Is it a cereal bar or a biscuit or…? Challenges for the category. And customer too.

May 1, 2013 11:50 am Published by

Last week I went to Sainsbury’s and had “Cereal Bars” on my shopping list, with some basic parameters in place I was relatively open minded to the brand, flavour and price. What I hadn’t anticipated was the complexities surrounding what should be a simple product to shop.

Without looking specifically, I noticed on a gondola end (between aisle 5&6) multi-packs of Cereal Bars on special offer. What drew my attention was the strong recognisable branding of the Special K, red on a solid white background, I recognised it immediately, it had the lion’s share of space and the low price point of £1 was definitely eye catching. Alongside this, Dorset Cereals also on special at 2 for £4, but this was out of stock. I was curious to see what Dorset Cereals had to offer so I decided to explore.


As a Shopper Insights Consultant I couldn’t help but wonder where shoppers would expect to go to find this product. But for now, I unexpectedly found the Cereal Bar category alongside biscuits in aisle 7. Even though there was “Cereal Bar” category signage I wasn’t sure of the logic of this, why biscuits? Cereal Bars are more of a bar than a biscuit therefore potentially more akin with confectionery multi-packs than biscuits. But on closer inspection I see some of the packs saying biscuit, it is a subtle differentiator and I wonder if a shopper who makes decisions in seconds would pick this up, especially as the signage was for “Cereal Bars”. Still, there was none of the brand I was now on a mission to find. I am in shopper mode, and there are alternative options in front of me for a second time.

I knew from previous category research that I needed to go to the cereal aisle, but again as a shopper I am not sure that I would follow this logic, especially as I have just seen the brand McVitie’s Breakfast Porridge Oats in the biscuit category not in cereals! On my way down the biscuit aisle I see another bay with similar products (with no category signage) between multi-packs of Kit-Kat and Snack a Jacks. This is dominated by Nature Valley Granola Bars and Geo Bars (two mention only two), this is a separate location again for reasons that are not immediately clear.

Having now reached the cereal category at the back of the store at the far end of aisle 11. I have now at last found the product I set out to find a good five aisles away and it’s the fourth location I have looked at.

This article is clearly an observation rather than a conclusive shopper insights study, but it does lead me to conclude with a number of questions:
• Who is winning with this fragmented approach? Do shoppers understand it? Retailers, brands and not least shoppers want simplicity and opportunity to see a whole range. Is this approach maximising conversion opportunity for all parties?
• What are the shopper missions for buying multi-packs of cereal bars or biscuits? Is it breakfast or lunch-box? If the latter then are multi-packs of chocolate bars a more natural category fit?
• What is the degree of impulse purchase in the cereal aisle compared to the biscuit or confectionery aisle, not to mention the gondola end? Coupled with aisle footfall variances could this drive the location decision for the category as a whole?
• Would shoppers be so persistent and brand loyal in a category with so much choice and go from one location to another? The elasticity of this drop out rate would be an interesting way to measure brand loyalty in this important and growing category.

This is clearly a difficult category for planners; there was no clear logic why on the surface, McVitie’s Porridge Oats Biscuits might be in the biscuit rather than the cereal aisle. Considering this with the fact that shoppers make purchase decisions in split seconds, seconds at most, and with significant growth in the product options available it could be suggested that a more holistic approach to the category would simplify the experience for the shopper.

Oh and for the sake of balanced research I bought lots and lots of cereal bars, the taste test is the next step….

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This post was written by Dawn Odoi

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