Q&A   //   February 8, 2022

‘Health and wellness culture has evolved’: How cereal brand Kashi modernized its marketing to stay relevant

As interest in health foods grows, older brands are looking to stay relevant to consumers’ evolving tastes.  One example is breakfast food brand Kashi, which was founded in 1984 and was acquired by Kellogg’s in 2000.

Throughout the early 2000s, Kashi became synonymous with its Go Lean line’s ads, which targeted health-conscious and outdoors-loving demographics. But over the years, Kashi has revamped its marketing, as well as some of its cereals, waffles and other breakfast food, to cater to more mainstream consumers.

Kashi’s director of brand marketing, Melanie Hall, argues that the brand is one of the earliest examples of better-for-you cereal. However the category’s growth has had some ebbs and flows as breakfast trends evolved over the decades, she said. “We want to keep the convenience, taste and fun personality,” Hall explained. “But we also want to deliver high fiber and other nutrients in cereal that doesn’t taste like cardboard.” 

Over the two years, the company introduced new versions of its existing cereal and frozen waffle lines that more overtly spoke to new consumer trends. For example, it unveiled its Kashi GO Keto, which has ​12 grams of plant-based protein. In mid-2020, Kashi also debuted a new line of protein-packed waffles. Both of these launches required a new approach to marketing.

The company’s updated marketing efforts also dovetail with cereal’s recent comeback, which was boosted by more Americans eating breakfast at home during the coronavirus. According to a February 2021 Bloomberg report, in 2020 cereal sales hit a record that was previously broken in 1973. Moreover, young consumers have taken interest in new formulations, such as keto-friendly and protein-packed cold cereals, that have become further popularized by startups like Magic Spoon and Three Wishes. While Kellogg’s doesn’t break out Kashi’s sales, last May CEO Steven Cahillane pointed to the new keto-friendly Kashi Go as one of the company’s lines “showing very strong velocities already.” 

In an interview with Modern Retail, Hall spoke about the role of Kashi’s latest product launches, growing marketing efforts and tapping into consumers’ latest interest in better-for-you foods. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

As an established breakfast brand, how do you approach promoting Kashi among the increasingly crowded category?
Health and wellness culture has evolved a lot in the U.S. over recent decades. In the past, the health food movement was more exclusive, but has become more embraced by all — which has led to all different diet trends. 

One of the things we’re focusing on is making healthy eating approachable and enjoyable. When Kashi started, it was tapping into the organic and sustainability ethos, and we pioneered an entire grocery store aisle through that. Some of our earliest campaigns focused on how to make healthy eating more fun.

Now it’s about modernizing that, so it’s not just the surfing ads you used to see from the brand.

The breakfast cereal category has been challenged by several trends, including keto, paleo and gluten-free diets. How is Kashi keeping up with changing consumer tastes?
One way we’re offering more options is with our no sugar added line, Simply Raisin, which launched last year. The line came out during our last cycle but it’s doing well so far. It sparked adventurous curiosity on what else we can do in the low sugar space.

Our new maple waffle cereal just began shipping, and that has an all-family appeal and is non-GMO, like all our other products. We’re constantly looking at where else we can be innovative in that space to lower the sugar in our products. 

What are some changes you are making to help the brand appeal to a more diverse consumer base?
We’ve been looking at ways to reach a broader audience through various programs. For example, in October we updated our Hearts to Oats and cinnamon oats cereal so that they’re eligible to participate in the Women, Infants and Children [WIC] program. 

Another part of our new focus is on accessibility. We’re also launching new packaging, so you’ll start to see a different look and feel to our products. That will also include us investing in U.S. carbon offset programs that also help local communities.

How else is Kashi’s marketing evolving to reflect the changing customer base?
We’re shifting more to digital and trying to figure out how to meet people online. They [consumers] are now on TikTok, Pinterest and Instagram — and not just network television. So we think: ‘who do we partner with to tell our story?’

Last year, we looked at some smaller brands to collaborate with. Like when we relaunched our new waffles, we did a collaboration with the Trade Street Jam Company, which happens to sell jams with low sugar.  

We’ll also be launching on TikTok this year, which is a first for us. We’re also expanding our Instagram Reels efforts to better describe our foods’ taste.

Lastly, we want to do more partnerships with influencers who can talk about our products and showcase creative ways to enjoy Kashi.