Breakfast cereal makers blame falling sales on workers eating at their desk. That may be better than a bowl of salty, sugary junk
Pity the poor cereal manufacturers. After decades of growth, with Britons crunching and sucking their way through bowl after bowl of heavily processed grain made palatable by salt and sugar and afforded spurious claims of nutrition by “fortifying” vitamins, something has changed. Sales of Crunchy Nut are down 15% by volume in the last year alone, Special K by almost 10%. Even Corn Flakes have suffered a drop.
Instead, people are apparently buying yoghurt drinks, cereal bars, pastries and “breakfast biscuits”, ingesting these in front of computer screens in what one execrable specimen of humanity has shudderingly termed a “deskfast” (the term is contradictory as well as stupid: a “deskfast” would of course mean not eating at one’s desk). Nonetheless, opines a spokesman from one cereal manufacturer: “The culture of eating breakfast at the desk is on the increase. Recession always leads to longer office hours, so with workers spending more time at their desk, products need to be fast.”
There are two possible factors at play here. One is the explanation offered by the cereal industry: that so shackled are we to our precariously held jobs, none of us have time to tinkle some flakes into a bowl and slosh a bit of milk on them (this thesis is somewhat undermined by the fact that porridge sales have increased over the same period: even speedy microwave porridge takes longer to prepare than a bowl of Coco Pops). The second explanation – and the one I prefer – is that more people are realising what overpriced, unhealthy junk most breakfast cereals are.
The facts are well documented. Frosties are 37% sugar, Rice Krispies 10% and Corn Flakes 8%. Special K, which is marketed at people who want to lose weight, is 17% sugar. The superb BBC documentary The Foods that Make Billions revealed how canny and relentless marketing convinced ordinary people that a bowl of Corn Flakes was a nutritious start to the day – and how dazzling are the margins made on the raw materials.
But just suppose that the cereal industry is right, and that nobody has time to eat breakfast at home any more. Is this such a bad thing? There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with munching a croissant at the bus stop. Many people are at their most efficient first thing in the morning: the sooner they get to work, the better. The problem is that many of the new, popular, time-saving breakfast foods – such as cereal bars – are often of dubious nutritional value and almost always jacked with sugar and salt.
It shouldn’t be difficult to eat a quick and healthy breakfast midweek. Mine are usually oat-based: muesli for most of the year (I used to make my own in a fit of expensive, tie-dye madness, but now buy Jordan’s), porridge in winter. Toast, butter and jam takes all of three minutes and can be made at the same time as a cup of tea. A ripe avocado or a fat tomato in summer, a pinch of salt and a little olive are lovely, healthier alternatives to sugary spread. Smoked salmon still feels like a treat, especially on a rainy Tuesday. Homemade granola is far easier than you might think and keeps for weeks. The weekends are for fry-ups, eggs benedict, french toast, kedgeree or kippers, a jug of bloody mary. But if more of us are abandoning cereal, grrrreat.