Oatmeal makers call on cups, gluten-free options to heat up category.

"You’re going to love it in an instant” was a tagline popularized by the Carnation Co. back in the 1980s for its breakfast bars. Today, it’s a slogan that many hot cereal makers seem to be leaning on when it comes to product innovation.

In the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, 2015, dollar sales in the hot cereal category totaled $1,316,375,168, up 0.87% from the same period a year ago, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. Spurring the growth in many cases has been the introduction of instant oatmeal cups.

Quaker Oats, B&G Foods and Bob’s Red Mill all have launched products over the past year looking to inject even more convenience in the category.

The Quaker Oats Co., a division of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc., accounts for more than half of the hot cereal category, according to I.R.I. In the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, dollar sales at Quaker totaled $779,447,872, up nearly 4% from the same period a year ago. While the company’s staple Quaker brand did well, posting a 7% year-over-year sales gain to more than $627 million in sales, it was the Quaker Protein brand that burst on the scene.

Sales of Quaker Protein totaled $18,849,974 in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, up sharply from a year ago, according to I.R.I. Quaker Protein instant packets were introduced in 2014, and in January 2015 the company added instant cups, which have been a boon to business.

Looking to capitalize on another major food trend, Quaker on Jan. 26 introduced a line of gluten-free oatmeal. Quaker Quick 1-Minute Standard Oats, available in 18-oz canisters, has a suggested retail price of $3.99. Quaker Gluten Free Instant Oatmeal, available in single-serve pouches in original and maple and brown sugar varieties, has a suggested retail price of $4.19.

Becky Frankiewicz, Quaker
Becky Frankiewicz, senior v.p. of Quaker Foods

“At Quaker, we’re always striving to deliver products that meet families’ evolving needs,” said Becky Frankiewicz, senior vice-president of Quaker Foods. “Requests for gluten-free oats have been among the top inquiries from our consumers for the past several years.”

Oats are naturally gluten-free, but stray wheat, rye, barley and spelt may be introduced into the oats supply chain during farming, storing and transportation. Quaker said its millers have removed stray grains to deliver oats that meet Food and Drug Administration gluten-free standards. Quaker also said it performs multiple quality checks throughout the milling process up through finished product testing.

Bob’s Red Mill is another company eyeing the gluten-free oatmeal segment. The Milwaukie, Ore.-based company last fall introduced gluten-free instant cup oatmeal.

Matthew Cox, Bob's Red Mill
Matthew Cox, v.p. of sales and marketing at Bob’s Red Mill

“Consumer response to our new gluten-free oatmeal cups has been extremely positive,” said Matthew Cox, vice-president of sales and marketing at Bob’s Red Mill. “While the gluten-free community is a big audience, we also are seeing demand from those who don’t adhere to gluten-free diets — really the cups are for anyone looking for an easy and nutritious hot whole grain breakfast to complement a busy lifestyle. We go the extra mile to ensure the absence of gluten so that all who want to enjoy our oatmeal cups can do so.

“We’re also receiving positive feedback about the flavors of the oatmeal cups and about the texture of the cooked oatmeal. One recurring theme is the amazement in how the three-minute cooking time delivers a satisfying, home cooked texture. For popular flavors, blueberry hazelnut and apple cinnamon take the lead. Sales are brisk, and we are excited to keep spreading the word about theses new options to oatmeal fans.”

Last fall, Bob’s Red Mill introduced gluten-free instant cup oatmeal.

The actions of Quaker and Bob’s Red Mill are in contrast to Minneapolis-based General Mills, which in September announced it was halting production of its Gluten-Free Chex Oatmeal. The product, which was available in original, apple cinnamon and maple brown sugar flavors, was introduced in 2014.

“Our oatmeal products were not meeting performance expectations, and as a result, some major retailers decided to no longer carry the product,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We are no longer producing any new oatmeal.”

In the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, sales of Gluten-Free Chex Oatmeal totaled $8,723,211, according to I.R.I.

B&G Foods, Parsippany, N.J., hopes to reach millennials through the launch of instant Cream of Wheat cups, which debuted in August 2015.

Cream of Wheat cups, B&G Foods
B&G Foods hopes to reach millennials through the launch of instant Cream of Wheat cups.

“This is a launch to try to get (Cream of Wheat) more relevant to the younger consumer, getting the younger consumer to take this to work, eat it on the go,” Robert Cantwell, president and chief executive officer, said last fall. “It’s a better-for-you product.”

He said B&G has experienced “tremendous reception at retailers” with the instant Cream of Wheat cups since their roll-out in August.

Overall, dollar sales of Cream of Wheat hot cereal totaled $67,546,232 in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, down 2% from the same period a year ago, according to I.R.I. However, sales of Cream of Rice hot cereal, which targets the gluten-free consumer, moved up nearly 12% during the period to $4,330,943.