Ralston-Purina’s 1990 “Breakfast on the Run” and Kellogg’s 1998 “Breakfast Mates are widely considered text book examples of product failure. Ennis Foods’ 1997 “Rumblers,” on the other hand, rumbles successfully on as an airline food and in an alternate form, in which cereal is combined with yogurt rather than milk.
(Details about all 3 products, after the fold…)
1. Ralston-Purina’s “Breakfast on the Run”
Launched in 1990 with considerable fanfare, its packaging was designed by Martin Marshall Jaccoma Mitchell.
In a recent marketing campaign for Ralston Purina’s new Breakfast on the Run, a single-serving box of cereal that includes a bowl, a spoon and a container of shelf-stable milk, the packages were designed to look like frames from an illustrated commercial. One features a woman coming out of the elevator of the building where she works, pouring milk into a bowl of Corn Chex.
For many marketers, especially those with limited budgets, turning their packages into elaborate ads may be the best way to stand out in the clutter of advertising in supermarkets.
“The packaging now has to tell the product’s story the way only ads used to,” said George Jaccoma, the chairman of Martin Marshall Jaccoma Mitchell, a New York agency that specializes in new-product development and packaging, and created the Ralston campaign. “If all you do is show a picture of the product or have a pretty package, the product is going to get lost on the shelf.”
The Ralston package “is intended to explain to shoppers what the product is and how to use it,” Mr. Jaccoma said.
Packaging Becomes Critical In Luring Wary Consumers
NY Times, January 3, 1991
Of course, the product needed explaining precisely because it was a potentially disruptive product in the cereal category.
Ralston-Purina Co.’s Grocery Products Group is hitting the ground running with its new Breakfast on the Run packaged cereal-and-milk combination. The shelf-stable meal kit includes 1.25 ounces of cereal, 1/2 pint of aseptic UHT-processed milk and a fin-
seal wrapped plastic spoon and napkin—all in a paperboard carton. Three varieties of Breakfast on the Run—Corn Chex, frosted flakes and raisin bran—are currently being test-marketed only in the Chicago area. The cereal comes in a thermoformed HDPE tray heat-sealed with a polyethylene-coated, metallized-paper lidding label. The lowfat milk is packaged in a standard Tetra Pak aseptic Tetra Brik and features an easy-open pull-tab closure.
Carton copy says, “Place this box in the fridge to chill. Take it to school, to the office—anywhere.” And for those unfamiliar with aseptic milk, a list of package contents explains, “A single serving of lowfat milk (packaged like fruit juices to stay fresh for months.)” The novelty of aseptically packaged milk for the typical American consumer prompted Ralston to include a business reply card questionnaire in each Breakfast on the Run carton.
The survey asks demographic questions about who ate the cereal and where, and queries the consumer about the packaged milk. Did they use it’? if not, why not? Was it served cold? How’s the taste? The ready-to-eat, packaged breakfast retails for $1.29.
Packaging Magazine, 1990
The instructions to refrigerate the box, and the enclosed questionnaire show that the company was concerned that it might be a problem for them that Americans have never gotten used to unrefrigerated milk in aseptic packages.
The test-marketing did not go as well as hoped and the product was discontinued.
Oh, boy, do I ever wish I’d saved all the ill-fated packages that came into my office during the years that I was an editor on PACKAGING…
From 1990 — Ralston-Purina Breakfast on the Run. A lidded, thermoformed plastic bowl held dry cereal; an aseptic carton contained liquid milk; a napkin and a spoon were included. Just the thing for the harried commuter. It… is dead and gone. A chief marketing idea that has been applied repeatedly in packaged goods is: the consumer demands convenience… Breakfast on the Run initially looked like [a real breakthrough] in convenience, but that wasn’t enough to grab and hold the consumer’s attention.
Packaging Success Or Failure: No Mystery, Just History
Packaging Magazine, 1994
2. Kellogg’s “Breakfast Mates”
Next month venerable cereal maker Kellogg Company will introduce Breakfast Mates(TM) to U.S. supermarkets. Each of the varieties will include a 1-oz portion of cereal in a thermoformed bowl and 4 oz of aseptically filled milk in a brick carton as well as a plastic spoon. These components are housed in a brightly decorated folding carton.
The milk in the brick pack is of course shelf stable so there’s no need to refrigerate Breakfast Mates. Nevertheless it will be displayed in the refrigerated case because many shoppers will likely consume the product shortly after purchasing and Kellogg marketers felt keeping the milk cold is more appealing. Shelf life is six months.
… Looking at Breakfast Mates package samples supplied by Kellogg the colorful paperboard folding carton graphics include arms extending from the first and last letters of the product’s Breakfast Mates name. The arms are shown holding a representation of the bowl milk and spoon.
…”Breakfast Mates will be the first cereal product Kellogg has ever sold in the refrigerated section” states Karen Kafer the company’s director of product communications. “The unique packaging makes having a wholesome cereal breakfast easier than ever for today’s busy families.”
The company will market Breakfast Mates to children “and to busy parents and singles looking for the convenience and portability offered by the all-in-one packaging of the cereal milk and spoon. . . with virtually no preparation or cleanup.”
Breakfast, Mate?, Packaging World, 1998
The Breakfast Mates logo was designed and illustrated by Todd Curtis.
A trademark application was filed, but was later abandoned, perhaps because the product was discontinued before the official registration could be approved.
Why was the Breakfast Mates deemed a text book example of product failure? And by “text book,” I mean, literally. The product has had second life in several marketing text books as the poster child for huge marketing mistakes.
Although the product’s novelty won it some attention early on, by 1999 the naysayers were speaking up.
Breakfast Mates, a single-serving package complete with cereal, milk, plastic spoon and bowl, vows liberation from the time-consuming and tiresome task of walking to the cupboard and silverware drawer, and the labor involved in pouring the flakes.
”It’s for today’s busy family, a breakfast with virtually no preparation, and, if you think about it, no cleanup,” said Anthony Hebron, a spokesman for Kellogg, the nation’s biggest cereal maker, in Battle Creek, Mich. Mr. Hebron said consumer research had found that people have better things to do in the morning than reach into the cupboard or rinse dirty bowls.
To determine precisely how much time and energy can be saved, Money & Business brought together a focus group of serious cereal eaters — my four children.
Two of them… were assigned the task of opening and eating the single-serving cereal; the other two… were to dine the old-fashioned way, making cereal from a family-size box and a gallon jug of milk, and using regular bowls and spoons.
The contest began at 12:45 P.M. on a Sunday. With the clock over the stove as a stopwatch, the routines were timed to compare their efficiency…
The old-fashioned approach took 14 seconds, from the instant the cereal box was grasped to the first crunch of a spoonful. The new method took 13 seconds: Everything must be unwrapped individually and the bowl itself is sealed with paper that needs to be peeled back.
One thing was certain: Time was money. The single-serving box cost $1.39. Prepared the traditional way, a cereal serving cost 28.8 cents, including the price of the milk. That means it cost $1 more to save a single second.
Dirk Johnson, Got-Milk Cereals Get Mixed Reviews
NY Times, January 17, 1999
Johnson’s calculation of the high cost of this particular convenience was also repeated in James Gleick’s 2000 book, Faster.
Packaged dry breakfast cereals, ready to douse with milk and eat, began as a fast alternative to cooked grains like oatmeal, instant or not. But pouring cereal into a bowl, adding milk, sitting down with a spoon—this process came to seem like foot-dragging. By the eighties, the breakfast-cereal market stagnated. Toaster food like frozen waffles and Pop-Tarts took over in some homes, before they, too, gave way to even faster food in the form of granola bars. The Kellogg Company tried to fight back on behalf of cereal with another form of innovation, Breakfast Mates, “for today’s busy family,” a single portion packaged with its own milk, bowl, and spoon. Dirk Johnson assembled his family one Sunday to test Breakfast Mates for the New York Times and found that they had managed to cut preparation time from found that they had managed to cut preparation time from fourteen seconds to thirteen, at a cost of one dollar per second saved.
So warm milk was one problem. High price was another. What else?
An additional problem in the minds of potential consumers was raised with the advertising, specifically TV commercials that were directed towards parents of small children. The ads suggested that Breakfast Mates allowed kids to serve themselves breakfast. Kellogg’s ran spots that depicted sleepy parents telling their small children to let them “sleep in.” Ostensibly, the kids could go downstairs, get Breakfast Mates out of the refrigerator, and set out their own meal. If you have small children you already understand the inherent problem that presented. In opening aseptically packaged liquid containers, many times young hands squeeze the soft-sided containers too hard and spill the liquid all over the breakfast table, floor, or themselves. With a little pre-planning, parents could simply set aside a small pitcher of regular milk the night before and leave it ready to pour over cereal, thus alleviating the need for the product.
Robert McMath, Kellogg’s Cereal Mates: It’s not for breakfast anymore
Failure Magazine, 2000
3. Ennis Foods’ “Rumblers”
Declan Ennis created the brand Rumblers & launched this in Ireland, UK and Europe. Rumblers is a chilled or ambient range of cereal and milk snacks, cereal and yoghurt snacks targeted at healthier snacking on the go and missed breakfast eating occasions.
About the Rumblers TV spot above, The Daily Mail said:
At first sight it looks like just another slick TV advert for fast food. It features a beautiful young couple, working hard and playing hard. Neither has time for the minor things in life, like enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Enter Rumblers, a new cereal in a plastic pot — complete with milk and spoon — for people living in today’s hurry-up world. The TV advertising campaign was launched in the South of England last week, and will be rolled out across the country over the coming weeks. But behind the snap, crackle and pop, the Rumblers advert underlines a new social trend. Shoppers who have been gulping down fast food at lunch and dinner in ever-greater numbers are extending the the habit to breakfast time, munching bagels and croissants and quaffing cappuccino as they rush to the office.
Rumblers was the other combo pack cereal brand discussed in Packaging World’s 1998 article…
Rumblers’ unusual packaging includes two separate bowl-shaped thermoformed cups for the cereal and milk. The milk is pasteurized via a proprietary process for a 28-day shelf life. Because they’re not aseptically packed Rumblers must be sold chilled.
The lidded milk container is turned upside-down with its smaller-diameter mouth fitting snuggly into the mouth of the right-side-up cereal bowl. The cereal bowl also includes a plastic spoon that must be unfolded to use. A colorfully printed shrink-sleeve label bands the two cups into a single unit. The label extends from the top of the pack down to the base of the polypropylene cereal cup. Copy on the label’s top instructs the user to pull a tear strip along the area where the mouths of the two bowls meet to open the package. Step two says “separate pots” followed by “pour milk into cereal.” The latter step involves removing the clear plastic lidstock on the cereal bowl. The consumer also pulls a tab on the milk container’s lid that uncovers a small orifice to pour the desired amount of milk into the cereal bowl.
Breakfast, Mate?, Packaging World, 1998
Rumblers milk and cereal combo pack in use on an airline flight (photos by Collette Miles)
Don’t know who originally designed the pack. The logo’s typography appears to have been redesigned at some point.
Rumblers, Ennis Foods’ “complete snack-in-a-pack” cereal range has recently been re-launched with a fresh new look to position itself as the chilled, out of home breakfast option. The half a million pound redesign will position the fresh semi-skimmed milk and bio-yogurt with cereal range as a ‘handy, healthy and heavenly’ choice, which is perfect for ‘breakfast on-the-go’ or between-meal snacking.
… The website and promotional literature have both been designed in conjunction with celebrated graphic designer Si Scott, who has added his creative flair to successful advertising campaigns for brands such as Nike sportswear, BBC and the Guardian Newspaper.
Ultra-portable Rumblers will retain the patented carton to carton pack format which now includes an innovative and unique clear top pot (containing cereal and a spoon) to enable consumers to differentiate between the cereal options. As well as having enhanced shelf ready packaging, the contemporary style packs feature colour-coded containers and lettering, designed to help consumers distinguish at a glance between the different varieties and increase on-shelf standout.
… The full Rumblers semi-skimmed milk and cereal range also boasts “Extended Shelf Life” without compromising on taste with the products lasting for up to 32 days. The milk attains a long shelf life without taking on an unpalatable ‘UHT’ flavour by pasteurising at a higher temperature than required for fresh milk but lower than for UHT.
… Managing Director Alan Cunningham says: “By moving away from using traditional, cereal box style photography on-pack, we hope to provide a point of difference and better communicate the premium quality of Rumblers.”
Rumblers Shakes Up Its Snack-In-A-Pack Cereal With A Contemporary New Look
The Grocery Trader, 2007