March 2015 Issue

Breakfast Cereal Innovations
By Juliann Schaeffer
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 17 No. 3 P. 36

Here's a review of some of the latest trends in breakfast cereals plus RD recommendations for clients and patients.

Sales of cold cereal have become a little soggy in the American market. A September 2014 article in CNN Money noted declining numbers among General Mills, Kellogg's, and Post cereal sales over the last year and gradually over the past decade. Yet, despite the decreases, there's no lack of innovation in the cereal space, especially recently.

Whether it's through higher protein content to steer consumers' attention away from the yogurt aisle, a greater interest in higher fiber diets, or a desire for more portable packaging, the cereal aisle of 2015 looks quite different from that of 20, or even 10, years ago.

With cereal manufacturers increasing protein and fiber content, decreasing sugar, and adding more whole grains, much of the innovation comes with nutrition labels that RDNs can smile about.

"Many cereal manufacturers have made significant strides in trying to meet consumer needs," says Peggy O'Shea Kochenbach, MBA, RD, LDN, vice president for Cone Communications, a public relations and marketing company in Boston. "I've seen significant formulation changes to increase whole grains, decrease sugar, add protein sources, increase ingredients with additional health benefits, etc. The cereal aisle looks quite a bit different than it did even just a few years ago. There's much more variety, more specialty items, and I think more of a focus on health, even on the traditional products."

Following is a roundup of the newest products in the breakfast cereal category and the nutrients they contain, in addition to favorite recommendations from RDs for clients and patients.

New Cereal Trends
• On the go: To compete with the more portable breakfast options such as granola bars or single-serve yogurt containers, some cereal manufacturers have introduced on-the-go cereals (no milk necessary) to provide customers with added convenience.

When it comes to choosing what to eat for breakfast, "I find that people are looking for something quick and nutritious," says Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, CSO, a bariatric dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York. "As Americans, we are constantly on the go. Sitting down and eating cereal in the morning doesn't happen as frequently as it used to. Grabbing [something] you can eat on the go is a lot easier for people with busy schedules."

Whether it's through on-the-go cereals, cereal bars, or other noncereal breakfast offerings that provide portability, Rifkin says she's noticed many companies increasing their convenience factor.

Kellogg's and General Mills are among the first manufacturers to offer their staple brand-name cereals in more portable packaging. Kellogg's On the Go Fun cereal pouches feature some of the company's most popular brands, such as Froot Loops, Krave Chocolate, Apple Jacks, and Corn Pops, in single-serving packages that make it easy to grab and go.

General Mills also offers single-serving cereal packets for some of its brands, including Golden Grahams, Fruity Cheerios, and Cocoa Puffs.
While such products can have a higher sugar content (eg, one on-the-go pouch of Kellogg's Froot Loops contains 11 g of sugar) and likely a higher child approval rating as a result, General Mills' website says that its on-the-go Cocoa Puffs, which include 6 g of sugar per serving, has 25% less sugar than the original version.
These family favorites may not boast the higher fiber and protein counts of other newer cereal options, but the on-the-go cereals may have one health factor on their side—portion control. It's harder for consumers to overindulge when they leave the house with only one cereal pouch.

• Increased protein and/or fiber: Due to the popularity of protein and fiber for better health and wellness, consumers increasingly are seeking more protein- and fiber-rich options for breakfast. "Several trends underscore the importance of continued innovation in protein-rich foods, including increased consumer interest in higher protein foods for weight management, muscle health, or optimal growth and development," according to an August 2014 article in Food Manufacturing.

Rebecca Solomon, MS, RD, CDN, director of clinical nutrition at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, says this trend just makes good nutritional sense. "What we know as nutritionists is that there's a relatively simple equation that leads to a satisfying breakfast, meal, or any other snack for that matter," Solomon says. "When we eat foods high in fiber [such as whole grains and fruits], combined with a protein source [eggs/egg whites, tofu, cottage cheese, yogurt], we feel fuller longer. Toss in some healthful source of fat [eg, almonds, walnuts] and you have a very well balanced breakfast. We see that cereals have been modified to include sources of protein, including nuts and soy products."

Cereal manufacturers have noticed such consumer interest and are offering both familiar cereal names with higher protein and fiber content as well as lesser known names that boast these and other nutritional attributes.

For example, Kellogg's Special K Protein Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crunch cereal contains 11 g of protein with 1/2 cup skim milk (7 g without milk) and 9 g of sugar. Made primarily from whole wheat flour, rice flour, whole grain yellow corn flour, and wheat bran, the cereal also contains soy protein isolate.

Its new Raisin Bran with Cranberries cereal provides 5 g of fiber and vitamin E with its bran flakes base—although it includes 18 g of sugar per serving.

One child favorite that has received a makeover is Kellogg's Rice Krispies. Rifkin notes that while traditional Rice Krispies was lacking in overall nutrition, Kellogg's Rice Krispies Multi-Grain Shapes boasts 3 g of fiber and only 6 g of sugar, with the second ingredient being whole grains. This product may not contend with other more nutritive cereals, but is still an improvement, Rifkin says.

Recent additions to General Mills' cereal offerings include five flavors of Nature Valley Protein Granola and Cheerios Protein, which were introduced last summer, according to Kathy Wiemer, MS, RD, senior fellow of General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition. Whereas the original Cheerios offers a soy-based 3 g of protein per 1-cup serving, Cheerios Protein (in both cinnamon almond and oats and honey varieties) provides 7 g of protein per 11/4 cup serving.

One of Rifkin's favorites in the protein-rich category is Nature Valley Cranberry Apple Crunch Protein Oatmeal, a hot cereal and complete breakfast option that's ready to make with the addition of hot water. She likes the fact that its increased protein content of 10 g per serving from the addition of whey protein isolate balances its 16 g of sugar per serving.

However, Rifkin says Kashi Go Lean cereal takes first place in her book of client recommendations, as it provides 13 g of protein and 10 g of fiber per 1-cup serving. A slightly sweetened mix of fiber twigs, soy protein grahams, and honey-toasted whole grain puffs, one serving of Kashi Go Lean provides 40% of daily fiber needs and 20% of daily protein requirements, according to the company.

Kochenbach recommends Barbara's Puffins, a corn-based cereal, which she notes has only 5 g of sugar and 5 g of fiber per serving. "It's low fat and tastes great," she says, noting that its portability also makes it a great snack.

Cascadian Farms Hearty Morning cereal—another whole grain option, made from wheat flakes, granola clusters, and bran—packs 8 g of fiber and only 8 g of sugar into each bowl, and should keep consumers satisfied longer. The cereal consists of a mixture of whole grain wheat, whole grain oats, rice, wheat bran, and oat fiber.

• Sprouted grains: Research has linked potential digestive and other nutritive benefits to sprouting, the practice of germinating seeds to be eaten raw or cooked.
Because of the high demand for foods made with sprouted grains, Food for Life (the makers of the popular Ezekiel 4:9 bread) launched an all-new Sprouted for Life Grain Cereal in January. This new cereal is high in protein (8 g per serving) and fiber (6 g per serving). Made from its original bread, the cereal's protein and fiber counts are naturally occurring from its ingredients, which include a mixture of sprouted wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt.

Kellogg's also has tracked such consumer interest and now is offering Kashi Sprouted Grains Multi-Grain organic cereal, with whole grain flakes made with 100% sprouted grains, wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, spelt, and amaranth.

• Gluten-free: New gluten-free cereal options reflect the staying power of the gluten-free diet for people with celiac disease and nonceliac gluten sensitivity as well as consumers who believe eliminating gluten from their diet helps various health issues.

California-based Lydia's Organics makes a cereal that offers both sprouted grains and gluten-free fans something they may grow to love: Sprouted Cinnamon Cereal. Made with gluten-free sprouted buckwheat as well as sprouted sunflower seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and almonds, with a hint of cinnamon, a 1/2-cup serving offers 11 g of protein and 6 g of fiber with just 1 g of sugar.

Larger cereal manufacturers also are attuned to the increased consumer interest in gluten-free. In particular, Kellogg's has introduced Special K Gluten Free cereal, which features multigrain corn, sorghum, and rice flakes with a touch of brown sugar. "It's a delicious option for people who are managing their weight, while also providing a good source of fiber, which people who are avoiding gluten may lack in their diets," according to a company press release. A single serving offers 5 g of fiber and 3 g of protein, and has 9 g of sugar. The protein and fiber come from whole grain brown rice, whole grain sorghum, corn bran, and soluble corn fiber.

In addition to the seven varieties of gluten-free Chex cereal, Wiemer says General Mills offers Gluten-Free Chex Granola, which started appearing on grocery shelves in January. Gluten Free Chex Honey Nut offers a comparable amount of fiber (primarily from oats) and protein (from oats and almonds) to Kellogg's Gluten Free cereal, with slightly more sugar at 13 g per serving.

The introduction of Chex Gluten-Free Granola and Cheerios + Ancient Grains continues "to expand our gluten-free options for consumers and the growth of nontraditional grains," Wiemer says.

• Ancient grains:Cheerios + Ancient Grains highlights another trend that seems to be taking hold of the breakfast cereal aisle. No longer relegated to the "healthy" aisle, cereal manufacturers of all types have noticed the health halo consumers associate with whole grains—whether or not consumers know the intricacies of such grains or what they offer.

According to Constance Roark, MS, RDN, director of marketing for Ancient Harvest, ancient grains, including amaranth, millet, and quinoa, are great options for breakfast and a healthful snack alternative.

"We had heard from many of our consumers that they have been using our quinoa and quinoa flakes to incorporate ancient grains into their morning routine for years, so we wanted to be able to provide them with a quick yet nutritious and delicious breakfast option," Roark explains. "Our new line of hot cereals is a response to the need for more options."

Ancient Harvest's new Ancient Grains Hot Cereal line contains a blend of quinoa, millet, amaranth, and gluten-free rolled oats, and comes in a box of six packets, available in five flavors: Apple Cinnamon, Banana and Brown Sugar, Maple Morning, Honey Vanilla Spice, and Traditional, for those who want to personalize their breakfast with their own spices and toppings. "At 180 calories per serving, all five varieties of the new hot cereal line are made with whole grains, contain 3 to 4 g of fiber, 5 to 7 g of protein per serving, 0 to 12 g of sugar depending on the flavor, which is less sugar than most traditional instant hot cereals," Roark says, adding that unlike cold cereal, hot cereals have seen increased consumer interest in the past few years.

Those unfamiliar with ancient grains may shy away from preparing them, but Roark says Ancient Harvest's hot cereal line, as with all ancient grains, requires little preparation—just add water and microwave.

Another brand offering ancient grains is Peace Cereal's new Protein Granola & Flakes. In addition to whole grain oat clusters, this new cereal includes protein-filled KAMUT, wheat flakes, and hemp seeds, and provides 10 g of protein and 6 g of fiber per serving. (Promoting itself as a brand that's not only good for you but also good for the community, Peace Cereal makes a contribution to nonprofit causes for every Peace Cereal product sold.)

For ancient grains, Rifkin recommends Erewhon Quinoa and Chia cereal, which combines the benefits of quinoa's complete protein with omega-rich chia seeds. She notes that this choice is low in sugar (less than 1 g per serving) and contains a substantial amount of fiber (5 g), though she adds that one downfall to this cereal, for some at least, is the number of carbohydrates it contains (43 g per 3/4-cup serving), which is higher than many other cereals.

Dietitians may want to inform clients, however, that simply adding the words "ancient grains" to a label doesn't necessarily increase nutrition content on its own. Whereas the new ancient grains Cheerios option is made with quinoa, oats, spelt, and KAMUT, its nutrition label doesn't look all that different from the original Cheerios. The traditional box offers 3 g of fiber vs the newer version's 2 g, and the ancient grains option contains 4 g more sugar per serving. Each has 3 g of protein.

Counseling Takeaway
Kochenbach advises consumers to look at their overall diet to ensure they're getting the nutrients they need, but she says clients should know that cereal can be part of a healthful diet, either as a way to start the day or as an afternoon snack. She says noting a few key points for clients can help direct them to options from which they'll gain the most nutritional benefit.

"As a baseline, I recommend looking for cereals that are primarily whole grain and that have low amounts of added sugar," Kochenbach says. "Then look at other added benefits either for an overall healthful lifestyle (ie, ancient grains, protein) or specific considerations for a health condition (eg, vitamin supplementation in gluten-free options)."

"From a nutrient perspective, I ideally like the cereal to be 100% whole grain," she says. "There are a few exceptions that might be a bit below that, but the more the better." She also tells clients to look for cereals with at least 4 g to 5 g of fiber and less than 5 g of sugar.

Clients should make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain, such as whole wheat, oats, or barley, and monitor portion control, Rifkin says.

Overall, Kochenbach stresses to RDNs that it doesn't just behoove their business to keep abreast of food trends, and cereal trends in particular; it benefits clients as well. "Cereal, although perhaps on the decline, continues to be perhaps the most popular overall breakfast option across the country," Kochenbach says. "There are many great cereal options out there and many ways to use cereal as part of a healthful diet. We as dietitians have to work with consumers to find the best options for clients' individual needs."

— Juliann Schaeffer is a freelance writer and editor based in Alburtis, Pennsylvania, and a frequent contributor to Today's Dietitian.