40 Under 40

Cereal marketers find sweet tooth

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Mornings at the Davis household go like this: Erika, 6, chooses between Apple Jacks, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Fruity Pebbles, Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries and Trix. On occasion, she'll eat a bowl of Quaker oatmeal, preferably the apple-cinnamon variety. Her sister Ebonee, 14, however, just wants Crunchberries.

Anyone for a bowl of regular Cheerios or Kellogg's Corn Flakes?

"You know, I've tried to get them to go with another choice of something, well, healthier, and they're just not going there," says Sandra Davis, the girls' mom. "Every so often, I can get Erika to try a different cereal, but it's usually one of their usual [presweetened] cereals that they want."


That the Davis family of Chicago prefers most cereals sweet makes them typical cereal eaters among U.S. consumers.

As African-American consumers, according to research by the National Eating Trends division of NPD Group, the Davis family is among 82% of African-American households with ready-to-eat cereals in their kitchen pantries, says Harry Balzer, VP of National Eating Trends.

"It is a consistent trend that African-Americans are a bit above average compared to the rest of the population in choosing presweetened cereals," says Mr. Balzer.

The preference for sweet "is not limited to cereals, but it shows up in consumption of other food items," particularly convenience and snack foods, says Terry Fraser, chairman-CEO, FraserSmith Group, New York, an ad agency that specializes in urban consumer marketing. "Anything that's ready-to-eat and is sweet has a lot of appeal."

General Mills Co. is investigating the unsweetened market. It is studying the consumption habits of African-American and Hispanic consumers for Cheerios. These results are expected to be shared with groups and associations of nutritionists and dietitians.


Cereal marketers clearly recognize that presweetened cereals are highly appealing to African-American consumers. Mr. Fraser contends much of the advertising efforts by the big cereal marketers such as General Mills Co., Kellogg Co. and Kraft Foods' Post are weighted toward the presweetened cereal brands.

For example, of four campaigns General Mills is running in the African-American market this year, three are for presweetened Big G cereals: Trix, Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The fourth is for the company's Cheerios.

"We have made a sincere effort over the years to reach the African-American consumer through both advertising, sponsorships, sampling and community-based promotions," says Autumn Boos, director of ethnic marketing for General Mills. "We have found that this is a community that responds better to efforts directed at their community."

For example, Honey Nut Cheerios for the last several years has been the title sponsor of the Universal Circus, as well as for a "Soul Fest" music event that travels to 30 urban markets. Sampling, of course, is a mainstay of each community event, Ms. Boos points out.

"It is very important for us to be involved with the African-American consumer to the greatest extent possible," says Ms. Boos.


General Mills also is sifting through the results of a Chicago market test this summer where the company used bright red bus wraps for Trix. Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich., General Mills' African-American advertising agency, handled that campaign. Agency and General Mills executives would say only that the campaign showed "moderate success" in meeting its goals.

This summer, General Mills also supported Trix with an outdoor and spot radio campaign with the familiar theme, "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids" in Chicago as well as Atlanta, Baltimore-Washington and Memphis.

For Cinnamon Toast Crunch, radio spots broke in September in Atlanta, Baltimore-Washington and Chicago themed, "The taste you can see."

For Honey Nut Cheerios, a print and spot radio effort is supplemented by a TV spot, "Playtime," featuring an African-American girl playing with her stuffed animals.


Yellow Box Cheerios was supported this summer with a print ad in Heart & Soul, a women's publication.

The health-oriented magazine was an appropriate setting in which to position regular Cheerios as a healthier cereal, notes Marsha Bass Atwater, senior VP-group account director at Coleman.

"We approach this market for [Big G cereals] with an urban mindset," says Ms. Atwater. "We take a multicultural, relevant, blended approach that is meant to resonate with the African-American community."

In May, Post broke a print ad in African-American publications for Honey Bunches of Oats. The ad, running through yearend, "has a stronger focus on family" than Post's general market ads for the cereal, says a spokeswoman. The ad highlights the cereal's great taste and nutritional value. UniWorld Group, New York, created the ad.

Post also committed $3 million over the next three years to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The "Founders of the Future" three-year campaign kicked off in October, with open house events in Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix and San Jose.

Mr. Fraser says he has noticed that cereal marketers are starting to cast their general market and niche commercials with more inclusionary casting instead of focusing on a single ethnic consumer.

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