The breakfast cereal category may be enduring its biggest slump for 100 years, but at least one innovative company is bucking the trend
Nick Barnard likes a good rant. If he’s not talking animatedly about the best oats to use in a muesli, he’s waxing lyrical about how to make a great-tasting cup of coffee, complaining about how he was robbed at the 2011 World Porridge Making Championship - or bemoaning the lack of innovation in the cereals market. “If you go down the breakfast cereal aisle it’s samey, samey, samey,” opines the Rude Health managing director. “It’s derivatives of the same thing with boxes making lairy promises of ‘naturally this’ or ‘wholegrain that’.”
Rude Health cereals contain only the best ingredients and are the absolute antithesis of these low-grade “sugary big box brands”, claims Barnard. This doesn’t mean they too can’t have mass-market appeal, though, and the brand will reach a major milestone this summer. Its 7-Grain Granola, which is already stocked by Sainsbury’s and Tesco, rolls out to Waitrose next month and Asda in August - this will be the first time one of Rude Health’s products has been stocked by all of the big four.
It’s a far cry from the company’s modest roots in the Barnards’ kitchen, where he, his wife Camilla (now the company’s marketing director) and their neighbours mixed their first batch of homemade muesli in 2005 shortly after the birth of the couple’s second child.
Camilla recalls: “I’d been eating Bran Flakes for years because I liked them and I thought that they were a decent choice, but when I looked at the salt content it was shocking. It was even worse than crisps. There was a sudden realisation that there’s a lot of purportedly good stuff out there that’s not as good as it sounds. So we set out to create better cereals.”
The muesli was soon followed by porridge, granola and last year a range of healthy snacking Thins. “The Thins came about quite by chance,” explains Camilla. “We came across the idea because we use a lot of grains. Ultimately they’re a better-tasting, thinner, more gourmet rice cake.”
For Rude Health, taste is everything. Nick says that a lot of food people buy these days “is cheating you in your mouth because it’s making you think it’s delivering but when it gets to your stomach it’s saying ‘no more’. We don’t compromise. We’re completely open and consistent about our message, which is ‘no rubbish’.” This message often takes the form of the aforementioned rants that are printed on the packaging of Rude Health’s products and published as YouTube videos on the company website.
The outspoken challenger brand’s approach is a breath of fresh air in a ‘me too’ category that’s currently struggling desperately to keep its head above water. “You only have to talk to a breakfast cereal buyer at one of the mults and they’re down in the dumps because they’re really struggling,” comments Nick. “Retailers and manufacturers have had over 100 years of continuous growth in this category and all of a sudden the train is slowing down and they don’t like it.”
Dominated by big players and dogged by over promotion, the category may well need NPD from smaller entrepreneurial companies like the Barnards’ to return to rude health.
2005: Rude Health formed in Nick and Camilla Barnard’s kitchen
2006: Company gains a listing in Planet Organic and makes first complete pallet sale to Riverford
2008: Waitrose lists all its mueslis and porridges after it rebrands
2011: Rude Health’s first snacking range, Thins, is launched. Waitrose is the first retailer to stock them
2012: The 7-Grain Granolas will become Rude Health’s first cereal to be listed in all of the big four retailers