The Breakfast Staple

Originally published on

Demand for healthier cereal options is shaking up the supply chain of this breakfast staple. Whether you wolf it down on your way to school or enjoy a leisurely bowl with your morning cup of coffee, cereal is one of the country’s most beloved breakfast items. Already served in nine of ten American households, it could become a $43 billion industry by 2022, easily dominating the breakfast food market. Whether you’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs or you gotta have your Pops, let’s take a closer look at the cereal supply chain, including the recent challenges cereal manufacturers have faced as consumers seek healthier, less sugary breakfast options.

Snapping, Crackling, and Popping

Running the gamut from chocolatey to fiber-packed, cereals come in a variety of shapes, textures, and flavors, but they all share the same basic ingredient: grain (usually corn, wheat, oats, rice, or barley). Other common ingredients might include salt, yeast, sugars or other sweeteners, colorings, as well as vitamins and preservatives. The actual process of producing cereal is fairly straightforward, but automated production lines have made cereal manufacturing easier than ever before. Indeed, some cereals that once required a full day to make can now be produced in as little as 20 minutes. As soon as the grain has been inspected and processed, any ingredients and flavorings are added to the grain mixture, and then it is cooked and cut. How the cereal is cooked and cut depends on whether the cereal will be puffed, shredded, flaked, or cut into shapes. After the cereal has been shaped, it can be coated with frosting or a glaze for additional flavor. Once the cereal has cooled, it’s packaged in airtight, waterproof plastic bags that keep it from spoiling. The cereal is then boxed, packed into cartons, and transported to retailers.

More Grain, Less (Weight) Gain

While many cereals claim to be high in whole grain or natural sugar, the reality is that many cereals are high in added sugar and low in nutritional value. What’s more, these brightly colored cereals with cartoon mascots continue to be marketed primarily to children, who nutritionists unanimously agree would be better off with more wholesome options. This advice has not fallen on deaf ears: in recent years, parents have begun to replace these traditional breakfast staples with healthier alternatives, while many adults looking to trim their waistbands or adjust their diets are forgoing the sugary cereals of their childhoods in favor of more nutritious options. Because of these changes in consumer behavior, cereal companies are rapidly working to make cereals healthier, refining recipes and manufacturing processes to create cereals with more whole grains and less sugar. This can present a tricky cost-benefit balancing act for manufacturers, since altering recipes and testing new cereals can often result in more expensive products that require more time to produce. Despite these challenges, cereal manufacturers will continue to adapt to changes in demand in order to remain competitive and keep their cereals in kitchen pantries across the world — whether they’re gluten-free, sugar-free, frosting-free, or none of the above.