The patent describes a replacement for sugar or corn syrup that uses maltotriose and maltotetrose — saccharides consisting of three or four glucose molecules, respectively — combined with high-intensity sweeteners. The coating could reduce sugar content by 30% or more.
High-intensity sweeteners are already used in combination with corn syrup to replace or reduce sugars in RTE cereals, but they can affect texture and may require special packaging to reduce water absorption. General Mills claims its invention solves these problems.
Sugar is best known for the sweetness it brings to cereal, but it's also important for the product's toasted brown color, its crunch and preventing it from getting soggy in milk — preserving what the industry refers to as “bowl life.”
General Mills has already lowered the sugar levels in its cereals marketed to children by an average of 16% since 2007 using a variety of techniques. For example, it has reduced sugar in the cereal itself and moved some of it into the coating, thereby cutting overall sugar content without affecting the perception of sweetness. It has also added flavors like vanilla and cinnamon, which enhance sweetness without the use of sweeteners.
The patent does not specify the type of high-intensity sweetener that could be used in the coating, which could affect consumer acceptability of the cereal. However, maltotriose and maltotetrose would appear on an ingredients label as maltodextrin, which may not be particularly “clean label.” The degree to which the clean label concept affects purchases in the cereal category is debatable. Maltodextrin already appears in the ingredient list of General Mills’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which is the fifth best-selling cereal in the United States.
Cereal is still the most popular breakfast food in the U.S., with 90% household penetration, but categories such as Greek yogurt, breakfast bars and protein shakes have taken a bite out of the category. Since 2009, U.S. cereal sales have dropped 17% from $12.7 billion to $10.4 billion, according to research firm IBISWorld. It is still unclear whether this is primarily from consumers looking for lower sugar options, fewer artificial ingredients, or added convenience and portability — or possibly all of the above.