The Changing Shape of Breakfast Cereal

Discussion
Jun 29, 2009
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst,
Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Britain’s tabloids
are up in arms about a new breakfast trend. Plans are afoot from retailers
and manufacturers, including Sainsbury’s and Kellogg, to ditch cereal
boxes and offer one of the world’s favorite morning traditions in BAGS!!!

Virginia Blackburn,
in The Express,
opined, “Breakfast will never be the same again…cereal boxes were decorated
with all sorts of comforting characters who cheered you up first thing
in the morning before setting off for school or work.” Her argument is
based not only on cheerfulness but prizes hidden in the box; its versatility
for arts and crafts; cut-out games, quizzes and masks; collectibles and
recipes.

Lucy Ballinger
in The Daily Mail warned
that it could “turn your breakfast to dust.” While admitting that the change
would reduce packaging by up to a third, she expressed customers’ concerns
that the bags would be too flimsy to protect the cereal.

The two journalists
were scathing about the “green” effect on their readers’ breakfasts and
the relative importance of reducing packaging as opposed to sacrificing
tradition.

Stuart Lendrum,
Sainsbury’s head of packaging, is quoted, however, saying that “customers
asked us why they (cereals) need to be in a box as well as a bag when you
can just print all the information on the bag.”

One of Kellogg’s
spokespeople explained that, while they are considering possibilities, “We
know our consumers buy Kellogg’s for the quality and we need to ensure
that we can provide the same quality of product (i.e. not dusty, broken
flakes).”

The more sober Daily
Telegraph
looked
at things a little less hysterically and more broadly, reporting that Sainsbury’s
asked over 1000 customers which products they considered the worst in packaging
terms before making their decisions. The chain already sells some of its
milk in plastic bags and is now devising alternative seals and wraps for
baskets of soft fruit. This could save up to 330 tons of plastic each year
just on strawberries, the Telegraph said.

Discussion
questions: Do you think cereal packaging should shift to bags for environmental
reasons? Will retailers face display problems if cereal boxes disappear?
How do you think consumers will respond?

[Author’s
commentary] What is clear is that when it comes to cereal boxes, familiarity
seems to breed anything but contempt. But it does raise the question of
what price we are willing to pay for environment over (emotional) comfort.

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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28 Comments on "The Changing Shape of Breakfast Cereal"


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Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 10 months ago

Breakfast is that time of the day when one’s happiness and joy should begin. So let’s make things we see at daybreak be as cheerful and as effervescent as possible for the rest of the day will be visual, mental and physical challenges. Starting off by looking at a bag filled with spartan cereal seems dull as dust. Environmental needs should contain some beauty as well as practical applications. I opt for lively cereal packaging.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
11 years 10 months ago

Bags versus boxes…not a new concept. Walmart has been selling private label versions of its cereals in plastic bags with zip lock closures for many years, and apparently successfully.

There are many questions that I don’t see asked in the articles, which appear to be more puff pieces than sincere packaging journalistic inquires.

A comparative analysis of data would be helpful in determining the veracity of switching. Data elements would have to include the current recovery rates on paperboard (used in the cereal boxes), plastics, logistical data on cost and efficiency of shipping, stocking and defective rates.

As far as consumers go, most people adapt to changes in packaging fairly quickly and there is little that can’t be printed on plastics these days.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

All you have to do is look at the quality of your potato or corn chips after the bags have been used several times to know the answer to this question. The chip products are typically directly store delivered on trucks which keep the product reasonably intact. Cereals are delivered to retailers on mixed pallets of product from a warehouse with random picking processes. Recyclable cardboard is still the answer for this product.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 10 months ago

First the passing of Michael Jackson, now cereal in bags! What is happening to the world as we know it?

OK. Let’s get over this. Anyone in the packaging industry will tell you that bags can be designed with just as many graphics and colours as any box. And best of all, they can feature resealable closures. I have to seriously wonder why cereal hasn’t been packaged in bags years ago.

Now, if only they figure out how to keep the raisins in Raisin Bran from sinking to the bottom of the bag….

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago
To quote another British commentator, the reaction to cereal in bags seems like “much ado about nothing.” Given the effort across the globe to reduce packaging redundancy, it seems like a perfectly logical and sensible goal to eliminate the cereal box. It’s laughable that someone would write about the possibility of losing the graphics and familiar characters. How many times have we heard complaints about marketers trying to influence Moms through their children’s connections with cartoon characters and prizes in the package? The claim is that sugar cereals are bought too often because of these same graphics the journalists seem to associate with emotionally secure breakfasts. I believe it will all sort itself out. There’s no way flimsy packages can endure in the store. Retailers and shoppers won’t permit it. Package designers will determine what can be done to maximize the package strength and communication opportunity. Think about all the salty snacks and cookies which are in bags with great graphics and minimal breakage…Lays, Doritos, Pepperidge Farm, Stella D’Oro, etc. Here’s where innovation and marketing… Read more »
Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
11 years 10 months ago

Certainly we’re not experts in whether shifting to bags genuinely will reduce waste. Assuming the engineers determine the cereal box is less environmentally friendly than potential damage to bags, branded cereal marketers will have some challenges.

Price brands like Malt-O-Meal have been shipping in bags forever. Bags scream value in many marketers and premium brands will have to work harder to communicate the added benefit of their higher priced product. Likely the entire shelf configuration will change. Bags are harder to view on current gondola shelving and will require bins. New shelving systems present new opportunities for shopper communication–for the category, key segments and brands. Think the Campbell’s Soup gravity feed systems for bagged cereal.

A radical change in packaging is a real game changer. Sometimes the best business ideas come from outsiders forcing change. Today’s cereal aisle is stale and uninviting. Tomorrow’s winners will be those who embrace it as a chance to revisit all elements of the business from product assortment, planogramming and retail environment, to pricing and promotion.

Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

While this cereal in a box thing seems relatively inconsequential, it betrays a much bigger mindset that is slowly killing us. There are lots of things we could be doing to reduce emissions, save the environment, etc, but the unfortunate reality is we won’t. We’re too selfish and we want what we want and we want it now…tomorrow be damned.

Could we become energy independent? Of course. Could we make more efficient cars? Of course. Could we remove the sugars and chemicals from our food system? Of course. Will we do any of it? Not likely. Heck we won’t even sacrifice having our cornflakes in a box.

Peter Milic
Guest
Peter Milic
11 years 10 months ago

This is a tough one to assess. On one hand, consumers clearly express interest in less packaging. Addressing this need will be applauded by those who see it as an environment measure. That being said, I believe that the implications with respect to protecting the product and shelf impact may have a detrimental impact on sales of cereals offered this way. I suppose the shelf impact could be offset with special racking. Without seeing what the packaging looks like I fear it could make some brands look like commodities. Should the change in packaging translate into market share erosion, there is no doubt the change will be undone.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 10 months ago

I understand the necessity of experimenting with new packaging–green yet keeping product fresh and in good shape. They’re going to have to go to a zip lock bag for that.

But what would we have done as children without the cereal boxes to read in the morning–especially the ones that offered a free toy inside or one you could send away for?

Phillip T. Straniero
Guest
Phillip T. Straniero
11 years 10 months ago

As a retired “veteran” of the RTE Cereal business it must be recognized that cereal boxes have been made of recycled paperboard for almost the entire history of this business.

I think the cereal box plays an important role in a number of areas: 1) product protection (breakage); 2) ease of handling and stocking in the store and in the home; 3)the marketing of the various brands including ease of consumer shopping and nutrition/ingredient labeling; 4)home entertainment as cereal boxes are said to be only second to newspapers in terms of consumer interest in the home.

I also think cereal boxes are easier for both adults and children to handle at home and result in less spillage and waste. I’m not sure if there is a significant savings in fuel and freight if the boxes are exchanged for cello bags but do not believe there is not a positive overall benefit versus the traditional (or updated) cereal box.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 10 months ago
I’m all for making the world a more green place in which we live, and reducing the amount of packaging to help save the environment. But at the same time, in these very difficult times, should we not also be concerned about the rising unemployment in the world today, and what will happen if we move cereals from boxes to bags? Think about the potential employment issues that this will cause…. Snap, Crackle & Pop will be retired due to old age. They will then file an age discrimination suit that will dominate the papers. The Lucky Charms elf will lose his working visa. Tony the Tiger will be challenged as a meat-eating carnivore, and PETA will claim that he has been harming other animals. The Fruit Loops Toucan Bird will be found to be unnecessary, and will be quarantined as a potential Avian Flu carrier. Not to mention the calls for religious freedom when the Quaker is removed from the Quaker Oats boxes. No, I don’t like this idea at all. Leave the cereal… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I propose some cereal packaging design innovation with an open source model of collaboration (with retailers and shoppers) to solve the problem the way it should be solved. I’ve got some visuals in my head that could be very design oriented. By the way, I’m concerned about just doing a swap out of cardboard for plastic bag given most plastic bags end up in landfills!

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Where is the world going?! We get more comments on RW on the use of boxes versus bags for cereal than we do on major questions regarding the economy and real marketing trends.

As the actual survey of 100 consumers reported, most of them do not really care. Just give me a bag I can close that will keep the cereal fresh longer and I will be happy.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

One look at the near-unanimous response to this idea is all the fodder you need to put this sorry idea to bed.

Green efforts would be much better focused on removing water bottles and plastic bags from the store. The District of Columbia Department of the Environment’s recent scientific survey of trash flowing into the Anacostia river and its tributaries found that plastic bags make up 50% of the approximately 17,000 tons of plastic products entering the river system each year.

Ben Ball
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

No outer cereal carton to purchase.

No fold and seal machinery to run.

They already own and operate form/fill/seal bagging machines to fill the inner poly bags inside the boxes.

What part of COST SAVINGS don’t we understand?

Rick Myers
Guest
Rick Myers
11 years 10 months ago

A couple of thoughts. What is the production cost to change the line to bags and convert equipment over to the new process? Also, one of the strengths of the box is that they pack well into cartons and retain their shape, thus protecting the product. The bins of bagged cereal look terrible on the shelf. How do you present the product in a compelling way and retain the benefits of bagging while insuring product quality?

Gregory Belkin
Guest
Gregory Belkin
11 years 10 months ago

I must say Joel’s post was hilarious!

To be serious for a second, though, I don’t see why a bag is such a horrific idea. As pointed out, potato chips, and Walmart’s zip lock cereals all seem to do fine. No doubt it is going to take some getting used to, and the box will be missed, but people adapt and new trends emerge, and people will gravitate to that. There are some who couldn’t imagine a world without the Sears printed catalog and other promotional items…but they came and went and we all survived.

If killing the actual box saves a cereal maker money and has a positive effect on the environment, and–VERY IMPORTANT–proves positive in a cost-benefit analysis, why not?

Chris Doepke
Guest
Chris Doepke
11 years 10 months ago

Why stop at plastic bags? Why not ship bulk bags from the manufacturer and let customers fill their own washable hard plastic containers similar to bulk coffee? We all have to cart around our 99 cent canvas bags and our 5 gallon refillable water jugs already, what’s another couple containers to carry into the store?

Debbie Tewes
Guest
Debbie Tewes
11 years 10 months ago

The cost savings and the environmental factor would be equal reasons to justify switching to bags alone. However, I have reservations about the quality standards. How do you keep cereal from being crushed when packaged in a bag, unless you package in some kind of bubble bag similar to packing bubble material? If a solution can be found to this problem I believe this justifies going ‘green’ all the way. You can print just about anything on a bag that you could on a box and I believe that any free offer included with the product could be included as well.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

With apologies for leaping into my own discussion, but I have to say I loved Joan’s suggestion/suspicion/inference. Get rid of boxes, maintain prices, increase profits…what a no-brainer. What cynicism.

Oh, but wait–what about profits to the box/prize/cartoon producing companies and the livelihoods of those rendered redundant as a result and the companies whose products they won’t be able to afford to buy? Joel’s already spotted the threat to employment of the characters. But perhaps the shelving and display companies will benefit as a result and take on some of the displaced personnel.

I believe there may also be an opportunity for manufacturers of re-usable storage canisters/jars into which the cereal can be transferred upon opening.

This is actually a much more serious issue than it may first appear.

Ben Ball
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Doepkec’s post made me laugh out loud at a flashback to my Frito days. We used to complain that the SVP of Manufacturing would have the entire U.S. travel to Topeka (our most efficient potato chip plant) to feed from one huge bag of Ruffles if he had his way.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

When you think about breakfast cereal packaging and the state of the art of consumer products packaging today, it is quite reasonable to consider redeveloping the design to be more environmentally responsive. There have been great innovations in both liquid and solids packaging which is both beautiful and functional while using smart construction materials.

It would seem to be a reasonable exercise to redesign the boxes without offending anyone.

John Rand
Guest
John Rand
11 years 10 months ago

This has to be one of the funniest and most enjoyable discussions in a while.

Simple question: since Frito-Lay already announced they are moving Sun Chips (and eventually other products) to bags that are themselves biodegradable, when and if cereal moves to bags, ostensibly for environmental reasons as well as efficiency, I would hope to see biodegradable bags as part of the change.

There is a lot more energy behind reduction of waste than many companies fully realize–this is an issue coming home to communities all across the country as local communities raise the cost of trash disposal in the form of fees or taxes.

Why not?

Although I must admit I would miss the iconic Quaker tube package, the rest of these boxes can hardly keep as much attention to a child as they used to. Please, these kids are eating their cereal with their iPhone at their tiny little elbows.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
11 years 10 months ago
The bag vs. box question has more than one packaging solution. Kellogg’s US is testing a more space-efficient square carton, which reduces the amount of materials used and distribution costs compared with current designs. With more shelf-ready units in use, there is likely to be stronger consideration for bags. In this design, the outer shipping container provides strength, and can be provided in a reusable format or recyclable corrugated. The bags could also be nitrogen flushed as are snack foods; this keep chips from breaking during distribution. With these retail ready units, stocking is simplified, and there is an opportunity for graphics that maintain shelf presence. Reclose features would be attractive to shoppers. In many homes, it is common that cereal is transferred to clear, resealable containers that protect the contents and prevent spillage in the pantry. In humid climates, this is just better housekeeping for families–less mess, crisper flakes and easier to keep track of stock on the shelf. As many have said, this question deserves consideration by the packaging professionals working with marketers… Read more »
Janet Schmidt
Guest
Janet Schmidt
11 years 10 months ago

We’ve bought bagged cereals for many years; you get more cereal in the package for the price. We pour the cereal into Rubbermaid containers to keep it from getting crushed. The container also keeps the cereal fresher and keeps any bugs out.

Look at all the re-usable shopping bags available now. Moving away from boxed cereal to more bags could create a bigger market for re-usable cereal containers.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 10 months ago
J-peg ’em. Weight is not a problem, because several kinds of heavy candy are j-pegged in bags that weigh more than the cereal would. This is definitely worth a broad trial, hitchhiking on ample existing knowledge from cereal manufacturers who’ve been baggin’ for many years. Does anyone remember the early versions of those tiny individual-serving cereal boxes? On the front of each little box were perforations that allowed the box to open up like caf doors (saloon doors). Inside was a waxed paper lining that you were supposed to open in a similar way (with a sharp instrument), allowing you to pour the milk right into the box! Do they still make them like that? Could something similar be done with single-serving bags (opening the top of course)? Hand-held wet foods in bags go way back. In Oklahoma in the 50s we bought Frito Chili Pies at drive-ins. They’d cut the top off of a single serving bag of Fritos and pour in chili, cheese, and onions. A plastic spoon completed the order. The bag… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 10 months ago

I have mixed feelings. Personally, I’d prefer having my cereal in the comforting and familiar box. But I’m also aware that we all need to make some sacrifices to help improve the environment. It may take a little time for customers to get used to the new bags, but the end goal is well worth the temporary discomfort at the breakfast table.

That said, what this means for manufactures is less clear. If the brands currently going the bag path adhere to their bags, dissatisfied consumers could become former customers as they migrate to new brands that still offer boxes. It may require more operational overhead, but trialing the boxes in some stores would have been a better choice than totally nixing the boxes altogether.