Lessons in Cereal

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal addresses the many changes currently taking place in the cereal business.  Sales are flat or trending downward among major cereal companies, and consumer consumption patterns are on the decline.  The article states that more and more people are opting for other breakfast choices due to circumstances such as a desire to eat on-the-go and diets centered around more protein-rich foods earlier in the day.

The cereal industry is NOT responding to this trend by trying to get more people to eat cereal for breakfast seven days a week.  Instead, industry leaders are focusing their efforts on promoting cereal in new ways, such as a useful ingredient in other foods or a wholesome afternoon snack.  Other strategies focus on getting consumers to view cereal as at least an occasional breakfast food, if not something to eat every day.  One General Mills executive explained that, “If I can get just one more morning out of a month back to eating cereal, that’s all I need.”  This positions cereal for new niches in the market rather than trying to change developing behavioral patterns.

We can all take a lesson from the cereal companies.  How many times have we all said, “If only I could get sales back to where they were before the Recession!” or “Why aren’t the Millennials buying our products like their parents did?”  Times change, consumer preferences change, and we have to change with them.

This article is especially relevant to OrangeBoy’s work with public libraries.  Libraries are no longer the only game in town.  People have choice.  The future depends on how we shape library services as interests and behaviors shift.  Maybe Mary downloads her eBooks from Amazon, watches movies and television shows on Netflix, and reads newspapers from her tablet on the train.  She can still have a library card and a strong affiliation with the library, even though she does not use it the same way she did five years ago.  How can the library keep Mary engaged while understanding that she is not going to bring all that business back through the library’s front door?  Since she likes to read online, maybe the library can fill a void with digital magazine access through products such as Zinio.  Perhaps the library has developed a local music collection she can download from the library’s mobile-friendly website.  Or maybe she would enjoy participating in a community reading activity or attending author visits.

So talk to your customers.  You just might be pleasantly surprised with what they have to say.

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