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CPG brands develop creative breakfast food during COVID-19

While US lockdown orders and coronavirus restrictions have created a boost in at-home food consumption across categories, breakfast products have experienced significant growth and development this past year. Consumers working from home and families with children attending school remotely have had more time in the mornings to prepare robust, nourishing breakfasts.

“With an increase in the number of in-home breakfast occasions comes a need for variety,” said Scott Marcoux, head of consumer and market intelligence at General Mills’ cereal division. “Breakfast categories have experienced strong growth over the last year and the growth has been widespread across categories.”

He shared that Cheerios has seen strong penetration gains with older households while Cinnamon Toast Crunch is growing with family households. The generation dubbed “young transitionals” has not previously purchased high amounts of cereal, according to Marcoux, but during the pandemic, working from home has caused this group to rediscover many of the brands from their childhood. 

When US grocery retailers saw huge spikes in pantry loading as lockdowns began last spring, many consumer packaged goods manufacturers had to pivot operations to primarily produce their most popular and essential brands. The strain on these food supply chains has tapered off as the year continued, meaning that CPG companies could restart new product development efforts.

“Breakfast was never in danger of disappearing but it has been on the wane for a number of years and I think [the pandemic] has brought it right back,” GlobalData managing director Neil Saunders told Food Dive.

New products hit shelves

Several CPG producers have released new breakfast offerings over the course of the pandemic. Kellogg debuted cereal bars and larger package-sized versions of several of its cereal brands, such as Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops as well as new flavors for legacy brands such as Special K and Frosted Mini Wheats . Tyson Foods introduced new breakfast products -- Jimmy Dean Loaded Sausage Bites and Omelet Minis -- to meet consumer demand for delicious, hearty breakfast options that don’t require extensive prep times, according to Jimmy Dean senior brand manager Chris Olsen.

“At the start of 2020, people were cooking every meal at home, including breakfast,” Olsen said in a company statement. “Over time, however, peoples’ energy for making multiple fresh meals throughout the day has waned, with 25% of people tired of cooking.”

Many people are building new eating habits by enjoying regular morning meals at home; however, Olsen’s comments indicate that consumers are seeking out breakfast items for varying reasons. A Kellogg spokesperson also confirmed that the company has found its customers are looking for "diversity in the foods they eat and a more balanced diet, including some indulgence."

General Mills launched more than a dozen new cereal varieties in January, which deliver on “taste and experience, health and wellbeing and convenience,” said Marcoux.

“We know many consumers are seeking small moments of joy during the pandemic and products like Pokemon Cereal, Chocolate Churros and Sesame Street can deliver a smile to start the day,” he added. “ Wonderworks Keto cereal allows consumers who are managing their weight to still enjoy cereal while Multigrain Cheerios with real strawberries provides vitamin fortification and the goodness of real fruit. Finally, as kids school from home, they need quick and convenient snacks and this is where Remix cereal snack mix can help.”

Reaching consumers at home

It is vital for brands to showcase new CPG products through digital marketing techniques, especially while so many consumers are still spending so much time in their homes. Marcoux said General Mills’ strategy is prioritizing new product development as well as brand activation efforts and learning more about consumer behavior.

“Much of our research was done virtually before the pandemic and the use of virtual methodologies only increased,” he said. “Consumers are now very comfortable connecting with companies through online video platforms and many have a bit more time to provide feedback right now.”

Kellogg reports having a similar strategy during the past year.

"We have had the opportunity to engage with new and lapsed consumers during the pandemic -- consumers we intend to keep," said a Kellogg spokesperson. "Strategic investments have enabled us to make great strides in leveraging data and analytics to better reach consumers, refine marketing content and improve appeal at the point of sale."

Post-pandemic morning meals

Most people are longing for the time when the pandemic is seemingly over, but the lifting of these restrictions doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will go back to pre-pandemic circumstances, especially in regards to eating habits.

“The fact that we are going to have more people working from home [long-term] is going to mean that some of the change we've seen around breakfast will stay put,” said Saunders to Food Dive.

Marcoux agreed that many adults are likely to keep working remotely, even a portion of the time, and many kids have found General Mills brands that they enjoy and will want to continue eating once they return to in-person learning.

“So, we expect a net increase in at-home breakfast occasions even as things revert back to normal,” he said.

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