Convenience and healthy benefits provide a one-two punch for the better-for-you breakfast category.
By Carol Radice
Consumers are fast learning the benefits of eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Not surprisingly, what constitutes a balanced breakfast is fast evolving and more consumers are starting their day with better-for-you products that have a simple list of ingredients and are high in fiber and whole grains and low in sugar.
Kent Spalding, vice president of marketing for Barbara’s Bakery, based in Petaluma, Calif., notes the natural and organic breakfast category has been growing steadily, fueled in large part by new items that support specific health benefits. Spalding says today’s shoppers, especially moms, are eager to find healthy options for their families. Calling them ‘extremely savvy consumers,’ Spalding says these shoppers are reading labels and looking for breakfast foods that are high in whole grains, fiber and are sweetened naturally with honey, fruit juice or brown rice syrup.
To meet these changing consumer needs, Barbara’s added several new products to its cereal line in 2010, including Multigrain Puffins, a gluten-free cereal featuring natural prebiotic NutraFlora fiber. According to Spalding, Multigrain Puffins have zero grams of fat, are lightly sweetened and their all-natural crunch makes a great breakfast or tasty snack straight out of the box that appeals to children and adults.
Barbara’s packaging also received a recent makeover. “Through bold, simplified and consistent packaging against our entire line of all-natural cereals and snacks, a new web presence and these new products, we want to shout ‘check us out!’,” says Spalding.
Rob Hurlbut, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Attune Foods, says that as Americans become increasingly aware of the role diet plays in their overall health, they are looking for products that deliver a meaningful benefit—without forcing a change in their lifestyle. “In the case of breakfast cereals, we are seeing growth in two segments—high fiber and gluten-free,” he says.
Industry experts say the economy has had a positive effect on the better-for-you breakfast category, as have the increasing number of studies noti ng the health benefits of eating whole grains. “Hot cereal sales were given a boost with the recession and probably grew faster than it might have otherwise,” says John DePaolis, chief cookie officer for Country Choice Organic, based in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Country Choice Organic recently improved its instant oatmeal line. “In addition to reducing the sugar in some of the SKUs and improving the flavor, we added more texture to the oatmeal by switching to a thicker, heartier oat,” he says. “We also added milled flax seed to our original flavor, which enhances its Omega-3 content.” He says the company also decreased the price of its instant oatmeal line by 20%, so that it is similarly price to conventional instant oatmeal.
According to Michael Smulders, president and founder of Bakery On Main, based in Glastonbury, Conn., gluten-free breakfast items are performing very well and are helping the company to achieve double-digit year-over-year growth. He says convenience items such as the company’s gluten-free granola cereals granola snack bars are driving sales.
Gluten-free consumers, Smulders points out, are no longer just looking for products that are gluten-free and taste good. They want something that packs nutritional value. “Consumers are seeking gluten-free foods with more fiber, vitamins and minerals, and manufacturers are responding by developing products that make it easier for those on a gluten-free diet to not only eat a good-tasting diet, but a well-rounded one, too,” he says.
With this in mind, the company recently launched Soft & Chewy Gluten Free Granola Bars, made with GFCO-Certified gluten-free oats, amaranth and quinoa for a great source of whole grains, plus flax and chia seeds for a great source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, according to company officials.
Officials at Schiller Park, Ill.-based Enjoy Life Natural Brands also say convenience items are driving growth. According to Joel Warady, chief marketing officer for the company, on-the-go products such as Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax cereal and Chewy Bars have been done well. “Another one of our fastest growing products in 2010 was our Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax. People are looking to get more flax into their daily diet and Crunchy Flax is a great tasting way to achieve this,” he says.
Executives at Van’s Natural Foods note that the company’s frozen waffle, pancake and French toast sticks don’t sacrifice flavor for convenience. “In particular, our better-for-you lines including 8 Whole Grains, Lite, Totally Natural, Gluten/Wheat Free and Organics with a Vitamin Boos are increasingly appealing to mainstream shoppers,” says Eric Kufel, CEO of Vernon, Calif.-based Van’s. “The combination of whole grains, all-natural ingredients, a reasonable calorie count and great taste meets the needs of current consumers who are crunched on time, but will not settle when it comes to taste and nutrition.”
The company is expanding its product line in early 2011 with the introduction of Muffin Crowns and Waffle Sticks, which provide better-for-you options for breakfast and snack time. “Our Muffin Crowns are perfect for someone looking for a tasty, but healthy breakfast, mid-morning snack or evening treat and offer 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and delicious taste, all in 120 calories or less,” says Kufel. Muffin Crowns are available in Triple Chocolate and Wild Blueberry flavors. Waffle Sticks are fun for kids to hold and eat any time of day. Made with whole grains, Waffle Sticks are 80 calories or less each and are available in Chocolate and Vanilla.
There are also options for consumers who want a more leisurely breakfast. For example, Hodgson Mill makes a variety of breakfast products such as muffin, pancake and bread mixes, among other things.
The company offers a range of unique options, including Gluten Free Buckwheat, Apples & More Muesli, Steel Cut Oats, Oat Bran, Cracked Wheat, Bulgur Wheat with Soy, and Multi Grain with Flaxseed & Soy hot cereals. “Our consumers are educated, they know what they are looking for but at the same time they realize they will probably pay a bit extra for a quality natural specialty item,” says Ray Martin, vice president of sales and marketing for Hodgson Mill based in Effingham, Ill. “They analyze the ingredient panels looking to avoid products containing unnecessary ingredients.”
Martin notes that Oat Bran hot cereal is one of the company’s best sellers, in part because it appeals to consumers looking for products with simple ingredients. Other cereals, like their Bulgur Wheat, are also popular with cereal eaters and those who make tabouli from scratch. “Our new Gluten Free Buckwheat cereal is also garnering a lot of attention due to the growing number of people who are avoiding gluten,” says Martin.
Other players in the category have had success appealing to the “green” shoppers in this category. Maria Emmer-Aanes, director of marketing and communications for Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.-based Nature’s Path, points out that the company is known for its sustainability efforts and community outreach.
She says beginning in April, consumers will see a new contemporary look for Nature’s Path. Emmer-Aanes says the new redesigned package will create a more cohesive look for their family of products and block the shelf better.
“We think the conventional shopper will really respond to this look, but at the same time we did it in a way that won’t alienate our dark green shoppers,” she says.
Emmer-Aanes notes the company’s strong sales growth can be attributed, in part, to its social media outreach, something she says has been a key driver in helping a company their size create deep connections with their consumers. “In conjunction with our package redesign, in 2011 our focus will be on helping educate and guide the light green consumer—people who are dabbling with using food to improve their health—down the wellness path in a way that really helps their life.”
While it’s easy to think of breakfast as mainly consisting of cereal, pancake or French toast, a number of companies are looking to broaden that definition, including Gehl Foods. According to John Slawny, vice president of sales and marketing for the Germantown, Wis.-based company, consumers are looking for more grab and go products options in the breakfast aisle. “Convenience items in the form of ready-to-drink products are driving sales in so many categories in the supermarket, but the breakfast category has been one of the last hold outs in part because the technology hasn’t existed, until now,” says Slawny. If consumers wanted a ready-to-drink breakfast option, Slawny says their only choice was to head to the dairy aisle. “We thought it made sense to give them an option where they shop for breakfast—in the breakfast aisle.”
The company created a non-refrigerated protein smoothie with a long shelf life under its Main St. Café label. Available in single bottles or four-packs, the shakes are made with real fruit puree and are available in Mixed Berry, Peach and Strawberry flavors. Officials note their new Protein Smoothies offer consumers a wholesome breakfast alternative to protein waters and shakes.
Schar USA, based in Lyndhurst, N.J., has recently launched a line of frozen breads, which company officials note are ideal for breakfast. The gluten-free breads are available in Hearty Grain and Hearty White varieties. “Our focus was on launching a gluten-free bread that sets new standards in taste and texture and that has great nutritional value,” says Donna George, president and COO of Schar USA. According to company officials, Schar’s Hearty breads are free of GMOs and preservatives and lower in fat than similar breads.
“Our Hearty White bread is the only gluten-free bread that meets the FDA criteria for enrichment and we think consumers will be really excited about this new offering,” says George. The breads, as with all of Schar’s products, are produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility, which means there is no risk of cross contamination.