Brand Marketing Search Engine

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Brand idea failures: Kellogg’s Cereal Mates

Warm milk, frosty reception

Kellogg’s may have had problems when marketing in certain foreign territories such as India, but the company has also come unstuck on its home turf, most notably with its Cereal Mates product. The idea was simple. Cereal Mates were small boxes of Kellogg’s cereal packed with a container of milk and a plastic spoon. The advantage of the product was equally straightforward. Namely, convenience. An increase in working hours in the United States, combined with the rise in fast-food chains, led Kellogg’s to believe that there was a demand for an ‘all-in-one’ breakfast product. To maximize Cereal Mates’ chances of success, the line included the four most powerful Kellogg’s brands in the US – namely Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes (Frosties), Fruit Loops, and Mini Wheats.

However, despite Kellogg’s best efforts, the Cereal Mates brand proved a major flop, and in 1999, the year Kellogg’s rival General Mills took over as the United States’ number one cereal maker, the product was pulled from the shelves.

The reasons why Cereal Mates failed to win over consumers are various, and have been dissected by various journalists and marketing professionals. Here are some of the main factors behind Cereal Mates’ brand failure:

Factor one: warm milk. As each container of milk was ‘aseptically packaged,’ it didn’t need refrigeration. However, consumers didn’t like the idea of warm milk.

Factor two: cool milk. In order to accommodate for the consumer’s preference for cool milk, Kellogg’s eventually decided to place Cereal Mates in refrigerators to imply that consumers should have the milk cold.

However, as Robert McMath, president of New Product Works and author of What Were They Thinking?, has observed, this led to even more confusion. ‘This decision inevitably caused a problem in that Cereal 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,’ writes McMath.

Factor three: advertising. As if the consumer wasn’t confused enough, Kellogg’s complicated matters further with the advertising campaign for Cereal Mates. The TV ads featured young kids helping themselves to the product, while their parents lay snoring contentedly in bed. However, the packaging of the product was far from child-friendly, and if they left their kids to help themselves, the parents would have probably been crying (or at least getting cross) over spilt milk.

Factor four: the taste. Even when picked up from a refrigerator, the product was often consumed at work or away from home. In other words, when the milk was warm and tasted terrible.

Factor five: the price. Retailing at way over a dollar, Cereal Mates was considered too expensive by many consumers.

These factors, working in conjunction, caused the Cereal Mates brand to fail. And so, after two years on the shelves (or in refrigerators), Kellogg’s pulled the plug on the product. However, there may be one more reason why Cereal Mates failed to spark a revolution in breakfast habits. As a convenience food, it simply wasn’t convenient enough. A February 2000 article in Newsweek (‘Crunch time at Kellogg’), looked at the changing demands for breakfast products, and the consequences for the cereal company.

Americans’ hectic new morning routine is wreaking havoc on Kellogg Co. Killer commutes (nearly an hour round trip in many cities) leave no time to fix even the simplest breakfast. Getting out the door is equally challenging for the 64 percent of families in which both parents work. More Americans than ever simply skip breakfast, according to new data from NPD Group, an eating-habits researcher. ‘People wish they could just get breakfast injected into them on the run,’ says Gerald Celente, editor of the Trends Journal, a marketing-industry newsletter.

Cereal Mates may have enabled people to take their cereal with them, but they still had to pour the milk over it, and spend valuable time eating the cereal with a small spoon. As Keith Naughton concluded in the article above, Breakfast Mates ‘failed to catch on because it was impossible to eat while driving.’

Indeed, where Kellogg’s has had success in the convenience food market it is with breakfast bars such as Nutri-grain. Unlike Cereal Mates, these bars can be consumed in seconds, and on the move. Moreover, they don’t involve warm milk.

Lessons from Kellogg’s Cereal Mates
  • Consumers don’t like warm milk on their cereal. OK, I think we’ve established that one.
  • Don’t mix your messages. On the one hand, Cereal Mates was an ‘eat anywhere’ product. On the other, Kellogg’s was implying it needed to be stored in a refrigerator.
  • Sell the brand in the right place. Cereal Mates was, essentially, a cereal rather than a milk product. Consumers would have therefore expected to see it on the shelves next to the other cereal products.
  • Be the best in at least one thing. As a cereal product Cereal Mates failed because there were tastier and equally healthy alternatives. As a convenience product it failed because breakfast bars proved to be a faster, more flexible option.
  • Don’t price too high. Consumers did not expect to pay as much as they did for a four ounce box of cereal.


Donald said...

"But this lessons are deadly serious"

are you suppose to say these? lessons are deadly serious?

anyway cool article. i remember the product and passed cause i was like shouldnt milk be in the fridge? gross oh my god barf.

Unknown said...

Great article!! To know something about Kellogg’s is good as I often take them for breakfast. I think many people use it for their breakfast cereal and good to know about pros and cons.