More and more breakfast cereals are getting a healthy glow.
Cereal manufacturers have begun touting the health benefits that their breakfast cereals offer right on the package. For example, cereals containing oats as key ingredients now proudly claim that they can fight heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet. Other cereals proclaim that they are low in fat, can help lower cholesterol, are a good source of fiber and contain psyllium.
"Most companies are redoing their existing boxes to boost their health claims. Kellogg's has introduced Smart Start, which is the first adult cereal to be introduced to us in over a year," said Gary Evey, a spokesman for Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Some cereal companies, including General Mills, Kellogg and Quaker have been running ads in consumer magazines to get the word out that breakfast cereals are healthy.
"As the leader in the category, it is positive for us and the category to promote cereal. We are using 'portfolio advertising' because there is a group of brands featured in each ad," said Karen Kafer, director of communications for Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich.
Last fall Kellogg launched its "Cereal. Eat it for life." campaign with print ads in Time, Newsweek, Life, Parents and several women's magazines. This winter the campaign was expanded to include television and Kellogg has worked with retailers to get the message out in the stores.
Late last month Kellogg launched a new campaign for its Special K cereal that includes a feminine version of the Food Guide Pyramid, and hired former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop as a spokesman. Special K has been reformulated to include more vitamins and minerals .
Pam Becker, a spokeswoman for General Mills, Minneapolis, said ready-to-eat cereals have been a healthy breakfast choice for years, since almost all are low in fat and vitamin-fortified.
Sales got a boost last year when the Food and Drug Administration said eating oats could help prevent heart disease, Becker said.
"That has affected the market. Over the past 12 months ended in March, Cheerios volume is up a pretty hefty 5.5%, Fiber One volume is up about 9%, Total Raisin Bran volume is up 6%. These are all brands that have a health message which is meaningful to consumers," Becker said.
According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, although ready-to-eat cereal unit sales declined 1.7% for the 52 weeks ended March 22, 1998, to 2.48 billion boxes, several healthy brands, including Cheerios, Kellogg's Raisin Bran, Quaker Puffed Rice and Quaker Toasted Oatmeal, saw healthy sales gains.
The health claims have helped to beef up cereal sales in the grocery aisles, according to retailers.
"The health claims of cereals are a very big thing in our natural-food stores. We have a more knowledgeable customer now and that is what they are looking for," said Pat Redmond, buyer at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash.
Redmond said his entire cereal department sales have been fortified by at least 15%. The health claims, backed by medical research, have got to help account for some of that sales increase, he said.
"Any information that you can put out on any product that says it is good for you will increase sales," he theorized.
John Corcoran, category manager at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., said he is seeing more and more introductions in the healthy cereal category.
"I believe the advertising by the cereal companies in the magazines has a positive impact. Our ready-to-eat cereals are up way over last year. The health claims, we believe, are somewhat of a factor," he said, adding that sales are up in the double digits.
Big Y has been touting the benefits in its aisles.
"Recently, Quaker has stated that oatmeal may reduce the risk of heart disease. We printed 3- by 5-inch plastic signs stating this for our customers and they are in the hot cereal section," Corcoran said.
"We have asked our private-label oatmeal supplier to put the 'may reduce heart disease' designation on our Big Y brand oatmeal," he added.
But he said the biggest sales gain has come from the presweetened children's cereal category.
Other retailers said that their cereal sales have been up across the board.
"Our cereals in general are doing great; our sales are going up every day," said Mark Polsky, senior vice president at Magruder, Rockville, Md.
Peter Jost, head buyer at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said that as a whole his cereal sales are doing very well. He said he is making room on his shelves for the new Smart Start (see related story).
"I have mixed emotions about it because it might be a little bit ahead of its time," he said. "But we will merchandise it on the shelf with all of the other healthy cereals and see how it does."
Ronnie Brennan, category manager at Randalls Food Markets, Houston, said his cereal sales as a whole are up substantially. He attributes the increase to a cereal review process that was conducted on the entire category last year in the company's Randalls and Tom Thumb stores.
As a result of the review process, Randalls has become more aggressive, stepping up its advertising and merchandising of cereals.
"We have cereal in the ad every week now," he said.
"We are promoting across different subsegments. Before we may have just promoted adult cereals. Now we are getting the all-family and the kids. We are grouping together three Kellogg's items or three General Mills items together in the ad," Brennan explained.