredients are not what people are looking for in their cereal today," he continued. "It reached a tipping point in the last couple of years with the trend toward simpler food. We've continued to listen to consumers who want to see more recognizable and familiar ingredients on the labels, and challenged ourselves to remove barriers that prevent adults and children from enjoying our cereals."
Changing eating patterns
In 2014, North American food companies introduced more products in other breakfast categories than in the cereal category, observes Viviana Bermudez, manager of product development innovation at Bunge Milling, St. Louis.
"Consumers are buying more energy and cereal bars, among other quick options, and are interested in new experiences. There's a lot of room to innovate in the breakfast category to include more health-driven ingredients. We have been emphasizing fiber and whole-grain products to meet evolving customer needs."
Bunge Milling has started working on targeting product sub-categories such as biscuits/cookies, yogurt and other bakery products. "Some of our customers are getting away from highly processed foods," she says. "We're helping to fill the gap in the market as demand for 'clean-label' products increases. We continue to develop new products to help customers focus on nutritious breakfast options, such as crisps for high-fiber and whole-grain cereal bars. We have also developed products with minimal ingredients that provide the desired texture and flavor."
Bermudez says Bunge Milling also receives requests for “superfood” ingredients like ancient grains, almond flour and kale powder. "Chia is one of the richest plant-based sources of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3," she adds. "We're developing 20-plus products made from ancient grains, and working on enhancing the appeal of breakfast cereals and cereal bars using conventional ingredients in new ways."
Ingredion provides pulse-based flours and proteins that incorporate peas, lentils, fava beans and chickpeas, which Rodriguez says provide protein while addressing clean labels, allergen replacement, non-GMO and gluten-free claims. "Hi-Maize resistant corn starch provides a clean label that allows for easy formulation of fiber with the added benefit of providing weight management, energy management and blood sugar health," he adds.
Clean labels and added nutritional benefits are also on ADM's radar, says Lesley Nicholson, marketing manager at ADM's Wild Flavors and Specialty Ingredients, Decatur, Ill. "The ADM portfolio of products is able to address these needs through proteins, fibers, whole and ancient grains, edible beans, nuts, seeds, natural colors and flavors and additional nutritional ingredients that can all be combined to satisfy these trends," she says.
Clean labels also are pursued by Cargill Inc., Wayzata, Minn. But Kristine Sanschagrin, marketing manager of the specialty seeds & oils business, also notes consumers want to know where their food comes from. "They want to know where the source is and how was it processed," she adds.
Eggs are eaten more often at breakfast than anything else, mainly for their great taste and protein content. But they're currently in short supply because of avian flu. The avian flu may be subsiding, but it has killed approximately 12 percent of the country's laying hens, according to John Howeth, senior vice president of the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, Ill. Wholesale prices of eggs have skyrocketed, reaching record levels nationally, some retailers have restricted egg sales in stores and the state of Iowa proclaimed a state of emergency because of it. Many farmers believe it could take as long as two years before the egg industry in the U.S. fully recovers.
"We are seeing an increase in calls from customers who want to discuss potential options for short- and long-term solutions to replace or extend egg-based ingredients in their food formulations," says ADM's Nicholson. ADM is thus leveraging its application expertise and broad range of proteins, stabilizers, emulsifiers, carbohydrates, flavors and colors to create customized solutions for variety of applications.
General Mills says the eggs it uses have increased in price by as much as threefold. So the company is trying to find ways to reduce egg use in some of its formulations without endangering product quality.
Using egg replacements in packaged foods can be difficult, especially where nutrients, texture, function and flavor are concerned, Howeth says, but also because the alternatives don't add up to as clean a label as eggs do.
Rodriguez says Ingredion has various egg replacement solutions for different applications and labeling preferences, such as Homecraft Pulse 3101, a fava bean flour used in muffins and cookies that provides good shape, volume, cell structure and crumb. Precisa Bake 100 is a clean-label, non-GMO system used in various bakery applications that readily hydrates in both dry and liquid applications. The company's GumPlete SH-ER 276 also works well in applications for waffles to provide structure, cohesion and batter viscosity.
Breakfast foods need to keep up with the trends driving the whole food industry to stay relevant, Nicholson says. "In the future, we'll see a continuation of portability, clean-label and added nutrition trends in [the breakfast] category," Nicholson speculates. "Because of the blurring of day parts, the idea of three meals a day is diminishing in favor of more frequent eating occasions."