Kellogg’s Cereal Mates

It’s not for breakfast anymore.

Kellogg’s cereal and milk is a winning combo if ever there was one, but when the company tried to sell the two together, consumer response was lukewarm. How packaging, advertising, and Americans’ expectations of milk conjoined to bring down Breakfast Mates—a product that delivered one of the world’s most venerable food combinations.

Given the option, would you prefer to eat your Kellogg’s Corn Flakes refrigerator cold and pour cold milk over them, or eat your flakes at room temperature with warm milk? In essence, that was the choice that consumers faced with Breakfast Mates, a small box of Kellogg’s cereal packaged with a container of milk and eating utensil. While the product was right in step with the accelerating trend of convenience foods, a fickle and demanding public found the new packaging less than ideal.

Kellogg’s launched the concept on a national basis in ‘kit form’–a four oz. box of cereal, a four oz. container of aseptically packaged milk [no refrigeration required] and a plastic spoon. The line consisted of four popular Kellogg’s brands; Corn Flakes; Fruit Loops; Mini Wheats; and Frosted Flakes. Although the milk did not require refrigeration, Kellogg’s placed Breakfast Mates in the refrigerated dairy case alongside cheese, yogurt, Jell-O® pudding, and other refrigerated desserts. The company felt it wiser to suggest you keep the container of milk cold, since most Americans pour cold milk over cereal (hot or cold) when they serve it. But this decision inevitably caused a problem in that Breakfast Mates was not in a location where you would generally expect to find breakfast cereal. The expense of trying to re-educate the consumer to look for cereal in the dairy case proved too enormous—way beyond, apparently, what Kellogg’s wanted to spend on selling the new line.

An additional problem in the minds of potential consumers was raised with the advertising, specifically TV commercials that were directed towards parents of small children. The ads suggested that Breakfast Mates allowed kids to serve themselves breakfast. Kellogg’s ran spots that depicted sleepy parents telling their small children to let them “sleep in.” Ostensibly, the kids could go downstairs, get Breakfast Mates out of the refrigerator, and set out their own meal. If you have small children you already understand the inherent problem that presented. In opening aseptically packaged liquid containers, many times young hands squeeze the soft-sided containers too hard and spill the liquid all over the breakfast table, floor, or themselves. With a little pre-planning, parents could simply set aside a small pitcher of regular milk the night before and leave it ready to pour over cereal, thus alleviating the need for the product.

Handy, portable packaging also allowed consumers to take Breakfast Mates away from home, which brought a quirk of American culture into the picture. Naturally, once out of the refrigerator, the self-contained milk warmed up to whatever the ambient temperature was inside the lunchbox, brown bag, briefcase, or desk drawer in question. Many initial purchasers couldn’t get used to the idea of warm milk on cereal.

That is still an unusual concept for the average American to comprehend even though people in foreign markets (which do not have our excellent refrigeration systems) understand it as a matter of course. Additionally, many Americans who have tried drinking aseptically packaged milk—something available in the U.S. from local and international dairy sources—have complained that it tastes “burnt.” We just don’t want to drink it, no matter what the temperature.

The final factor in the equation was price, and as often happens, the consumer was asked to pay a premium for convenience. The retail price generally ranged from $1.39 to $1.69 depending upon the store chain. Many consumers felt that was a bit expensive for what they basically perceived as a 4 oz. box of cereal. On the other hand, many college students felt Breakfast Mates was worth the money. They were willing to pay to gain a few extra minutes sleep in the morning and still have cereal to conveniently eat on the run. Alas, there weren’t enough like-minded consumers.

Evidently, Kellogg’s chief executive Carlos Gutierrez agreed. After a two-year market exposure, the company announced that it was discontinuing Breakfast Mates, making it just another statistic—right along with what the grocery trade reluctantly admits is an astounding 80% to 94% failure rate for new grocery products. Convenience, ease and a handy spoon isn’t everything it seems—not when you’ve got cold cereal and warm milk.

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