In the run-up to National Cereal Day on March 7, Shopkick surveyed more than 43,000 US consumers about their cereal habits, brand allegiances and flavor preferences.
Sales of hot and cold cereal fell 9% from 2012 to 2017, according to Mintel, but cereal is still a $10bn business.
Results revealed that a third of US consumers buy one box of cereal per trip, 41% buy two and 19% buy three or more.
Half of the respondents buy cereal for their families, a third buy for themselves and only 8% buy the breakfast food exclusively for kids.
“When it comes to cereal, the pull of nostalgia is extremely strong and people have a deep loyalty to the brands and flavors they love, and want to be able to foster and share that bond with their own kids,” Kristy Stromberg, chief marketing officer of Shopkick, told BakeryandSnacks.
Most of the purchases (65%) occur at supermarkets with another 28% at superstores, including Walmart and Target.
Only 2% buy cereal at convenience or drugstores, though an earlier Mintel survey found that more than 40% of consumers consider it a snack, including 56% of millennials.
The lure of ecommerce has not yet hit the cereal sector, with only 0.2% of Shopkick respondents buying their favorite breakfast product online.
Sugary favorites still sway consumers
Shopkick listed 17 specific brands in the survey and results signal that consumers still prefer sweeter, more sugar-laden brands.
In fact, 45% selected ‘sweet’ cereals as most suited to their 'cereal personality,' compared to a third who chose ‘nutty’ or ‘fruity’ variants. Less than 20% of the respondents opted for ‘plain’ or ‘earthy.'
Americans also prefer brand names, with only 16% regularly purchasing generics.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch led the pack with 12% of consumers labeling the General Mills’ brand as their favorite. Cheerios, Cap’n Crunch and Frosted Flakes all garnered 10% of the votes, while Lucky Charms and Honey Bunches of Oats each snagged 8%.
Coming in eighth and ninth place respectively, Raisin Bran and Special K were tagged by 6% of consumers as their favorite.
By comparison, natural brands including Kashi, Grape-Nuts and Shredded Wheat each received less than 3% of first-place votes.
“We’ve seen that people are loyal to the brands and tastes they love, and despite a movement towards incorporating healthier options, consumers will always love classic favorites,” said Stromberg.
Notably, half the respondents cited flavor as the most important factor in deciding which cereal to buy. Only 18% care most about nutritional value and 17% consider price first.
Milk choices are changing:
- 74% regular milk
- 15% almond milk
- 2% soy milk
- <0.5% oat milk
Crunchy beats soggy:
- 85% crispy and crunchy, right after mixing
- 9% soaked and soggy, after letting it sit
- 6% dry, as a midday treat
In 2017, Mintel’s cereal data concluded that only 14% of consumers buy single-serving packages, yet two in five said they wished cereal was more portable.
Shopkick’s survey hit on these themes, too. The majority agreed cereal is best in the morning; however, a third consider it an optimal late-night snack, while another 12% enjoy it as a midday snack, revealing a potential opening for cereal manufacturers to reach consumers in other dayparts.
Additionally, nearly half of consumers spend more than two minutes in the cereal aisle deciding what to purchase. Shopkick’s data did not dive into respondents’ reasoning for this time spent, but Stromberg added consumers weigh up price, packaging ‘that pops off the shelf,’ nutritional information and whether brands spark ‘happy memories.’
Surprisingly, savory flavors ruled the roost of top picks when it came to what cereal flavors respondents would like to see on the shelf.
Everything Bagel and Bacon and Eggs took 70% of the vote, with Avocado Toast and Biscuits & Gravy both breaking 10%.
“While shoppers are brand-loyal and have long-time favorites, they’re also getting more adventurous with food and enjoy trying new, boundary-pushing combinations,” said Stromberg.
“We don’t see that changing any time soon.”
NPD cereal snapshot
Coffee is the most common breakfast item, finding a home on 28.8% of tables.
Cold cereal accounts for more than 23% of in-home breakfast occasions, while hot cereal and grits near 10%.
Breads, muffins and biscuits land in second place with about 16% regularity, followed by egg dishes at 14% and fruit in any form at 12%.
"Big behaviors, like cereal for breakfast and especially sweet, will always be big," David Portalatin, food industry advisor at NPD and author of Eating Patterns in America, told BakeryandSnacks.
"It's important for cereal marketers to focus on trends, like more better-for-you options, but at the same time, it will be innovation around big behaviors that will always elevate the category and create big opportunity.
"For context, a bowl of cereal will be the number one thing Americans eat for breakfast tomorrow! That was true 20 years ago, it will be true 20 years from now."
Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends, February 2018