As manufacturers look to revitalise a lacklustre cereal category and win back the growing number of "breakfast skippers" in the US, they are increasingly focusing on convenient options such as breakfast drinks. However, could those preparing to compete in this burgeoning sub-sector be embarking on a rocky road? Katy Askew argues breakfast drinks do not necessarily represent a silver bullet as the industry looks to provide the US breakfast category with a much needed shot in the arm.

Following a successful trial, Kellogg is preparing a nation-wide roll-out of its Kellogg's To Go breakfast drink in the US.

The move is Kellogg's response to changing consumption patterns and represents an attempt to win over the largest US "breakfast skipper" consumer groups, young adults and teens. According to the company, 20% and 17% of these group's regularly skip breakfast.

Changing lifestyles is a major driver for the growing trend to skip breakfast, according to IRI senior insights manager Leon Palmer. "People are not sitting down to eat breakfast like they used to," he suggests.

This has prompted growing competition from more convenient breakfast options that do not require people to sit down with milk and spoon in hand. "We are witnessing growth in adjacent categories such as morning goods, cereal bars, breakfast biscuits and instant porridge as time-pressured consumers seek more convenient breakfast solutions," Palmer explains.

So, as breakfast manufactures search for new growth opportunities, breakfast drinks might seem a natural extension of this trend.

In its press release, Kellogg reaches out to "moms and her skippers" and emphasises the importance of starting the day "with a full tank". Kellogg highlights that its new drinkable breakfast is offering an "on-the-go nutritious option", containing 13g of protein and 5g fibre. 

However, even as the cereal giant moves to develop demand and grow this emerging sub-category, it already seems there could be trouble on the horizon.

Look to Australia, the home of drinkable breakfast products: Santarium's Up & Go has pioneered, grown and dominated the market since its launch 15 years ago, selling 34m litres through supermarkets in the past 12 months. However, breakfast drink products have come under increasing scrutiny in the country and, earlier this week, consumer group Choice hit out at manufacturers for pedalling a product that it said is high in sugar, associated with "shoddy" health claims - such as high in protein - and is frequently targeted at kids.

Interestingly, Choice's survey of 23 products across six brands included Kellogg's Nutrigrain breakfast drink sold in Australia.

The argument has clear shades of the sustained and damaging criticism that has been levelled at the breakfast cereal category. Concerns over the nutritional content of cereal has arguably been a contributing factor to the sluggish nature of boxed cereal sales. Health campaigners have linked cereals marketed in particular to children to the growing obesity crisis, with the suggestion that they are high in sugar and salt and low in nutrients now widespread.

While many manufacturers have responded by reformulating products to boost their health profile, the jury is still out on how successful such attempts (which one could cynically argue aim to pacify campaigners as much as improve the nation's diet) have been.

According to a recent report published by the Yale Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity, food manufacturers have made progress on reformulating cereals to contain less sugar and salt: 13 of the 14 brands marketed to children in the US were reformulated for the better - 45% had less sodium, 32% had less sugar, and 23% had more fibre.

However, lead researcher Jennifer Harris was quick to emphasise the limitations of the progress made. "Children still get one spoonful of sugar in every three spoonfuls of cereal. These products are not nutritious options that children should consume every day."

In last month's just-food management briefing, we took a look at the trends shaping the US cereal category. The conclusion we came to was that there are some growth spot in a category that is culturally off-trend. In particular, we found demand for natural, organic, nutrient-dense and gluten-free products is growing. Significantly, these products are all viewed as healthier options that help consumers "stay fuller for longer".

Industry pundits have been critical of the speed at which larger food manufacturers have responded. James Richardson, senior VP at Hartman Strategy, argues that - while the cereal majors do have brands that cater to these areas - they have focused on marketing existing ranges and line extensions, instead of true innovation.

Sure, on the one hand, breakfast drinks are convenient. 

But, on the other, they represent a new format that is facing increasing competition from other new formats that meet more traditional views of "breakfast" while remaining convenient, such as biscuits, bars, and so on. And, unless the nutritional profile of these products is up to scratch, they miss the mark when it comes to tapping into demand for healthier options. 

It seems, then, that there are potential challenges ahead for a product that has been tipped for some time as affording the potential to grow sales in a weak market.

This comment piece originally appeared on just-drinks' sister site, just-food.