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Exploring Cereal's Transition From Breakfast Table to Snacking Staple

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With the rise of snackification, ready-to-eat (RTE) cereal has expanded beyond the breakfast bowl to an anytime, anywhere treat. Designing RTE cereals to be more snackable may be the perfect opportunity to reinvigorate cereal sales amidst breakfast time competition like yogurt, bars, and on-the-go breakfast sandwiches.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

While RTE cereal is known for its almost universal household penetration, the $8.5 billion1 market has witnessed a decline of 11% over the past five years.2 Increasingly, consumers are turning to alternative breakfast options with better portability and satiety. 

For many consumers, cereal for breakfast doesn’t provide enough energy or keep them full for long enough. Savvy consumers know to check the nutrition label for nutrients like protein and fiber. Greek yogurt scores high on protein, while cereal bars do well on fiber. And both are portable, unlike a bowl of cereal with milk.

The Growth of Snackable Cereal

Though the breakfast meal may be evolving, there’s no reason for cereal to be left behind. The popularity of Cheerios as one of baby’s first finger foods shows that cereal is ideal for snacking. Cereal is already bite-sized and can easily be made portable by packing it into a Ziploc bag to take to school or work. Considering that 94% of Americans snack at least once a day,3 promoting cereal as a snack food represents a valuable opportunity.

According to Mintel, 43% of cereal consumers in the U.S. eat cereal as a snack at home, while 17% eat cereal as a snack when they're out.4 Younger adults seem to be driving this trend as only 32% of Baby Boomers reported snacking on cereal at home, compared to 56% of Millennials.

How to Make a Cereal More Snackable

1. A Hint of Sweetness

Mintel found that the majority of cereal consumers preferred lightly sweetened cereals over both highly sweetened and unsweetened cereals. In fact, across the food and beverage industries, reduced sugar products have been trending since the roll-out of the new nutrition label, which requires the amount of added sugars to be stated. This change has made consumers more aware of the amount of sugar in products. 

The popularity of lightly sweetened cereal indicates not just a health preference but a taste preference, as well. A snackable cereal that tastes either bland or as sweet as a confection is unlikely to meet consumer expectations.

2. Bigger Pieces

The ideal snacking cereal should be as easy to eat as chips or crackers. Clusters and large individual pieces both work well for this. A number of granola manufacturers have developed granola clusters that are advertised as both a breakfast cereal and a snack. The innovative size of granola clusters positions it between traditional granola and granola bars.

Oats in a bowl.

3. Portable Packaging

To make cereal truly snackable, packaging matters. Single-serve packaging and resealable pouches ensure consumers can just grab and go. 

4. Healthy Nutrition

When consumers choose cereal as a snack, the perception is that it’s a healthier, more nutritious choice than traditional snacks (like candy or potato chips) that can have a nutrition label high in sugar, salt, or fat. Also, consumers are increasingly looking for fiber and protein in their cereal.

Consumers typically expect their cereal to contain vitamins and minerals, as well. Using a custom nutrient premix is a simple way to add, increase, or customize vitamin and mineral levels to meet the needs of different consumers, such as children or athletes. Manufacturers should be sure to use marketing copy and front-of-package claims to promote their cereal as a healthy snack.

Looking Ahead

America’s love of RTE cereal, combined with the array of options available for taste, texture, size, ingredients, and nutrient levels, suggests that cereal is well-positioned to evolve with the times. For breakfast time, snack time, or anytime.

Partner with Watson to boost your nutrition label and make your cereal even more snackable! Interested in learning more? Get instant access to our Quick Reference Guide to Nutrition today!


1. Hyslop, G. (2018). A new look at cereal snacking: The top brands and producers for the first half of 2018. Retrieved from

2. Mintel. (2017). From the Breakfast Table to Snacking Staple: 43% of US Cereal Consumers Eat Cereal as a Snack at Home. Retrieved from

3. Mintel. (2015). A Snacking Nation: 94% of Americans Snack Daily. Retrieved from

4. Mintel. (2017). From the Breakfast Table to Snacking Staple: 43% of US Cereal Consumers Eat Cereal as a Snack at Home. Retrieved from

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