A Look at Life: Breakfast

18th January 2013

The fading sound of snap, crackle and pop…

Heather Harris

The cereal has ended…

No longer are we bowled over by oats, grains or flakes. The manufacturers have milked our taste buds for all their worth and now face crumbling sales. The once loyal customers have literally taken the biscuit (aka the cereal bar) – and run. In today’s time-starved society it seems early risers no longer have time for a meal which involves more than one ingredient.

In some households where teenagers prevail – and I have witnessed this first hand – the solution is to scoop out the desired amount of cereal and chew it dry while heading to the door, or to pour the milk directly into the flake-filled mouth, saving both time and washing up. The same approach to coffee was attempted on film by Mr Bean with scalding results.

Forty or fifty years ago the idea that you’d need a marketing campaign to encourage people to eat before work or school would have been ridiculous, but 47% of people regularly don’t eat before leaving the house during the week, so clearly there’s a place for Farmhouse Breakfast Week (20-26 January), an ‘annual celebration championing the importance of breakfast’.

In the 70s and 80s a child’s morning routine wasn’t complete without a hunt for the latest plastic toy hidden in the depths of their chosen cereal packet. Those marketing men were no fools. Faced with a screaming child at 7am, parents would rush out and buy the one with the latest must-have Power Ranger figurine despite there being six packets of perfectly (un)acceptable alternative cereal on the shelf.

And if the toy couldn’t be located by severe shaking (working on the principle that foreign bodies rise to the surface) many a kitchen table would be covered in saucepans full of decanted cereal until the desired object was uncovered.
Of course, the health and safety police soon put a stop to this, citing the danger of accidental swallowing of said figurine. And so the popularity of the breakfast cereal first began to snap, crackle and pop.

The marketing men also had to box clever when it came to the question of nutrition. My parents always put their faith in the Honey Monster, assuming that his product was full of this nectar of the Gods; they believed every word when Tony the Tiger informed us his Frosties were indeed Greeaaattt… But in recent times the Which? Consumer guide reveals that many children’s breakfast cereals have more chemicals than the average bottle of floor cleaner and more sugar than a Dunkin’ Donuts factory. As Felicity Lawrence says in her book Eat Your Heart Out, ‘People are beginning to rumble the fact that by and large most processed breakfast cereals are not healthy at all.’

Suddenly, a decent fry up has become officially the healthy way to start the day as we all become bowled over by the power of protein.

According to The Grocer magazine, UK sales of eight of the ten most popular brands including Corn Flakes, Crunchy Nut, Coco Pops, Cheerios and Special K fell sharply in 2010-2011. Rice Krispies was the worst performer: down 12%, a hard fact to swallow for the Kellogs number crunchers.

The one product to survive this cereal killing was Weetabix, still seen as a healthy option. In fact, we continue to eat around 366 each a year (one a day and an extra one at Christmas?). Such is the continued global appetite for these little rectangles of wheat that in May last year a Chinese company acquired a major stake in the brand with a view, presumably, to promoting it as a tasty alternative to a decent chop suey with fried rice.

We’ve also not gone cold on porridge; sales hold steady, thanks to its link to a healthy heart and its glowing reputation for cutting household heating costs. But portable porridge has also hit the shelves (think Pot Noodle but without the diced vegetables). Not as messy as it sounds and an instant hit for Quaker, Pret A Manger, and Marks & Spencers.

Quaker Marketing Director Hayley Stringfellow explained the reasoning, ‘The hot cereal category is growing at 13% but for some speed and convenience remained a barrier.’

In other words you couldn’t throw a decent helping of porridge in your briefcase like you could a breakfast bar – until now.
So it’s official. The recession is not only eating into our bank balance but also our mealtimes. Breakfast has been replaced by ‘Deskfast’ as Richard Jones of cereal firm Mornflake (a suitably depressing brand name) admits: “As office hours increase workers are spending more time at their desk so products need to be fast and portable.”

Crumbs…

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