As part of a wholesome and nutritious breakfast, cereal was a cornerstone of the food pyramid throughout the 20th century. Baby Boomers practically grew up on the stuff — and the games on the side of the boxes — but, true to form, their millennial counterparts have different plans.
At least, that’s the case for the 40 percent of millennials who said eating a bowl of cereal is just too much work that early in the morning.
So said Mintel’s U.S. Consumer Trends 2015, via The New York Times in a longer piece on the general downfall of the once-dominant cereal breakfast culture. Between the rise of foodie-inspired spreads at college cafeterias and a still-growing fresh and local food movement in many millennial-heavy cities, Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights for the Hartman Group, told NYT that cereal as we know it is changing in the full light of day.
“The cereal category is certainly shifting,” Abbott said. “Consumers overall are less interested in industrially processed grains as a meaningful start to their day.”
A quick Google search will bring up a number of headlines on Mintel’s research flabbergasted that millennials could be so gosh darn lazy that filling a bowl with milk and washing a few utensils afterward so soon after they roll out of bed was too taxing. However, that’s not very valuable insight from a marketing perspective. Are cereal brands supposed to start offering freeze-dried all-in-one meals just to satisfy millennials’ tastes?
General Mills, one of the largest cereal manufacturers in the country, isn’t so spooked by the news. In fact, in a January interview with CNNMoney, President of Cereal Jim Murphy explained that it’s not that millennials are turned off from cereal across the board; it’s just that their behaviors in the morning no longer match up with how people ate cereal in the past.
“Cereal is certainly a breakfast item, but our research would suggest that up to 30 percent of cereal consumption happens after breakfast,” Murphy said. “For adults, and even kids, but certainly for adults, we know that consumption after dinner and later at night is very high. We’re just starting to reflect it in our advertising.”
While millennials in Mintel’s survey may have said cereal was too cumbersome for a breakfast food, the effect of health food culture can’t be understated as well. Especially at breakfast — a meal that early education pounds into students’ minds as the most important meal of the day — millennials’ conception of what makes a “healthy” breakfast no longer aligns with what their parents may have accepted day in and day out, James Russo, SVP of global consumer insights at Nielsen, explained.
In an effort to keep up with these shifting consumer demands — or, more accurately, a shifting consumer population — General Mills announced in June 2015 that it would begin the process of removing artificial colors and flavorings from its products, but the extent to which those products have been used in cereals heavy in sugar, marshmallows and other non-meal ingredients means that it may take months, or even years, before cereal companies can claim the mantle of healthiness that millennials so clearly seek.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, and we know some products will present challenges as we strive to uphold the taste, quality and fun in every spoonful of cereal,” Kate Gallager, cereal developer at General Mills, said in a statement. “Cereals that contain marshmallows, like Lucky Charms, may take longer, but we are committed to finding a way to keep the magically delicious taste as we work to take out the artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources.”
Cereal companies know they have to get the junk out of their recipes if they want to compete with millennials, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything healthy about grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches either, kids.