Breakfast is the first meal of the day and it’s also the fastest meal of the day. One in four Americans spend less than five minutes a day eating breakfast during the week, according survey research by DSM.

Often, this need for speed and convenience means that health concerns like sugar consumption take a back seat.

According to the Innova Market Insights Database, 9.1% of US packaged food and non-alcoholic beverage launches made a sugar reduction claim from January 2018 to November 2019. But just 3.5% of cold cereal launches in the US did so during the same period.

Instead, cold cereal makers doubled down on sugar in 2019, tapping confectionery, ice cream, and sweet bakery flavor favorites to fuel innovation.

Quaker Oats’ debuted Cap’N Crunch’s Cotton Candy Crunch, the first cotton candy-flavored cereal. Kellogg’s celebrated Easter with Peeps Marshmallow Flavored Cereal. Post was sweet on Sour Patch Kids Cereal’s “sour then sweet” flavor; while General Mills added Hershey’s Kisses Cereal with Jolly Rancher Cereal on deck for 2020.

Ice cream inspired General Mills’ Drumstick Cereal, a sign that future flavor innovation will come from indulgent foods.

The deepest vein of 2019 sweetened cereal innovation came from baked goods. Hostess Brands and Post Consumer Brands teamed up for Twinkies Cereal. Cookie flavors found a home with Post Original Chips Ahoy Cereal and Kellogg’s Elf on the Shelf Sugar Cookie Cereal. Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts Cereal touted “delicious filling in every bite.”

General Mills took bakery-inspired flavor and cream filling flavor innovation for its cream-filled cereal “pillows” with Fillows cereal in Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème and Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll flavors.

Post celebrated National Cereal Day with a limited release of Maple Bacon Donuts Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal and Chicken and Waffles Cereal, neither actually containing meat or poultry.

Other noteworthy newcomers were General Mills’ Fruity Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch Churros, Chocolate Toast Crunch and Blueberry Cheerios Cereals. Kellogg’s Caticorn Berry Purrfection Cereal with Glittery Sparkles saw edible glitter hit breakfast cereal while Post showed a chocolate and fruit pairing with Frosted Chocolate Strawberry Shredded Wheat Cereal.

The most intriguing cereal launch of 2019 may have come from a startup company. Magic Spoon’s “guilt-free” presweetened cereal took aimed at Millennials, marketed direct-to-consumer via a $35 per month ($1.25 per bowl) “cereal subscription.”

Hailed as the “world’s first low-carb, high-protein breakfast cereal,” Magic Spoon offers familiar flavors like Frosted, Cocoa, Cinnamon, and Fruity, with unfamiliar nutritionals. Each serving has 12g of protein with just 3 of net carbs, the latter capped by natural sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia, and allulose.

Allulose is new to cereal and has disruptive potential. Allulose occurs naturally in small quantities in sweet foods like figs, tastes like sugar, but has zero glycemic impact and almost no calories.

In April 2019, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that allulose did not have to be included in total or added sugar counts on food and beverage labels, clearing the way for innovation. With patent activity up 42% in 2018 versus 2017, per Innova Market Insights, a burst of allulose-fueled new product activity seems likely in 2020.

There was life outside of sweetened cereals in 2019 with crunchy (including granola) and probiotic cereals trending. Some combined the two. Target’s Good and Gather Probiotic Chocolate Sea Salt Granola did so along with GoodBelly Probiotics Cereal “packed with 1 billion probiotics and peanut butter to kick start your day.” The latter saw GoodBelly (a brand of NextFoods Inc.) enter the breakfast cereal market.

Cereal makers were bullish on crunchy textures, resulting in launches like Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch in a Vanilla Almond flavor. Also helping is the fact that nuts—often the source of crunch—are naturally high in protein.

Last year saw “grain free” granola gain momentum with launches like Bear Naked Grain Free Granola in a Cinnamon Roll flavor (made with almond flour and coconut flour). Target was on-trend with Good and Gather Grain Free Salted Dark Chocolate Granola. Three Wishes, a new cereal brand, also went grain free with a formula rich in plant-based protein from peas and chickpeas.

Keto rocked the diet world in 2019 and this low-carb, high-fat diet sparked innovations like Catalina Crunch Keto Friendly Cereal. Keto was even more prominent in bars via innovations like the Keto Krisp Protein Bar and the Genius Gourmet Keto Bar, the latter with “premium MCTs” and under 1g of sugar per bar.


Hot, Hot, Hot

Hot cereal innovation has been muted in recent years. Per the Innova Database, US launches of hot cereals declined by a 1.2% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2014 to 2018. Launches failed to rebound in 2019, though new ingredients kept things interesting. 

Cauliflower headlined Purely Elizabeth Cauli Hot Cereal, said to be “a simple way to introduce veggies into a light and delicious breakfast, with the same satisfying texture as traditional oatmeal.”

Purely Elizabeth also debuted Collagen Protein Oats “made with grass-fed bovine collagen.”  Though it made no specific collagen-related health claims, collagen is often associated with joint health, skin health, and anti-aging benefits.

RxBar was new to hot cereal in 2019, leveraging its protein bar success with high protein RX A.M. Oats, made with real ingredients and offered in flavors like Apple Cinnamon.

Overnight oats showed potential as a more convenient form of oatmeal that can be prepared the night before. Kraft Heinz bit on overnight oats with Amazing Grains Overnight Oats which combine fruits, spices, and an ancient grain blend of whole grains such as oats, barley, quinoa, and red wheat, plus flax.


Raise the Bar

Cereal and energy bar innovation held steady in 2019. According to the Innova Database, launches of new cereal and energy bars in the US have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of just 1.6% for the period from 2014 to 2018.

Bars expanded in new functional and ingredient directions in 2019. The IQ Bar Brain and Body Bar had “six nutrients shown to support sustained cognitive energy” including Lion’s Mane (a mushroom), MCTs and choline. The Shrooms Sweet and Savory Crispy Mushroom Bar also uses mushrooms, in this case white and cremini mushrooms.

Cannabidiol (CBD) was trendy in 2019 with products like ZBD CBD Infused Nutrition Bar with 7g of protein and 10g of CBD per bar.

Sobar Protein Bar was “formulated to reduce alcohol absorption” is billed as the “Next-Gen protein bar.” It holds alcohol in the stomach for a longer time where it can be inactivated, with help from “high concentration milk protein and insoluble oat fiber.”

The demand for protein continues to drive bar innovation, largely because protein can move the sales needle. According to a 2019 Innova Market Insights’ consumer survey, 32.9% of Americans said that protein influences their purchase decision “a lot.”

That is good news for General Mills’ Larabar brand which added a four flavor Protein Bar line including Peanut Butter Cup, all with plant-based proteins including pea protein.

Plant-based protein was indeed hot in 2019. PepsiCo’s Naked Juice unit added a three-flavor line of Naked Plant Protein bars, all soy-based with 9g-10g of protein. Unilever’s Olly Bar claims to offer “protein perfection” with plant-based pea and soy-protein. Just Real Food Inc., Austin, Texas, notes that each of its Real Food Bars contains “15g of high-quality, plant-based protein, with a complete amino acid profile.”

Collagen protein is rising, led by innovators like Vital Proteins and its dairy- and gluten-free bar with 12g of collagen protein per bar in flavors like Peanut Butter Chocolate. 4th & Heart’s Woke Protein Bars also went the collagen route, “carefully crafted with egg white, egg yolk, cashew butter and collagen.”

Other bars were plant-forward. General Mills’ Cascadian Farm Fruit Infused Chewy Granola Bars are oat-based with fruit ingredients including cranberries, oranges, and cherries; and vegetable ingredients including beets and sweet potatoes.

Clif Whole Lotta Fruit, Nut and Seed Bar in flavors like Roasted Peanut Chocolate offers an “abundance of fruit, nuts, and seeds.” Interestingly, last year also saw KIND Healthy Snacks enter the freezercase with KIND Frozen Creamy Almond Bars, said to be the “coolest thing to happen to almonds.”

Bar makers also raised their texture game in 2019. KIND Simple Crunch Granola Bars offered “simple ingredients” and the “perfect crunch.” A crispy texture is also on tap with Quaker Baked Crispy Snack Bar Flats in flavors like Raisin Cinnamon. General Mills’ “crispy creamy” Nature Valley Wafer Bars offered what appeared to be six unique layers in each bar.

But soft textures can also stand out, as Jif Power Ups Super S’Mores Stacked Bars did that with a smores-inspired gooey texture. Quaker also went soft with Soft Baked Squares with Fruit Filling. And speaking of fillings, Kellogg’s celebrated everything Grapetastic with its Nutri Grain Kids Soft Baked Mini Breakfast Bars, perfect for small children.

Cookie dough also scores on the soft texture front. New Whoa Dough Cookie Dough Bars were described as “somewhere between a candy bar, a granola bar, and a protein bar.”

Probiotic bars offer white space for innovators. NextFoods Inc. introduced GoodBelly probiotic bars three to four years ago. More recently, there are more arrivals including the KIND Breakfast Probiotics Bar, which delivers 500 million CFU probiotic cultures per serving. Purely Elizabeth LLC notes that its Ancient Grain Granola Bar + Probiotics is made with a vegan source of probiotics.

Still more flavor and ingredient waves are changing the category. Sweet and salty flavor combinations have been on the rise in bars, prompting innovations such as the Clif Bar Mojo Salty Sweet Bar in flavors like Honey SriRocka, which blends sriracha, honey, and peanuts.

2020 could see coffee energize bar innovation. New Clif Coffee Collection Energy Bars are said to be “inspired by coffeehouse favorites” and deliver “an espresso shot’s worth of caffeine” in each bar with no worries over spilling hot coffee.