Waking up with wellness
By Molly Zimnoch
Manufacturers in the natural channel have gotten creative, providing consumers with a multitude of better-for-you breakfast options. Breakfast has long been regarded as “the most important meal of the day.” Getting a healthy start to the morning is a top priority for many consumers, yet not all actually do so. Some do not have the time while others have no interest in the foods synonymous with breakfast. How can retailers and manufacturers entice consumers who lost interest long ago? From cereals hot and cold to gourmet griddle items, this is a category flooded with options and competition. While sales in the conventional channel remain flat in the breakfast foods category, natural food manufacturers are driving growth through innovation and creativity. For retailers, acknowledging and embracing trends is key, industry observers say. “Convenience is a huge trend in the breakfast space,” says Laura Kuykendall, director of marketing at Glutino Food Group, a division of Boulder, Colo.-based Boulder Brands. “Consumers are looking for portable breakfast options and we’ve developed several options to suit those needs, including toaster pastries and breakfast bars.” However, convenience does not just mean on-the-go. Consumers are seeking simple at-home solutions that allow them to feed their families a healthy breakfast while still saving on time and effort. Last year, Glutino introduced its gluten-free Instant Pancake Mix. The instant mix offers the convenience of an easily portable bottle, only requires a cup of water, and once opened, it keeps in the refrigerator for up to four days. In addition, the ‘just add water’ baking concept offers added safety, as it alleviates contamination risks for gluten-free consumers, say company officials. Expanding upon the instant and convenience trends permeating the breakfast category, Glutino is introducing its first Gluten-Free Instant Oatmeal. Hitting shelves in April, the oatmeal is Kosher, non-GMO and will be available in Original and Maple Brown Sugar flavors. The company has also added a Multigrain variety to its line of gluten-free English Muffins. Ease of preparation is often a huge factor in breakfast decision-making. For most consumers, gone are the days of sitting down for a hot, home-cooked breakfast before beginning the work or school day. Today consumers opt instead for foods they can eat quickly or take on the go to fuel their morning. “While our traditional breakfast items sales remain strong, we see growing sales in convenient, portable offerings such as Glutino toaster pastries and breakfast bars,” says Kuykendall. The conventional breakfast channel has been home to the many of the same products for years, with revolutionary new offerings few and far between, say observers. However, the pioneers of the natural channel are constantly seeking new flavors and ingredients to spur innovation. Last year, Nature’s Path Foods, based in Richmond, B.C., Canada introduced Qi’a, a superfood breakfast cereal made from chia, buckwheat and hemp seeds. It combines these nutrient-rich, superfood ingredients to provide consumers with a generous source of ALA Omega-3s, fiber, Omega-6s and amino acids. It has no added sugar or salt and is organic, vegan, gluten-free and Non-GMO Project Verified. “Consumers are bored of plain breakfast cereal,” says Arjan Stephens, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nature’s Path Foods. “They want to supercharge their day and are enjoying the new texture of Qi’a. It’s a versatile product that can be eaten hot or cold, mixed into yogurt, smoothies and more.” Nature’s Path has reached out to retailers’ in-house nutritionists and registered dietitians to raise awareness about Qi’a’s many benefits and uses. Due to its hygroscopic nature, chia can expand up to 14 times its weight. A single serving of Qi’a is two tablespoons. “Because it’s such a revolutionary product, we’ve found that we need to educate consumers on how to use it and show them how chia expands,” says Stephens. “Sampling gives us the opportunity to educate consumers about chia and its nutritional and economic value. In many ways, it gives consumers a big bang for their buck. The demos have been the strongest platform for us to introduce Qi’a to consumers.” Nature’s Path has added a QR code to the back of Qi’a’s 7.9-ounce pouches. When scanned with a smartphone, it brings consumers to instructions on how to enjoy Qi’a from a registered dietitian. Kashi, based in Battle Creek, Mich., has also expanded upon the superfoods trend with the introduction of its Organic Promise Raisins Vineyard cereal. Combining rice, wheat and quinoa flakes with sun-ripened raisins, the new product supports Kashi’s mission to “deliver positive nutrition with wholesome ingredients,” says John King, senior director of marketing. Observers say that one of consumers’ main goals for breakfast is to optimize their nutritional value as they begin their day. Natural food manufacturers can make their products a morning staple by promoting additional health benefits. The fresh eggs category, for example, is experiencing new product innovation focused on consumer driven health benefits including organic and cage free eggs. “Maximizing sales of premium products starts with excellent category management to create both the appropriate space of growing product subcategories and the right location to draw the attention of the consumer,” says Dan Arnsperger, vice president of sales for CCF Brands, based in Rogers, Ark. “The egg category is and will remain very commodity driven but retailers who find ways to let consumers know of new health benefits are setting the pace for specialty egg growth in the category.” Sweet syrups Satiating appetite is one of breakfast’s main purposes. It helps consumers have a variety of healthy food options from which to choose. Whether it is tackling a mountain of paperwork, a day of fitness or focusing in class, consumers need to know they will be sustained by their choice. More often than not, those choices include caffeine. Madhava Natural Sweeteners, based in Longmont, Colo. created its Organic Coffee Syrups to provide a healthy and sweet way to start the day. Made from organic agave, the syrups are naturally low-glycemic, gluten-free and vegan. Available in French Vanilla, Hazelnut and Salted Caramel flavors, the syrups were created so “our customers can enjoy a healthy breakfast knowing that they won’t experience a mid-morning sugar spike and crash,” says Victoria Hartman, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for Madhava Natural Sweeteners. Perhaps best known for its organic honey, agave syrups and sustainable coconut sugars, Madhava has made its first entry into the maple syrup market. Last year the company introduced its Organic Pancake Syrup, available in Organic Agave Maple, Organic Maple Cinnamon and Organic Blueberry varieties. Company officials say that since agave is naturally 1.4 times sweeter than sugar, consumers can use less. “Whether enjoying delicious pancakes or a cup of coffee, consumers deserve a syrup that isn’t watered-down and full of preservatives and HFCS,” says Hartman. Gaining gluten-free trust As demand for gluten-free products has risen, retailers have begun to give gluten-free foods more prominent space in their stores. “We believe that manufacturers and retailers should work together to ensure gluten-free foods are widely available to people who need them and easy to find in the store. A dedicated section for gluten-free foods is the ideal way for retailers to serve the gluten-free customer,” says Kuykendall. “When people are newly diagnosed, it’s confusing to walk into a grocery store and find safe items,” says Jen Ramstad, director of marketing for Ukiah, Calif.-based Pamela’s Products. “They don’t know what to watch out for. Having retailers educated about brands, like Pamela’s, is essential. When the retailer knows that they can trust a brand, they will communicate that trust and confidence to their customers.” Signage and educational tools are also very useful tools for consumers living a gluten-free lifestyle, add observers. Consumer confidence in a brand and its products is also crucial to sustained success, observers say. Pamela’s Products recently submitted its entire product line for non-GMO verification by the Non-GMO Project. “We are looking to add another level of confidence to our products with consumers,” says Ramstad, adding that consumers can turn to Pamela’s Baking & Pancake, Cornbread & Muffin, Biscuit & Scone or Artisan Flour Blend mixes to safely start their day without gluten. Kashi is committed to half of its food being Non-GMO Project Verified by 2015 and they are on track to meet that commitment, say observers. Glutino is also in the process of verifying its products via the Non-GMO Project. “To date, we have 12 products that are verified with more to come,” says Kuykendall.