- General Mills is expanding the flavor profile of its iconic, 75-year-old Cheerios brand by introducing a pumpkin spice variety for a limited time later this year.
- Cheerios is still the No. 1 U.S. cereal brand, but it hasn't been immune to the decline of U.S. cereal sales. Since 2010, sales for regular Cheerios have fallen 18%.
- Innovation could be the answer to a turnaround for Cheerios. After launching gluten-free Cheerios last year, the brand's sales decline slowed to 0.8% in 2015, an at least five-year best for the brand, according to IRI.
This product change bypasses the health concerns that have driven other recent Cheerios innovations, such as Cheerios Protein. Instead, the brand is trying something trendier that isn't necessarily considered healthy. By choosing style (trending flavor) over function (health benefits), Cheerios could be fragmenting its loyal consumer base rather than appealing to the broader market.
Certain consumers may buy the product merely because they want to try the latest pumpkin spice-flavored product, regardless of whether they usually buy Cheerios. So Cheerios could pick up some customers there. But this is a limited-time variety, so if Cheerios doesn't hook those first-time buyers on the brand as a whole, they'll lose any opportunity of a repeat buy once that limited time is up.
Health-conscious consumers, on the other hand, may be adverse to the flavor trend. Varieties with unique health benefits may have more staying power than products that capitalize on the flavor of the week. Cheerios already introduced a strawberry variety of Cheerios this year in addition to the upcoming pumpkin spice version. Still, through flavors, manufacturers can align with industry-wide trends, and pumpkin spice has been a popular one.
Cheerios won't be the first cereal brand to hop on the pumpkin spice bandwagon. Kellogg beat General Mills to the punch with Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini-Wheats last year. And according to Kellogg execs, the launch was a success, exceeding expectations and becoming one of the top Mini-Wheat SKUs at key customers.
The Cheerios brand has better name recognition than Frosted Mini-Wheats. If pumpkin spice is still as much of a craze this year as it has been in the past, Cheerios' variety too could become a top SKU for the brand. But as a traditional legacy brand, releasing a flavor as trendy as pumpkin spice could be seen as strange, out of touch, or even evidence of the brand trying too hard. That could be perceived as lack of authenticity, and sales could disappoint.