Hot cereals like oatmeal, farina and Cream of Wheat have been long on nostalgia, but short on convenience.
Now comes the recession, and consumers are making the time. Oatmeal has emerged as a favorite, providing stick-to-your-ribs satiety, a lot of fiber and complex carbohydrates, and virtually no cholesterol.
Newspaper and magazine articles, as well as popular websites, have helped get the word out. Women's health site divinecaroline.com recently named “oats” as its No. 1 healthy food for under a dollar. Dr. Mehmet Oz, who doles out medical advice in publications like Esquire and on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” frequently stumps for oatmeal.
Quick-service establishments have been quick to capitalize on all the attention. In September, Starbucks rolled out its “perfect oatmeal,” a slow-cooked variety that comes with a pack of fruit, nuts or brown sugar. Following just four months later was Jamba Juice, a 749-store chain that serves up fruit smoothies and healthful snacks, releasing a steel-cut oatmeal made with organic oats and topped with fruit.
“There is a clear hunger for this type of wholesome, slow-cooked food,” said James White, Jamba Juice's chief executive officer.
Retailers should know that consumers are favoring the more healthful steel-cut oatmeals, rather than the prepackaged boxed items of childhood. While sales of the latter have been slow but reliable, supermarkets should be sure to stock at least a few SKUs of the less-refined hot cereals.
“People are starting to learn that the oatmeal in the little bag is too processed,” said Kara Nielsen, trendologist with the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco.
Shoppers who value convenience might find longer cooking times associated with minimally processed oats a turn-off, however. To solve this problem, some companies have introduced heat-and-eat options. Trader Joe's stocks frozen steel-cut oatmeal, and a year ago Amy's Kitchen rolled out its own frozen oatmeal, along with other hot cereal offerings.
Retailers who offer morning foodservice could find oatmeal a timely opportunity. According to the NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., morning meals and snacks currently account for 21% of retailers' prepared-food sales.