Hot, cold and frozen, there is a steady stream of healthier and convenient breakfast choices hitting supermarket shelves.
By Carol Radice
When it comes to natural and organic breakfast products, consumers are voting with their taste buds, but they are also consulting their watches. Flavorful, fast and convenient is the mantra of this consumer, as there is little time to devote to preparing breakfast.
There are a wide range of natural and organic products available, from hot and cold cereals to muffins and frozen choices such as veggie sausage, dairy-free toaster pastries, breakfast bowls and burritos. While the interest is boosting sales, some experts believe that growth could be significantly higher if top sellers were integrated with mainstream choices. However, not everyone is on the same page when it comes to ideal placement strategies.
“The natural foods consumer has changed a bit over the years and we’re seeing a new consumer demanding natural products at their conventional retailer—the ‘wellness mom,’” says Jacquie Perlmutter, brand manager for Petaluma, Calif.-based Barbara’s Bakery. “This mom has two-plus children, doesn’t necessarily buy natural all the time, but does so more frequently for her kids. She’s new to the category and like most moms is time starved, so she’s looking for easy solutions to meet her health needs while giving her kids something they love that meets her demands to feed them more healthful choices.”
Melanie Haliburton, brand manager with Eugene, Ore.-based Yogi, which became known for its teas before branching out into breakfast foods, says company officials saw an opportunity to create a new line of cereals after assessing the existing choices.
“In the cereal category we noticed there were cereals that focused on being healthy and cereals that focused on good taste, but there weren’t very many that delivered well on both,” she says. “So we decided to not only create all natural cereals and granolas that were both healthy and delicious, we created a product unlike anything previously available.”
Haliburton describes Yogi Granola Crisps as crunchy, bite-sized granola flakes that can be snacked on straight out of the bag or eaten in a bowl with milk or yogurt. The cereals are made using ancient grains, including oats, barley, spelt, amaranth and quinoa, as well as ingredients such as Goji Berry and teas for flavor and health benefits.
As Haliburton explains, the company’s experience with culinary herbalism—using food ingredients for both taste and health—has been incorporated into its cereals. “Our team has been able to create a line of cereals and the new Granola Crisps that go beyond corn, wheat and soy to provide the true variety and nutritional diversity a healthy body craves,” she says. “These grains, herbs, spices and fruits are combined purposefully to work with your body to support heath and well-being.”
Yogi officials created the new cereal line with a wide range of consumer tastes in mind, Haliburton says. “Our healthy line of all-natural cereals and Granola Crisps appeal to both natural and mainstream cereal consumers who are looking for healthy foods, but won’t sacrifice taste. Our flavors are intriguing and complex, but still grounded in familiar ingredients like fruits and spices so consumers can be confident the cereal and granola line will taste delicious—and it does,” says Haliburton, who notes that Yogi Granola Crisps are available in resealable pouches which are perfect for on- the-go snacking.
Attune Foods may have gotten its start in the natural products industry selling the first probiotic chocolate and granola bars, but it recently entered the ready-to-eat cereal category with its acquisition of Erewhon and Uncle Sam’s, two natural cereal brands with a long-standing (but perhaps quiet) reputation of producing healthy cereals. “Attune is a food company dedicated to creating great tasting natural foods that improve digestive health,” says Rob Hurlbut, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based company. “We launched our business in 2006 with the introduction of our probiotic bars and while we’ve been thrilled with the response we have had from consumers, we know that probiotics aren’t the only way to improve digestive health—fiber and gluten [or lack thereof] play a really important part.”
Therefore, Hurlbut says cereal is not only a convenient way for digestive health seekers to start their day on the right path, but it is also a great way to deliver healthy and natural functional ingredients. “We want to make sure that we create products that can be integrated into people’s lives in a way that meets their individual needs,” he says. “For example, we know how difficult a day can be for someone whose digestive system is not functioning well, and we want to make sure that it is easy for consumers to address the issue with foods that deliver real benefit. That said, we have an overarching view that our products must taste terrific, must offer real scientific benefit and must be convenient.”
Besides being known for its organic cookies, Country Choice Organic, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., also manufacturers several organic cereal options and recently has expanded its lineup to include Quick Cook Steel Oats hot cereal. According to John DePaolis, chief cookie officer for the company, traditional style oats can take about 30 minutes to cook whereas Country Choice’s quick cook version cooks up in five minutes. “Consumers increasing want to eat healthy, especially at the start of their day, but they are also looking for convenient options as well. Most of us don’t have time in the morning to cook a hot breakfast,” he says.
One of the benefits of being owned by a milling company is the flexibility it gives them to respond to consumer needs, according to DePaolis. “Our new products really speak to the features consumers are looking for in natural products including taste, value and convenience. The nutty, chewy texture is a great alternative experience for consumers who are looking for something different in a hot breakfast cereal,” he says. In addition to its traditional and quick cook steel oats, the company offers a full line of instant oatmeal.
He says that in the past hot oats might have been considered a seasonal breakfast option, but as awareness of fiber and whole grains has increased it has become more of a year-round choice.
Officials at Greenfield, Mass.-based New England Natural Bakers have applied their 30 years of experience making bulk granolas to a line of packaged granola. Brand sales manager Todd Einig, says the company paid particular attention to the packaging. “More people today are in-tune with sustainability, using less and buying products that have the health of the environment in mind,” he says. “Having an organic cereal or one with a great nutritional profile will soon be the point of entry. As people get more educated about organics and nutritional ingredients they are going to be looking spend their dollars with companies who take things to the next level by offering more responsible packaging.”
New England Natural Baker’s packaged cereal line is available in resealable granola pouches. The granolas are whole grain certified, kosher certified and three of the products are organic certified (Organic Antioxidant, Organic Gluten Free, Organic Omega Hemp & Flax).
“With the two all-natural cereals we went more with a flavor focus and took our two best selling bulk granola flavors (All Natural Honey Nuts & Cinnamon and All Natural Banana Walnut) and packaged them,” says Einig.
Increasingly, companies have been introducing cereals for those with food allergies, with gluten being a key area of focus. “Grains are a traditional part of breakfast which presents a challenge for wheat and gluten allergic consumers wanting to start their day with energy-producing complex carbohydrates and healthful fiber,” says Michael Smulders, founder of Glastonbury, Conn.-based Bakery On Main.
“For years those suffering from celiac disease were limited to puffed rice and corn flakes, which can be boring and low in fiber. More consumers, both those with a food allergy and not, are seeking gluten-free cereal and cereal bar choices with increased fiber and protein, like our new Bakery On Main Fiber Power gluten free granola.”
Convenience, taste and healthful ingredients are also key features consumers look for in natural and organic frozen breakfast products. According to Kimberly McGowan, category group manager of frozen foods and non-dairy beverages for The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. based in Melville, N.Y., category dollar sales are up and the trend is expected to continue.
“Consumers have become more educated about product ingredients and nutrition,” she says. “They need to be confident that the food they are eating is wholesome and nutritious. All natural is key and organic products are widely sought out. Foods that offer nutritional benefits make parents feel good about the food they feed their families.”
McGowan says in addition to seeking out children’s breakfast foods with superior nutrition, parents also look for products that are easy to make and delicious and fun for children. “To answer this need and in keeping with Earth’s Best’s mission to deliver nutritious and delicious products, we offer products that are made with organic ingredients, are all natural and offer nutritional benefits such as vitamins and whole grains in every serving,” she says. “What’s more, our partnership with Sesame Street makes parents confident that the products we offer contain only quality ingredients.”
McGowan says Earth’s Best French Toast Sticks, for example, are made with organic ingredients and with whole grains. “They deliver 9 grams of whole grain per serving, are all natural and an excellent source of iron, zinc and six B vitamins, contain no hydrogenated oils, trans fat or genetically engineered ingredients and are Kosher.”
Kids are not the only consumers frozen natural and organic breakfast products appeal to, according to Amitabh Krishan, associate director of marketing for MorningStar Farms, a division of Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. “An increasing number of American adults are looking for convenient choices that help them avoid negatives such as fat and cholesterol, and that also provide positive nutritional elements such as protein and fiber. Consumers also tell us that they are not willing to sacrifice taste for health or ease of preparation. New frozen products with full flavor— such as MorningStar Farms Hot and Spicy Veggie Sausage Patties—reflect these trends.”
Krishan also says it is a common misconception that only vegetarians are interested in the company’s products. She describes the typical MorningStar Farms consumer as someone who is looking to reduce the amount of meat they consume—most often for health reasons. “While many MorningStar Farms consumers are vegetarian, most also eat some meat, and they typically are looking for veggie alternatives that closely resemble traditional meat products,” she says.
According to Ira Laufer, chief operating officer at New York-based Vitalicious, when the company was founded 10 years ago with a mission to create a line of baked goods that promote a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing taste. As such, they were the first to offer a 100-calorie muffin that is low in fat and high in fiber, protein and nutrients.
“In 1999 when the company was started, the only way to get our products into grocery stores was to go into the natural and organic freezer section because retailers believed it was a niche product,” he says. “Since then, increasingly retailers are recognizing the time has come for brands like ours to shift into mainstream conventional frozen breakfast sets because that’s where the foot traffic and the opportunity to build sales is. Companies such as Publix recognize this and are moving better performing natural products over to the mainstream set chainwide, ours included.”
Since driving awareness is critical in growing categories such as the natural and organic breakfast segment, experts say choosing suppliers that support their products with in-store merchandising, demos and promotions will drive awareness, incite trial and repeat purchases.
Officials at Barbara’s Bakery are making it easier for consumers to identify key ingredients on packaging and creating promotions that speak directly to this information-hungry audience. “That said, we believe placement of our cereals in the natural food aisle is ideal,” Perlmutter says. “We have been a leader and constant in the natural foods business for almost 40 years, so the natural aisle is true to our brand and our mission.”
Shopping All Aisles
Haliburton says these days, consumers are shopping in the natural and mainstream aisles, paying more attention to nutrition and natural ingredients but still making decisions based on flavor. “This is exactly what the Yogi brand does well—we make healthy, natural products that taste really great.”
But taste alone, she notes, is not enough to sustain sales. “The biggest opportunity we see is to make sure the natural cereal aisle offers products that are going to meet the target consumers needs and expectations—support health and taste great. In addition to the usual drivers (affordable price points/off shelf displays etc.), there are opportunities to cross promote in appropriate categories such as cereal displays near milk or soy. And snackable cereals like our Yogi Granola Crisps do well when they are cross promoted in the snack aisle.”
The need for healthy, great tasting products is a trend that is not about to wane any time soon, according to Haliburton. “The last year really focused on delivering delicious, comforting flavors that felt familiar but incorporated interesting ingredients like superfruits and ancient grains for antioxidants, digestion and overall well-being.”
Officials at Country Choice Organic say that retailers understandably focus on the larger conventional cereal category, but they say there is opportunity in the organic segment. “The natural aisle is one place to merchandise steel cut oats, but we feel there is also an opportunity in a segregated set within the conventional cereal aisle. The way we see it retailers may capture 10% of shoppers by featuring natural and organic cereals in natural set, but they are missing out on the large percentage of mainstream consumers who may be open to buying a product such as ours but who do not shop a natural set on a regular basis,” says DePaolis.