Like most specialty foods, breakfast cereal is the result of a kitchen accident rather than deliberate planning. The brothers, who worked as a superintendent and a bookkeeper at a local sanitarium, were experimenting with various diets and accidentally discovered the process for making delicious and crunchy cereal.
After several name changes, the company that eventually became the Kellogg Company has grown into a multinational organization selling its breakfast treats in 180 countries. Over the decades, both the ingredients and the recipe have changed significantly: Originally intended as diet food, and later with large amounts of sugar added, the company has now refocused on healthy eating.
In this article, we take a look beyond the controversial founders to learn how a small cereal company became a Fortune 500 corporation and what its business looks like today.
A few key facts about Kellogg's:
- The Kellogg Company was founded in 1906.
- Kellogg's employs 31,000 people around the world.
- Kellogg's reported $13.77 billion net sales for 2020.
- The gross profit in 2020 was 3% of net sales.
- In 2020, the company spent $780 million on marketing.
- Kellogg's is marketed in 180 countries around the world.
- The company sells 54 different products.
- The Kellogg Company spends less than 1% of its revenue on Research and Development.
The Story Of The Kellogg Company
Two brothers, a sanitarium, and a kitchen accident
The Seventh-day Adventists are a church group founded in the 1860s that preaches strict vegetarianism (and a ban on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs). The Kellogg brothers, Will Keith Kellogg and John Harvey Kellogg were among the church's most ardent followers and made every effort to live a lifestyle consistent with religious observances. The meat was not part of their diet, so they tried to spice up their otherwise rather monotonous meals with a variety of grains. The monotony stemmed not from the ban on meat, but from the fact that John Harvey liked a hard meal and, along with Seventh-day Adventists, was a staunch follower of Sylvester Graham, the inventor of graham crackers and graham flour. He held that salt, sugar, and various spices should be avoided, in addition to meat, because they cause undesirable passions in the human body.
The Kellogg brothers ran a large and popular resort sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan, where patients were required to follow a strict diet in addition to regular enemas and exercise. According to some contemporary accounts, the spa was a transition between a luxury hotel and a military training camp. Methods included ice-cold showers, frequent enemas, and the use of bizarre devices of the spa's own design.
But the severity with which he treated his patients did not stop celebrities of the time from turning to Kellogg for their health. Female aviation legend Amelia Earhart and Hungarian-born Olympian Johnny Weissmuller, who played the first Tarzan, were among the patients who had access to Kellogg's sanatorium, and automobile magnate Henry Ford also willingly submitted to the doctor's will. It was here that cornflakes were born - initially from wheat.
The idea for cereal did not come first from Kellogg's. The idea came from Dr. James Caleb Jackson, who made the first dry granola in 1863, which he called "granola." It was not particularly successful until the Kellogg Company finally made the real breakthrough with sweetened cereals.
The Kelloggs found the recipe for success by accident: they had accidentally left a batch of grain in the soaker, but, short of cash, decided to use the shaken-up raw material. The wet grains were then pressed together to produce the distinctive flakes, which were initially offered to "invalids with digestive problems", constipation or other problems resulting from overly fatty, salty, or spicy American cuisine, and excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption.
How Will took over the family business
Will also realized he could make better quality by using much tastier corn instead of less exciting-tasting grains, and with his excellent business sense, he realized the market was not just people with stomach problems, but almost anyone who wanted a quick and convenient nutritious breakfast.
As soon as guests left the sanitarium, hundreds of mail-order requests from them were made for flaked wheat. Will was forbidden by Dr. John Harvey to distribute cereal beyond the boundaries of his consumers. Consequently, the brothers fell out, and Will founded Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company on February 19, 1906. He persuaded his brother to give him the rights to the product, which was then developed and produced by his company, and renamed the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1909, later becoming the Kellogg Company in 1922.
Turning the company into a responsible organization
"I'll invest in people," Will declared as the United States plunged into the Depression in 1930. The company split shifts and hired new workers. He also established his own foundation (named after him), which still exists today, to give poor children a start in life. For further commitment to people, Kellogg began displaying cereals' nutritional information on their boxes, so customers knew exactly what they were eating.
The company’s engineers helped manufacture supplies in Kellogg's machine shops during World War II and produced K-rations for the US military overseas. Introducing Kellogg's Raisin Bran helped the company bring new whole-grain cereal to life, helping America get more nutrition.
In 1969, while Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the Kellogg Company provided breakfast for them.
From the late 60s, the company invested more (but as later turned out, not enough) in marketing and expanded its advertising activities to television. This has been one of the busiest periods of the company’s history with events including:
- Sunday morning TV shows used the slogan "Kellogg's puts more into your day" from 1969 to 1970.
- As of 1977, Kellogg's had acquired Salada Foods, Fearn International, Mrs. Smith's Pies, Eggo, and Pure Packed Foods, among others. The company was later criticized for not diversifying further as its competitors did at that time.
Kellogg's market share in the US dropped to 36.7% in 1983 after it underspent on marketing and product development. Wall Street analysts called it "a fine company that's past its prime".
The overall market reception encouraged Kellogg chairman William LaMothe to improve, which primarily involved marketing cereals to the 80 million baby boomers rather than children. As a result of emphasizing cereal's convenience and nutritional value, Kellogg's helped increase cereal consumption among US consumers aged 25 to 49 by 26% over the last five years.
In 1983, the US ready-to-eat cereal market was worth $3.7 billion, but by 1988, it had grown to $5.4 billion and had expanded three times as fast as average grocery categories. In addition to Crispix, Raisin Squares, and Nutri-Grain Biscuits, Kellogg's introduced Just Right for Australians and Genmai Flakes for Japanese consumers. The company, which marketed largely children's cereals, maintained a competitive edge over its top competitors: General Mills and Post, which faced challenges in the adult cereal market.
Preparing for the future with acquisitions
Kellogg's bought Keebler in 2001 for $3.87 billion, while also cutting 470 jobs at the same time. The company has also acquired Morningstar Farms and Kashi over the years. In addition, the company owns Bear Naked, Natural Touch, Cheez-It, Murray, Austin cookies and crackers, Famous Amos, Gardenburger (acquired in 2007), and Plantation brands.
As part of a cash transaction, Kellogg's acquired Pringles from Procter & Gamble in 2012 for $2.7 billion, becoming the world's second-largest snack food company (after PepsiCo). 5 years later, Rxbar, a simple food company in Chicago, was acquired for $654 million.
Ferrero SpA announced on April 1, 2019, that they would be acquiring Famous Amos, Murray's, Keebler, Mother's, and Little Brownie Bakers from Kellogg’s. The acquisition deal was completed later that year. The Kellogg Company kept the Keebler cracker line but brought it under the Kellogg's brand umbrella.
The Kellogg brothers were unable to settle their cornflakes dispute until their deaths, and their relationship was forever damaged after they started their own company. But this personal tragedy does not diminish their joint achievement of inventing one of the world's most famous and beloved foods.
From the company's history, it's clear that Will, a skilled accountant, quickly understood what they needed. Kellogg's needed to capture more and more markets. After focusing on specific regions, the company moved on to targeted market segmentation - primarily targeting children and their parents with its products.
Kellogg’s Brands And Flagship Products
Who owns the company today?
Today, Kellogg’s is among the largest food manufacturing and grocery holdings companies traded on the stock exchange. The major shareholders of the company are the following, according to Market Screener.
The world's largest food and beverage brands are controlled by about ten companies. These companies are:
And, of course, Kellogg’s.
The Company’s brands include Kellogg’s, Keebler, Pop-Tarts, Eggo, Cheez-It, All-Bran, Mini-Wheats, Nutri-Grain, Rice Krispies, Special K, Chips Deluxe, Famous Amos, Sandies, Austin, Club, Murray, Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger and Stretch Island.
Kellogg’s flagship products
According to a study by IRI Worldwide in 2017, Kellogg’s had a share of 30.01% in the US breakfast cereals market. This was because the company produced 4 out of the 10 favorite bowls of cereal:
- Raisin Bran
- Frosted Mini Wheats
- Fruit Loops
- Frosted Flakes
The American Biscuit & Manufacturing Company was founded in 1890 by 33 Midwest and western bakers. The goal of consolidation, i.e., the merger of small, local companies, was to oust the two largest U.S. companies from the top of the market. The American Biscuit and New York Biscuit groups tried to eliminate the competition by opening bakeries in each other's areas and lowering prices. The National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) was formed by combining 114 factories in February 1898.
As a member of Nabisco's Board of Directors, Joseph Loose created the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company in Kansas City in 1902, along with his brother Jacob and John H. Wiles. They imagined a factory that was filled with sunlight, so they called their products SUNSHINE. The company began expanding, opening plants in Boston and then New York.
It took Loose-Wiles forty years to dissuade other companies from using the term "sunshine" or any related term in products or advertising because it did not register its brand name. Sunshine Biscuit, Inc. finally became the official name of the Loose-Wiles Company in 1946.
The company developed new products and acquired established brands from smaller competitors in the early part of its history. There are many products and their names that resemble those of their biggest competitor, the National Biscuit Company.
The company was purchased by the American Tobacco Company in 1966. Following the sale to GF Industries, a privately held California company, the company merged with Keebler in 1996. In 2001, it joined Kellogg's group, already part of Keebler.
Cheez-It snack crackers, as well as Krispy Crackers saltines, are Sunshine's best-known products.
Frank Dorsa developed a process for cooking, freezing, and packaging waffles in San Jose, California. In 1953, similar to Kellogg’s, the Dorsa family came up with Eggo frozen waffles as "Froffles" (putting together the words "frozen" and "waffle"). A waffle iron was not necessary to prepare frozen waffles, which immediately made the product unique to the market.
Customers called them Eggos because of the egg flavor. As more and more people started calling their frozen waffle products Eggos, the owning family realized it was worth taking the opportunity to rename the company.
Eggo potato chips (and Golden Bear potato chips) and Eggo syrup were also produced by the Dorsa brothers, in addition to frozen waffles. In San Jose, CA, a sprawling plant and factory on Eggo Way produced all of the products. As active members of their local community, the Dorsas donated a great deal to local schools and community projects.
Kellogg Company acquired Eggo in 1968 as a means of diversifying. Through their television commercials, their advertising slogan "L'eggo my Eggo" was developed in 1972.
The Eggo brand of breakfast cereals is shaped like waffles and is produced by Kellogg's. It comes in flavors such as maple syrup and cinnamon toast. Originally produced from 2006 to 2012, the brand was reintroduced in 2019 following a successful campaign.
Fredric J. Baur (1918-2008) was tasked by Procter & Gamble in 1956 with creating a new kind of potato chip in response to consumer complaints about broken, greasy, and stale chips, as well as air in the bags. A canister was selected as the container for the saddle-shaped chips that Baur created from fried dough for two years. Pringles chips have a saddle shape known as a hyperbolic paraboloid.
Baur's work was restarted by P&G researchers in the mid-1960s, and they succeeded in improving the taste. The patent name on the Pringles chip is Liepa's, not Baur's, even though Baur designed the chip's shape. The machine that cooks them was developed by Gene Wolfe, an author and mechanical engineer. Pringles were first sold in Indiana in 1968 by P&G. Throughout most of the US, they were available by 1975, and internationally by 1991.
The product was originally called crisps, but due to a competitor's veto, the product was eventually required to include the words crisps made from dried potatoes. However, for understandable reasons, the company could not easily use this name in its advertising, so it was changed to "crisps".
The deal would have more than tripled the size of Diamond Foods' snack business if it were to sell the brand to P&G in April 2011. After a year-long delay, Diamond's accounts caused the deal to collapse in February 2012. As part of its strategy to grow its international snack business, The Kellogg Company acquired Pringles for $2.695 billion on May 31, 2012. As a result of its acquisition of Pringles, Kellogg became now the world's second-largest snack company.
Pringles has five plants worldwide as of 2015: in the US, in Belgium, in Malaysia, in Poland, and China.
Paul Wenner developed the Gardenburger at his vegetarian restaurant, The Gardenhouse, in Oregon, around the early 1980s. In March 1985, Wholesome & Hearty Foods, Inc., was incorporated. Paul Wenner and Allyn Smaaland received their first funding as part of a venture capital investment program of Louisiana-Pacific Corp. As a result, L-P took a controlling stake in the company immediately. About a year later, the company received a second round of venture capital financing. Despite filing for bankruptcy in 2005, Gardenburger continued to operate by becoming privately owned.
It announced in 2006 that it would remove eggs from all of its products, except for one item sourced privately, which now contains organic, cage-free eggs. In 2006, the company renamed itself Wholesome & Hearty Foods. A year later, Kellogg’s acquired the company to broaden and diversify its portfolio.
The Kellogg's Company has been very involved in product development since its founding. Without it, the breakfast cereal market would not exist - although it should be added that countless studies have shown that these products have contributed greatly to the morbid obesity of American children. However, the company's strategy was clear: drive product development through the creation of new brands and acquisitions.
Today, Kellogg's has developed a complex portfolio of products and brands that includes all types of breakfast and snack foods - from frozen waffles to hamburgers.
The most famous of the acquired brands are undoubtedly Pringles, which reformed the potato chip market with its distinctive shape and flavor. In almost a decade, the group has become one of the strongest brands in the industry.
The Outline Of The Company’s Strategy
The Kellogg’s Better Days program
Kellogg's Better Days, Kellogg's signature purpose platform, has provided 3 billion servings of food to people in need since 2013. As part of Kellogg's commitment to increase ambition in 2019, the company captured a wider range of goals and aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Kellogg will address food security and create Better Days for 3 billion people by 2030 through its updated program goals. To drive positive change for people, communities, and the planet, the company focuses on wellbeing, hunger relief, and climate resilience. Kellogg's specifically supports:
- Delivering nutrients of need to 1 billion people while addressing hidden hunger.
- Providing food donations and expanded child-feeding programs to 375 million people in need.
- Achieving science-based targets, sourcing ingredients responsibly, reducing organic waste, and providing sustainable packaging while supporting 1 million farmers and workers across the value chain.
- Advancing the values of the founder by advocating for children facing hunger, encouraging employee volunteering, ensuring an ethical supply chain, and supporting diversity and inclusion.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, food companies have run into serious difficulties as labor shortages have led to sharp price fluctuations in the commodity market. Kellogg's normally sources its raw materials from local growers but says it is increasingly reliant on imports. To compensate, Kellogg's is gradually extending contracts with its suppliers, tying up capacity in advance to ensure predictability and planning.
The trend in the international market is that the strong fluctuations in raw material prices mainly affect the US market, so Kellogg's other factories can continue to operate smoothly.
Research and Development
At the WK Kellogg Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Battle Creek, Michigan, and other locations around the world, researchers support and expand the use of existing products and develop new products. Despite having a dedicated research institute dedicated to food quality, safety, and new product development, the company spends surprisingly little: 2020-$135; 2019-$144; 2018-$154.
Food scientists at Kellogg's world-class research facility develop innovative breakfast foods that meet consumers' expectations for taste, nutrition, and convenience.
Nine conference rooms, a boardroom, a 120-seat auditorium, a 3-story atrium, a stainless steel staircase, and state-of-the-art technology are all included in the new building. As a result, the WK Kellogg Institute consolidates the Company's global food research efforts in one location. This enables Kellogg researchers and technical experts to better share knowledge while enabling new products to be introduced to consumers more quickly.
Equity and diversity within human resources
Kellogg established a separate, independent Diversity & Inclusion Office in 2005. A major focus of this internal organization has been to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, create awareness about diversity issues, foster a supportive, inclusive work environment, and embed accountability for diversity across all lines of business. The company strives to reflect the diversity of its consumers. ED&I (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) is reported directly to the Board of Directors periodically.
This organization is divided into 8 different Business Employee Resource Groups:
- KVets and Supporters
- Kellogg Multinational Employee Resource Group
- Kellogg’s Young Professionals
- Kellogg African American Resource Group
- Women of Kellogg
- Hola (Latino resource group)
- KPride & Allies (LBGTQ+ resource group)
- Kapable (support group for people with disabilities).
Risk assessment with a COVID-19 focus
Kellogg's is being unusually open about the risks that management sees in COVID-19 and the economic difficulties that have followed in its wake, mainly, of course, under pressure from and for the information of its shareholders.
In its annual report, the company cites the negative impact of COVID -19 on the supply chain as the biggest risk. Forced shutdowns due to regulatory quarantine and illnesses within the company (including Kellogg Company subcontractors) make it very difficult to meet order backlog. This applies primarily to the US but could affect any other country if the outbreak worsens.
A decline in national and global economic conditions, as well as volatility in financial markets, could have a variety of effects on the business and operations, including the following:
- In economic downturns, consumers may opt for cheaper or more generic offerings or may forego certain purchases altogether, which could result in lower sales revenue or a shift in product mix to lower profit offerings, adversely affecting business results.
- As a result of disruptions or uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kellogg’s could be hindered in efforts to reduce operating costs, both in the supply chain and in overhead, and the ability to implement strategic plans and initiatives.
- Currency translation losses and currency transaction losses would result if the US dollar strengthened relative to foreign currencies in the countries where the company operates.
- As a result of illness or government restrictions, a considerable portion of the workforce may not be able to work.
- Because many of Kellogg's employees work remotely, Kellogg's is increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks due to its reliance on information technology systems.
- Due to illness, government restrictions, or other workforce disruptions, a manufacturing, warehousing, or distribution facility may close down, or the supply chain may be disrupted.
- As a result of reduced in-store visits and travel restrictions, it's difficult to modify trade promotion and advertising activities effectively.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment may lead to a decrease in demand for products.
- A significant increase in commodity and other input prices could have a substantial impact on the results of operations.
- Volatility in equity markets or interest rates can significantly affect the cost of pensions and the required contribution.
Numerous measures have been taken by the Company to help fulfill key objectives and reduce industry-related risks during the pandemic:
- Keeping employees healthy and safe.
- Produce and deliver food safely to consumers and customers.
- Kellogg's supports the communities in which it operates.
- Flexibility in financial matters.
- This process involved close collaboration with medical, regulatory, and other experts.
Among the above measures, maintaining financial flexibility is discussed most openly. According to Kellogg’s, operating activities are expected to generate $1.6 billion in cash for the company in 2021, while capital expenditures will be about $500 million. Additionally, it has access to commercial paper markets and currently has revolving credit agreements totaling $2.9 billion, including $1.5 billion effective through 2023 and $1 billion through 2022.
The Kellogg Company’s operating strategy is multi-faceted and highly diversified. The Better Days program and internal strategy HR demonstrate that the company is socially responsible, to provide food to as many underdeveloped, poor regions as possible and strengthen the equity and inclusion of external and internal human resources (employees and contractors).
At the same time, another important element of the operational strategy is to ensure the stability of the company during the pandemic COVID-19. This involves ensuring that the huge demand for raw materials can be met (especially in the U.S., where shutdowns are most difficult) and providing financial stability, for which Kellogg's considerable liquidity is a great help.
But it is also surprising how little one of the world's largest food conglomerates spends on food safety and innovation. This is especially true given the pressure on the company to produce ever healthier, sugar-free products that are more beneficial to children's development - but so far this is happening more at the level of communication.
Production, Sales, and Marketing
Three nutrients - nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium - are injected into the soil in April to help the seeds grow. Two months later, the corn undergoes a growth spurt, reaching five feet tall and blooming. It is time to harvest the corn between October and November, when it is ready for sifting, cleaning, and rolling at a mill, before it is shipped to Kellogg's. Flakes are formed from corn grits in the factory. Kellogg's Corn Flakes are cooked, dried, and toasted to create these flakes, which are then sold at supermarkets.
As a traditional FMCG company, Kellogg's does not sell directly to customers but is associated with small and large grocery chains such as Walmart and Tesco. About 20% of the group's employees are in sales, mainly account managers who sell products to store networks and make sure they are positioned correctly.
There is also a dedicated team for what is known as sampling, which overlaps with sales and marketing. This involves giving customers the opportunity to try the latest products in a country-specific, localized way. With a category like cereal, the company needs to create multiple touchpoints so consumers can experience the products. Sampling, along with the right pricing architecture, helps achieve this. In this series of innovations launched over the past few years, sampling and other promotional activities have taken center stage as they help consumers experience a product firsthand before they develop an affinity for it.
Kellogg's has focused on its core target group of children - or more specifically, families with children - almost from the beginning. This is a special market segment, because you have to both persuade and engage kids (if they do not like the product, parents will buy it for free) and send the right messages to parents. The company realized early on that the packaging of the products plays an important role in this, and continues to do so today.
To meet parents' expectations, the health benefits of healthy foods must be emphasized in advertising, on packaging, and on all company communication platforms.
Kellygg's invests more than 8% of its sales in brand building, which helps the company build a strong brand in the developing world. One of the current focus areas of the company is India. According to Bakery and Snacks, the 2019 brand value of Kellogg’s was $6.7 billion - the fourth largest globally.
Kellogg's marketing campaigns have changed significantly over the years. With a marketing budget slightly below the market average, the company typically thinks about more thoughtful campaigns. Before the 2000s, it was more typical to sponsor sporting events, advertise on TV (the best time to do this was before children's shows on weekends), but they also provided the fake money for the moon landing.
In developed countries, marketing spend is increasingly shifting to the Internet (the company has over 1 million followers on Facebook in the US alone), but in developing countries, print media and television remain the most effective channels. For the poorest regions of the developing world, not only is information an important goal, but Kellogg's must also educate the market. In India, for example, a significant proportion of children do not eat breakfast at all, so Kellogg's is also raising awareness in its local campaigns.
The Kellogg's group of companies is a traditional FMCG company, meaning that it does not sell its products directly to the consumer, but involves various distributors in the process. These are smaller, local grocery stores, which are visited individually by sales representatives, and large chains and supermarkets, which are in turn contacted by central customer service representatives.
For one of the world's best-known food brands, Kellogg's spends very little on brand building and marketing activities. Much of that spending goes to developing countries, where breakfast and fake foods are not as fashionable as they are in the U.S., for example. Kellogg's is trying to market itself through education.
Final Thoughts And Key Takeaways
Growth by numbers
Kellogg Company Group sales clearly peaked in the past decade in 2014, followed by a sharp decline and another gradual increase. However, the coronavirus outbreak changed all scenarios - providing an unexpected surge in cereal purchases (only to later lose momentum due to supply chain disruption).
One of the big challenges for Kellogg Company is the growing competition in the market, fueled not only by cereals but also by breakfast offerings from fast-food chains. However, the company does not yet have an overarching global strategy that could differentiate it from the rest of the market.
Key takeaways from Kellogg’s story:
- Responsible recipes: Kellogg's focused on responsible practices relatively early on, which remains an important communication point today. However, values such as producing healthy food, promoting the trace elements necessary for children's development, and educating people about the importance of breakfast are not just marketing concepts; they play a major role in convincing families with children to buy the products in the long term.
- Building complementary brands: The company has slowly but steadily developed its numerous sub-brands. These were later complemented by acquisitions of companies already established in the market. The underlying strategy was to be present in the breakfast meal and snack market with all significant product lines.
- Taking responsibility within the company: Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords, they also help Kellogg to remain a world-leading group and provide opportunities for talent to flourish, regardless of background. It has also launched a special program to feed and educate people in poor regions.
- Brand building at low cost: One of the Kellogg Group's greatest advantages is that the product line it invented is still identified with the company, giving it an advantage in competing for customers even after 100 years. For this reason, brand building is primarily focused on global regions such as certain Asian countries where there is still room for market growth.
But competitors are on a more spectacular trajectory - both Nestlé and Danone are developing much broader product portfolios, giving them the opportunity to capture a larger segment of the food market. Kellogg's is still the market leader in breakfast cereals, but if the company does not increase its pace of innovation, spend more on marketing and overcome the risks associated with the global shortage of raw materials, it could lose its leadership position.