Kellogg is using the voodoo of grocery store layouts to sell more cereal

Meet the surprising new member of the supermarket fruits and veggies section: breakfast cereal.

By working with Midwestern supermarket chain Meijer to have its cereals placed alongside fruits in US supermarket produce sections, Kellogg is hoping its cereals experience the ‘halo effect’—in other words, consumers would associate cereal with the positive vibes of fresh produce, creating a sales boost.

“Fresh, healthy, wholesome—those are the words that come to mind,” said Craig Bahner, the president of Kellogg’s morning foods division.

Packaged foods that pair well with fruits and vegetables have a history of creeping into the produce section. Nutella has been marketed alongside bananas, and shortcakes have been planted next to strawberries.

The migration of Kellogg’s cereal into the produce aisle coincides with its new campaign to promote mixing fruit into cereal products. The company, whose cereals have suffered from a rout in cereal sales, is banking on tapping the peculiar science of grocery store layouts to revive sales.

Meijer did not return requests for comment.

The growing aversion to cereals is likely tied to consumers growing wary of sugar and artificial ingredients, and a rise in on-the-go, single-serving snacks like yogurt and snack bars.

In response, giant food manufacturers have reworked recipes of popular cereals, removing or reducing artificial flavors, gluten, and sugar—with mixed success. They’ve also produced more snack bars and breakfast products that don’t require milk. These products have mostly landed in the cereal aisle, as Kellogg used brands like Kashi to battle for market share (paywall) with its main rival, General Mills.

Getting into the produce section is a coup for Kellogg, said Andrew Wolf, a food and agribusiness analyst at BB&T Capital Markets. In the last decade, more people have opted to shop along the perimeter of the grocery store, where they’re finding fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, and breads.

“If you’re in the cereal aisle, it’s like the bad guerrilla state,” Wolf said. “It’s not getting the traffic or perceived well. There’s a lot at stake.”

If Kellogg finds success sticking its cereals next to apples, strawberries, and bananas, it could lead to a race to the perimeter and a bidding war with other cereal companies, he added.

If that happens, consumers’ diets may suffer, said Margo Wootan, the nutrition policy director at Center for Science in the Public Interest. While encouraging consumers to incorporate more fruits into their diets is important, placing cereal next to fresh produce could send the wrong message about its nutritional benefits.

“The produce aisle is the one place where you can go in the grocery store and it’ll be pretty safe that whatever you buy is going to be healthy,” Wootan said. Placing high-fiber cereals like All-Bran near the produce is one thing. But sticking “a bunch of breakfast candy near the bananas seems inappropriate,” she said.

For years the cereal aisle has been a battleground for parents, with smiley brand mascots beckoning shoppers’ children to pick up a box. Bahner said Frosted Mini-Wheats and Special K would be among the cereals to make it into the produce section.

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