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Cereal Consumption Hurt By Grab-And-Go Foods


In other breakfast news, we are also eating a lot less cereal. Cereal consumption peaked in 1996. It has been declining ever since. Perhaps you know why if you're rushing off to work right now. Turns out cereal has, for many people, just become too time-consuming. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports.


TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: That's right. This exhausting ritual - pouring cereal into a bowl, pouring the milk into the bowl, eating it - takes too much time.

HARRY BALZER: Never push against how lazy we can be.

SAMILTON: That's Harry Balzer. He studied Americans's eating habits for his consumer research company, NPD, since 1980. He says more and more people are just grabbing something on the go - a piece of fruit, a granola bar, a fast-food sandwich.

BALZER: But we keep looking for what's the most convenient way to take care of that 12 minutes that we have to eat in the morning time. And that's what we have, is 12 minutes to eat in the morning time. What's the easiest way to do that? And a bowl of cereal - you got to dirty a bowl. You got to dirty a spoon. You got to clean that stuff.

SAMILTON: Which means cereal sales these days are not great. When you ask Jim Hiller, CEO of Hiller's Markets, what else people are grabbing for breakfast, he takes you over to the yogurt section. It's huge. It's like Dannon and Yoplait had hundreds of other yogurt brand babies.

JIM HILLER: We have exotic yogurts. We have yogurts that are made from different types of milk. We have it made that are lactose-free. We have goat yogurts. I mean, the range of diversity in this kind of portable breakfast or portable food is extraordinary.

SAMILTON: It's not like cereal companies aren't noticing. One tactic they're are using is to try to piggyback on the trends. You want yogurt? Fine. Here's some yogurt with a little packet of Kellogg's Raisin Bran that you can mix in. Or, hey, look, cereal can be a healthy snack. Noelle Geoffroy is with Kellogg.

NOELLE GEOFFROY: We've got Special K advertising on air that talks about kind of night cravings and what a great option our Special K Chocolate Collection is for an evening snack that you can feel good about.

SAMILTON: General Mills is going with the trends, too. Most Chex brand cereals sport gluten-free in big letters on the box. There's a new high-protein Cheerios. The company's Jim Murphy says cereal clearly has to market itself better. But he's seen this before.

JIM MURPHY: Whether you point back to when bagels first came on the scene or when Atkins diets first appeared, we have periods where, you know, people change their eating habits at breakfast.

SAMILTON: And Murphy's an optimist. He says cereal may no longer be the most convenient breakfast food. But the cereal industry is still strong, and it will be there, poised to try to take advantage of the next big trend. Who knows? Maybe that one will be slowing down a little in the morning to appreciate the snap, crackle and pop. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

GREENE: We are glad you're with us this morning listening on your public radio station to MORNING EDITION. A program fueled, at least in my case, by a breakfast of microwave egg whites and cheese, which, Steve, I think it only takes me about four minutes and 18 seconds to make.


How do you find the time to do that, David? Although, I admit I'm still able to find the time to open a cereal box and pour.

GREENE: And then you got to pour the milk.

INSKEEP: It sounds delicious. Send us your thoughts on that piece. You can find us on Twitter @NPRInskeep.

GREENE: And @NPRGreene.

INSKEEP: And @MorningEdition. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.
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