(CBS NEWS) – Health-conscious consumers may favor foods with less added sugar, but many popular cereals are moving in the opposite direction. The Wall Street Journal reports cereal manufacturers are doubling down on their sugary ways in an attempt to counter years of declining sales. They’re increasing the sugar content of some cereals after healthier versions failed to win back consumers who were defecting to Greek-style yogurt, protein bars, and other breakfast items with higher protein and fewer carbohydrates.
“The cereal makers realized that coming out with some of the really healthy cereals in recent years like Cheerios with added protein or Frosted Flakes with high fiber just weren’t getting people to eat more cereal,” Wall Street Journal reporter Annie Gasparao told CBS News. “The people who are eating cereal are eating it because it’s fun and it tastes good and it looks fun with fun colors. They aren’t eating it to be healthy.”
As she reported for the paper, cereal sales have declined 11 percent over the past five years to around $9 billion in 2017, according to Mintel, a consumer research firm.
And while sugary cereal is typically marketed to children, adults are buying the product more and more for themselves, especially millennials who are eating it as a snack or a dessert.
“They know it’s not the healthiest breakfast they can eat so instead they have it as a late night snack or a permissible indulgence,” Gasparao said.
According to Mintel’s research, 43 percent of adults eat cereal as a snack at home. Of people who eat cereal, 30 percent choose cereal that tastes good regardless of how nutritious it is.
Sales data shows that healthier cereals are not resonating with adult customers. Last year, while children’s cereal sales fell about 1 percent, sales of cereals marketed for adults fell 7 percent.
In response, many cereal makers are introducing, or re-introducing, sweeter options. Post recently brought back Oreo Os cereal, made to taste like the popular Nabisco cookie, which it had previously discontinued in 2007. It also stopped selling the Morning Energy version of Honey Bunches of Oats, which boasted higher protein and fiber content.
Kellogg discontinued its lower-sugar version of Frosted Flakes and has since released chocolate and cinnamon varieties. And after giving Trix a makeover with all-natural ingredients, General Mills encountered a backlash and subsequently brought back the original, artificially-colored and flavored recipe.
“These companies know that the nostalgic brands, the fun flavors, the cartoon mascots that’s what’s selling cereal and that’s what’s going to make them be able to stabilize this category that’s lost shelf space to Greek yogurt and protein bars and things that people view as healthier for breakfast,” Gasparao said.