Starbucks may soon have competition for consumers’ "third place," after home and the office. Near the University of Pennsylvania campus in downtown Philadelphia stands the Cereality Cereal Bar & Caf, an 1,800 sq. ft. "restaurant" that recreates an experience customers of all ages cherish: Saturday mornings in front of the TV, inhaling bowls of Corn Flakes or Cheerios.
There, students from around the country congregate to chow down on cold and hot cereal served just the way they want it— with extra marshmallows, fresh bananas and a full menu of other toppings, if they so desire. But students have plenty of company, including faculty members, cops on the beat and families in their pajamas and slippers, according to David Roth, president and CEO of Cereality Operators Inc. (Boulder, CO).
"Cereality is a neutral place for people to come—it’s the Switzerland of cereal retail," says Roth, who co-founded the company and created the store concept with Chief Creative Officer Rick Bacher. "For that brief moment, when they’re sitting there spooning a mouthful of cereal, they feel good. They don’t have to learn anything new to enjoy it—they don’t have to learn a new ‘language.’ This is familiar to them."
Roth and Bacher started the concept with a small kiosk store in Tempe, AZ, on the Arizona State University campus. The pair modeled Cereality after the kitchen seen in the syndicated sitcom Seinfeld, with a touch of home-style design from Martha Stewart (pre-incarceration). The concept took off in many ways at ASU: More than 75% of its customers came in every day; and the restaurant had close to 0% turnover in its first year.
Philadelphia would be the next stop on the tour. The Philly restaurant, however, looks much different. It maintains the Seinfeld-esque design elements but has more room for a familystyle table, plenty of comfy couches, counterrails for laptops and a big-screen TV tuned to cartoons. Cereal boxes from all the major players stare down the customer from open-faced cabinets. Everything about the concept, from the milk-bottle themed bistro lamps to the cereal art decorating the walls, "merchandises" the facility and creates interest for the customer. Clearly, Cereality is not just about the cereal—it’s about the total experience, according to Chief Operating Officer Tim Casey.
"People come here and they can enjoy things they probably couldn’t as a kid," says Casey, who worked for 7-Eleven, Circle K and Starbucks before joining Cereality. "They can get extra marshmallows in their Lucky Charms, or they can get extra Lucky Charms on their Lucky Charms. People talk about their cereal when they’re in here in a very unique way."
Fulfilling more than a single daypart
Humans can’t subsist on cereal alone, and the braintrust behind Cereality knew that going in. The company optimized its menu to cater to all dayparts, serving not only hot and cold cereals, but cereal bars, trail mixes, parfaits customized with cereal toppings and a unique kind of blended drink called a Slurreality.
"There’s something about the milk left at the end of a bowl that people love, and that was the inspiration for the Slurreality," Roth says. "At our Arizona location, Slurrealities represent 20% of our business."
Roth believes the concept can work in several different environments— including convenience stores and possibly mobile operations. He’s quick to note that a scaled-down Cereality operation with a limited selection won’t work; the experience needs to be maintained. Presently, Cereality is focusing on "smart growth," solely with company-operated restaurants, and getting the right people to manage that growth. Casey says people— employees and customers—will steer the expansion process.
"When I was with 7-Eleven, it was instilled in me the need for great people skills, and you can transition that to any business," he says. "Here, the customer already has the relationship with the cereal and the milk. People know the experience and feel comfortable here. It has become a gathering point for the community because you can’t come here and not smile."
Slurp your CEREAL
Cereal is, like, totally cool. And it seems as though consumers young and old are finding new reasons to eat it. Mothballed sitcom Seinfeld made it hip to eat cereal for dinner, and many people have returned to doing just that in the wake of the low-carb trend that left some manufacturers sweating over the long-term viability of high-starch cereal brands.
People are also finding new ways to consume cereal. What started as a cereal bar has evolved into the next logical progression—a drink that mimics the cereal " leftovers," as in the milk left over in the bowl at the end of a meal. That’s the logic behind Liquid Cereal (above), a slurpable, shelf-stable drink that blends real cereal and fat-free milk to create a drinkable snack.
Debuting in four different colorful flavors—Fruit (modeled after Fruit Loops), Apple & Cinnamon (Apple Jacks), Peanut Butter (Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch) and Chocolate (Cocoa Puffs)—11-oz. Liquid Cereal cans are available as singles and as four-packs. According to its creator Brain Twist (www.brain-twist.com), each can of Liquid Cereal has fewer calories but more protein than a traditional bowl of cereal.
But bowl-and-spoon cereals are also experiencing somewhat of a rebirth. Manufacturers like General Mills have introduced alternate versions of popular cereals, using whole grains to capitalize on healthier lifestyle trends. General Mills increased the whole grain content of many of its cereals— namely Trix, Golden Grahams, Lucky Charms and Rice Chex—while matching or improving taste across the board.