Special K’s Gut Instinct: 5 Questions With Kellogg’s Christie Crouch

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Special K Nourish with Probiotics

The Kellogg Company has come up with a new way to attempt to shake off the sluggishness in its crucial ready-to-eat cereal business: adding gut-healthy bacteria.

This month’s debut of Special K Nourish Berries & Peaches with Probiotics makes it the first cereal from a leading U.S. brand to contain live and active probiotic cultures that are understood to flourish in the gastrointestinal tract and battle human digestive problems ranging from bloating to irritable bowel syndrome. While popular in other markets including Europe, Australia and Canada, the U.S. has been lagging in probiotics-based food options. The Kellogg Company aims to change that.

The move also is another way for Kellogg to highlight the fact that it is using nutrition-oriented innovations to redefine its cereal trade and rekindle growth for its core brands and business.

While this product launch is a critical test for Kellogg’s planned rollout of other probiotics-based food products, the Special K brand would welcome a boost after the fading of a “weight-challenge” positioning that had it flying high as a sub-brand that was popular for women looking to manage their weight.

Now it’s shifting its messaging from weight management to nutrition, health and wellness, a move that’s in keeping with how U.S. consumers (not just women) are evolving their eating and lifestyle choices. So while it’s responding to current and potential Special K customers, a cohort that is predominantly female, it’s also targeting the broader adult health-oriented segment of U.S. consumers.

Christie Crouch - The Kellogg Company“We’re really committed to providing [more] options across the line,” Christie Crouch (right), Kellogg’s director of marketing for the Special K brand, told brandchannel. “And the new cereal is the latest example of that. We see that digestive wellness overall is becoming a growing point of consumer interest. We were excited to offer a new cereal that doesn’t require refrigeration [because of the bacteria in it] and does offer probiotics for consumers.”

The new product features a peach-flavored flake and a blend of blueberries, raspberries, peaches and yogurty pieces, where the “good” bacteria of probiotics reside. It boasts 12g of whole grains per serving, so it’s a good source of fiber.

As the new Special K with probiotics hits U.S. store shelves this month, it joins a growing roster of non-dairy products that carry beneficial bacteria. Early adoption of probiotic benefits by Americans came via dairy products such as Activia yogurt by Dannon and supplement pills that typically were refrigerated.

Expect more Kellogg’s products to add probiotics, too. Executives on a recent quarterly earnings call with analysts hinted at “more transformational innovation coming to the category around the area of digestive health and convenience as we look to really stimulate adult growth within the cereal category.”

For example, the analysts were informed, “We’ll renovate and innovate against our core, with news on Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops as well as more fruit-filled Raisin Bran and Special K that moves [the company] into probiotics. This is bigger innovation activity” to happen in 2018 and beyond.

We spoke with Crouch about Special K Nourish Berries and Peaches with Probiotics for more insights into this critical product launch for the Kellogg Company.

Christie, to put this in context, how has Special K marketing evolved since the days of the Weight Loss Challenge, where consumers were invited to “drop a jeans size” by adopting a diet that included eating Special K daily?

Special K’s heritage was to help women meet overall healthy lifestyle needs. As they’re taking a more holistic approach rather than a single-minded focus only on weight, we really wanted women to know that Special K offers a variety of solutions so they can feel good about eating and that they can reflect what they’re looking for with the foods we do offer for them. We continue to reflect what we’ve always done very well: understand women’s desires when it comes to health and wellness.

As women made that shift, there was a lot for them to learn and see around what our foods do offer. We have a lot of nutrients and visibly wholesome ingredients—nuts and berries and whole grains—and ingredients that fuel her, such as fiber and iron and folic acid. And what you’re seeing is as women learn more about those nutrients and positive aspects of how our foods help meet their healthy-lifestyle needs, we’re seeing some progress and momentum in business performance for Special K.

What is the value of adding a probiotic option now to Special K, and any research you can share that points to consumer demand in the U.S. for that move?

A couple of information points were helpful to us. One was a recent Mintel study which said that a majority of adults, over 80%, do experience some type of gastrointestinal problems. And in some additional research for women about one-third agreed that probiotics were important. So it became an important benefit for us to offer.

Probiotics actually in general don’t need refrigeration. What we have found is that [consumers want to really] make sure that the cereal was delivering the delicious kind of taste she expects along with the benefit of probiotics. When they understood the berries and peaches flavor profile, the interest in those flavors in particular motivated people to be excited about the product.

This is a fresh look with blueberries, raspberries and peaches, and the combination of those flavor profiles is new for us. We like that it includes a number of the top 10 fruit flavors overall; a number of our products include just one fruit.

How do you guarantee to customers that Special K’s probiotics are alive and efficacious?

They’re contained within the yogurty pieces of the cereal, and from the delivery of the cereal we’ve formulated them to maintain their presence in the cereal throughout its shelf life. Overall, right now what we’re communicating—and based on consumer interest by women—is the probiotic benefit on the front of the pack. It clearly says the name of the product, Nourish Berries & Peaches with Probiotics, so consumers know what they’re getting, and that probiotic delivery is part of this product.

Special K Probiotics infographic

How are you marketing the debut of Special K with probiotics—and what KPIs are you tracking?

We’re shipping the product this month to support it overall through a PR announcement. As you look going forward into 2018 you’ll see it be included in a broader marketing campaign for Special K, and that will roll out in Q1. You will see the product included in the broader Special K campaign. It’s continuing on with the “Own It” campaign that we launched in May, featuring the latest offerings in our lineup.

We look at a number of different metrics and we’re excited to see some positive momentum on the business overall and in particular we look at some key products, such as Red Berries, which has seen high single-digit sales growth since the launch of the campaign.

Do you believe this will move the needle with millennials in their appreciation of cereal?

Yes, we’re very excited about the cereal as well as the overall lineup to help move the needle. We know that  millennials and women of all ages do take the more holistic approach to health and well-being. Think about the blend [of fruits] and 12g of whole grains and the addition of fiber as well as probiotics—we think that there’s a lot to excite women about their overall lifestyle, including millennials.


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