Kellogg’s is, of course, a mighty brand. Its cereals have been consumed around the globe more than any of its rivals. Sub-brands such as Corn Flakes, Frosties and Rice Krispies are the breakfast favourites of millions.
In the late 1980s, the company had reached an all-time peak, commanding a staggering 40 per cent of the US ready-to-eat market from its cereal products alone. By that time, Kellogg’s had over 20 plants in 18 countries world wide, with yearly sales reaching above US $6 billion.
However, in the 1990s Kellogg’s began to struggle. Competition was getting tougher as its nearest rivals General Mills increased the pressure with its Cheerios brand. Kellogg’s management team was accused of being ‘unimaginative’, and of ‘spoiling some of the world’s top brands’ in a 1997 article in Fortune magazine. In core markets such as the United States and the UK, the cereal industry has been stagnant for over a decade, as there has been little room for growth.
Therefore, from the beginning of the 1990s Kellogg’s looked beyond its traditional markets in Europe and the United States in search of more cereal eating consumers. It didn’t take the company too long to decide that India was a suitable target for Kellogg’s products. After all, here was a country with over 950 million inhabitants, 250 million of whom were middle class, and a completely untapped market potential.
In 1994, three years after the barriers to international trade had opened in India; Kellogg’s decided to invest US $65 million into launching its number one brand, Corn Flakes. The news was greeted optimistically by Indian economic experts such as Bhagirat B Merchant, who in 1994 was the director of the Bombay Stock Exchange. ‘Even if Kellogg’s has only a two percent market share, at 18 million consumers they will have a larger market than in the US itself,’ he said at the time.
However, the Indian sub-continent found the whole concept of eating breakfast cereal a new one. Indeed, the most common way to start the day in India was with a bowl of hot vegetables. While this meant that Kellogg’s had few direct competitors it also meant that the company had to promote not only its product, but also the very idea of eating breakfast cereal in the first place.
The first sales figures were encouraging, and indicated that breakfast cereal consumption was on the rise. However, it soon became apparent that many people had bought Corn Flakes as a one-off, novelty purchase. Even if they liked the taste, the product was too expensive. A 500-gram box of Corn Flakes cost a third more than its nearest competitor. However, Kellogg’s remained unwilling to bow to price pressure and decided to launch other products in India, without doing any further research of the market. Over the next few years Indian cereal buyers were introduced to Kellogg’s Wheat Flakes, Frosties, Rice Flakes, Honey Crunch, All Bran, Special K and Chocos Chocolate Puffs – none of which have managed to replicate the success they have encountered in the West. Furthermore, the company’s attempts to ‘Indianize’ its range have been disastrous. Its Mazza-branded series of fusion cereals, with flavours such as mango, coconut and rose, failed to make a lasting impression.