According to the patent, using insoluble nutrients like calcium or dietary fiber can make puffed cereals gritty, create an uneven surface appearance and cause them to go soft more rapidly in the bowl. These problems arise because solid calcium or fiber particles interfere with how the puffed cereal expands.
General Mills has found a way to deal with this by mixing the nutrients into a dough with water and starch, then extruding it to create miniscule pellets. The pellets can then be mixed with the cereal product and, when extruded, distributed uniformly throughout the pieces of ready-to-eat cereal.
Most people in the United States consume more calories than they use, but the amount of some micronutrients they eat still fall short of recommendations. Researchers have found that U.S. intakes of dietary fiber and calcium — as well as potassium and vitamin D — are low enough to be a public health issue because of lower-than-recommended consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products and seafood. Fortified ready-to-eat cereals are a major contributor of micronutrients in U.S. diets. Added calcium, for example, boosts average calcium intake across the population by 5%.
For General Mills, this new method of fortifying cereals with insoluble nutrients will allow it to create more appealing products, with better mouthfeel and a longer lasting crunchy texture. The invention could also allow it to use higher amounts of calcium and dietary fiber than was previously possible without affecting how the cereal tastes or feels in the mouth.
Potentially, this could give the company a competitive advantage as more consumers are looking for easy — and tasty — ways to include more fiber and other nutrients in their diets. According to Nielsen, 36% of global consumers seek foods that are high in fiber and 30% look for calcium-fortified products. It will be interesting to see if this move improves consumer perception of the company's products, and if other cereal manufacturers seek similar solutions.