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Margo Lowry says her job is to search for ideas-and then "take those ideas and turn them into business opportunities."

Many in the cereal industry had tinkered with the idea of a banana-flavored cereal; after all, bananas are the No. 1 fruit added to bowls of cold cereal and milk.

But it took Ms. Lowry, development category manager for Kraft General Foods' Post division, to find the breakthrough idea that paved the way for Banana Nut Crunch, the No. 1 new brand introduced into supermarkets in 1993.

"The challenge was to capture the consumer behavior, but not compete with fresh bananas-which taste fabulous and are available all year," says Ms. Lowry.

Then it occurred to her: the solution might be borrowing the taste not of fresh bananas, but of banana nut bread, one of our "central comfort foods."

"That moment was a breakthrough," she says.

It wasn't everything, of course. Post's R&D team had to take the complex flavors of banana nut bread and put them into a flake, with banana flavor baked into accompanying oat clusters.

"That wasn't easy," Ms. Lowry says. "The wonderful thing about banana nut bread is how all the flavors integrate with one another, the conglomeration of tastes in one place. It's hard to do that with a cereal."

With Grey Advertising, New York, the product team developed TV advertising using a simple tagline, "The taste of homemade banana nut bread in a cereal." It's among the best ever developed at Post, says Polish-born Ms. Lowry, a nine-year company veteran.

But the numbers speak for themselves.

Banana Nut Crunch posted sales of $84 million in its first year of distribution, giving it a 1% share of the $8 billion cereal category, according to Information Resources Inc.

New products like Banana Nut Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats and Great Grains have helped boost Post's once-soggy companywide cereal share to 12.3% for 1993, up from 9.9% in 1989.

"The best success stories are the simple ones," says Ms. Lowry.

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