Cereal makers hoping to sweeten the market with healthy options

With one in five people skipping breakfast every day, cereal manufacturers are looking at ways to boost product sales. As part of this trend, Kellogg UK has shifted the £4m ad account for Rice Krispies out of JWT into Leo Burnett without a pit

With one in five people skipping breakfast every day, cereal manufacturers are looking at ways to boost product sales. As part of this trend, Kellogg UK has shifted the &£4m ad account for Rice Krispies out of JWT into Leo Burnett without a pitch as it aims to “re-ignite consumer interest” in the cereal market (MW last week).

Kellogg dominates the &£1.4bn cereal market, commanding a 40% value share (Mintel), but in addition to the 3 million children who miss breakfast, a growing number of adults do the same. Producers say they offer a healthy, quick option, but have been slammed for marketing products to children that contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt.

Miranda Watson of Which?, the consumer group that wants reduced amounts of these ingredients in cereals, accepts steps have been taken to improve nutrition. But she adds: “There is still far too much sugar, fat and salt. There is a long way to go before consumers can find a variety of healthy cereals.”

The industry has traditionally targeted children using cartoon characters or icons to promote cereals. Watson adds: “We don’t want them to stop such techniques, rather shift the focus from cereals packed full of sugar to healthier alternatives.

“Parents are frustrated at the food industry marketing unhealthy foods to children. The industry needs to be more responsible. There is a real opportunity for manufacturers to be innovative – targeting children with healthy options.”

The industry appears to be rising to the challenge: Kellogg is planning a raft of launches with JWT (MW June 8), while Weetabix is revamping Weetabix Organic and pushing ahead with healthier options (MW last week). Yet Watson says more needs to be done to aim healthier cereals at youngsters: “Kellogg’s marketing support behind Tiger Power, a healthy cereal aimed at children, was impressive, but it was negated by the spend supporting Coco Straws, [a breakfast serving of] which has the same sugar content as a two-finger Kit Kat.”

Which? says the Coco Straws’ marketing messages were confusing. It boasted of encouraging milk consumption, but only as a result of eating a product high in sugar.

Kellogg UK marketing director Kevin Brennan points to the success of Coco Straws and Coco Pops. He says: “Let’s not forget, children are allowed to eat sugar. You need to put their levels in context: the proportion of guideline daily amounts and calorie allowance is small.”

Mintel consumer analyst Julie Sloane says there is a shift in focus to healthy cereals, with a movement towards prebiotic ingredients. But developments are in the premium adult category, rather than children’s cereal. She adds: “One problem manufacturers face is that their marketing has always maintained cereals are healthy. They cannot contradict past messages. While the brands in growth are promoting healthy options, such as Special K, the truth is the bestsellers remain those that are sugar-coated: Rice Krispies, Coco Pops and so on.”

Sloane points out that although an overall category sales growth of 5% last year is “not amazing”, it is healthy for such a mature market, giving cause for optimism. She adds: “Manufacturers need to respond to consumer trends, such as convenience and health. This is where they will achieve growth.”

Cereal brands have taken this on board but, as Watson says, more must be done if they are to convince parents their foods are truly healthy.

Brennan concludes: “Our biggest challenge is championing breakfast in order to drive consumption, not just sales. Breakfast is a declining habit and children spend &£500m a year on poor-quality food and drink on the way to school – this is an issue we need to address for the health of a generation.”

Nathalie Kilby

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