Pour The Vegan Milk: Breakfast Cereals Pivot To Plant-Based, High-Protein, Low-Sugar Options

Cereal, both hot and cold, at the table or on the go, is the breakfast food of our childhoods and, yep, our future.

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By Brian Kateman

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For some of us, breakfast is virtually synonymous with cereal. Growing up, it was the easiest way to fuel up before school. And as busy adults its convenient nutrition is still appealing, though we might not be eating exactly the same kinds we used to. Breakfast cereal is versatile enough to be both a health food and a comforting indulgence – sometimes at the same time.

The numbers back it up, too. As of 2016, the global breakfast cereal market was estimated at over a $37 billion value, expected to keep growing at a rate of 4.3 percent annually through 2025. Researchers point to consumers' ever-growing interest in convenient, ready-to-eat foods as one of the reasons for the market's continued expansion.

But that said, it's not all business as usual in the cereal aisle. The other major, shifting factor influencing consumer purchasing habits is, of course, health and nutrition. Companies in the breakfast cereal market have long tried to capture health-conscious consumers, fortifying even sugary, dessert-like cereals with essential vitamins and minerals. But as times have changed, people have become interested in the other nutritional properties of their food, too. Boxed cereals have gained a reputation for being highly processed and laden with sugar, two traits consumers are moving away from in their purchases. People looking to best serve their own health and that of their families are looking to new and old brands for options that are organic, protein-rich, plant-based, and made from recognizable and nutritious ingredients.

Love Grown is one of the up and coming names in the plant-based food industry that's giving the classic breakfast food a contemporary makeover. If you love Cheerios but are looking for more protein or fiber than they have to offer, Love Grown's Power Os might be just the thing. Made from beans, lentils, and brown rice, the cereal clocks in at only 1g of sugar per serving, and offers 6g of protein and 5g of fiber. And of course, it's non-GMO and vegan.

Another such brand updating the traditional breakfast cereal for a modern market is Forager Project, an all-organic, plant-based food company out of California. (You may have spotted their cashew yogurts or other vegan foods). Their crunchy Os, however, unlike the stuff you grew up on, are totally grain-free – made instead from navy beans, cassava root, and pea protein. It's also gluten- and soy-free, making it an option for some people with food allergies. But importantly, it's tasty, too. Even the chocolate Os, which are out of this world, contain just 4g sugar per serving.

Three Wishes Cereal, which you may have already spotted at your local supermarket, is a similar concept: high-protein, low-sugar cereal made from plant-based ingredients other than grains. Their cocoa variety, for example, contains 8g protein and only 3g sugar per serving. And instead of corn or wheat, the Os are made from a base of chickpeas, tapioca, and pea protein.

The plant-based cereal market is heating up

While cold, ready-to-eat cereal is still the dominant category, hot cereals have a foothold as well, particularly in the growing markets of Asian countries. Heck, something as simple as oatmeal itself has had somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, with bloggers across the globe sharing their recipes and tips for making overnight oats, to be eaten hot or cold.

Related: Plant-Based Eating Isn't Just Salads And Beans. The Vegan Dessert ...

But some have found that in real life, overnight oats aren't always as simple and easy as they're cracked up to be. So it's little surprise that we're now seeing brands selling their own pre-made iterations. San Diego-based brand ONO is selling just-add-milk packets, so your night-before prep cooking is easy as can be. And of their three current flavors, the peanut butter banana split is vegan. You may have already seen MUSH's single-serving boxes of ready-to-eat oats. They may be mushy, sure, but they come in flavors like apple pie and coffee with coconut cream. Plus, they're all vegan, non-GMO, and protein-dense, making them a fast breakfast you can feel good about.

For those who still prefer their oatmeal made on-demand, not overnight, fortunately instant oatmeal is being redesigned for modern consumers. Nothing can beat the simplicity of just grabbing something from the cabinet and adding milk. Nature's Path, originally known for its breakfast cereals, now has a portfolio of nearly 350 products, including its Golden Turmeric Oatmeal Cup, a new, convenient oatmeal with a blend of Ancient superfoods - turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. The Soulfull Project sells hot cereals, in individual and bulk packages, made of high-fiber and nutrient dense blends of oats, flax, quinoa, and rye. And it's a two for one: for every serving of Soulfull sold, the company donates a meal to local food banks. Another brand is trying an even simpler approach: GrandyOats, also known for their granola blends, sells just one instant oatmeal cup, and it contains only four ingredients: oats, apples, raisins, and cranberries; no added sugar or anything else. And if instant isn't what you're looking for, they also sell rolled and steel-cut oats by the pound. Crave Natural takes a different approach, offering instant oatmeal with Asian-inspired recipes, like Taro Black Tea and Black Sesame.

Related: Plant-based Meat Has Officially Reached 'Global Phenomenon' Status

Meanwhile in the UK, another ready-to-eat overnight oats brand is making its way to doorsteps. Oatsu's jarred breakfasts focus on gut health: not only are they all vegan and low in sugar, but they contain amazake, an ancient Japanese grain, to really pack in the probiotics and fiber. They come in flavors like rhubarb crumble and cacao hazelnut, and in the name of sustainability, Oatsu even runs a jar return program that offers customers a discount in exchange for their empties.

Plant-based breakfast is on-the-go

But when even instant oatmeal isn't fast enough, breakfast is still on the table. The Colorado-based company Bobo's makes oatmeal bars for non-GMO, plant-based nutrition on the go. No hot water, no spoon, just flavors like pumpkin spice and peanut butter chocolate chip in totally portable squares. So too does Kashi, with flavors like chocolate chip chia and peanut butter and whole grain oats as the bars' main ingredient.

And if you're craving something hearty and filling without the oats, you're in luck. Hello Puddin' Chia Company makes an instant chia pudding that will start your day off on the right foot. Just add a milk of your choice to the conveniently portion-sized cups to make a chia pudding that's paleo, keto, gluten-free, and contains no added sugar. And as an added bonus, all of their varieties (including chocolate, coffee, blueberry, and strawberry flavors) contain different blends of functional mushrooms like reishi, chaga, and lion's mane.

In need of some healthy vegan toppings? Not a problem. Lil Bucks offers buckwheat clusters in a variety of yummy flavors including chocolate reishi & turmeric lemon myrtle.

So whether your ideal weekday breakfast is hot or cold, whole grain or grain free, chances are there's a delicious and plant-based option waiting for you. The cereal aisle doesn't look the way it did when we were kids, dominated by sugary, marshmallow-laden, colorful sweets and just a handful of boring, healthy options. Shoppers want foods that are healthy, nutritious, tasty, and filling, all at once – and the brands giving it to them are likely to be handsomely rewarded.

Related: A Cup Of Ambition: Coffee Products Pour Into the Plant-Based Sector

Brian Kateman

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-Founder and President of the Reducetarian Foundation

Brian Kateman is a co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the consumption of animal products. He is the author of Meat Me Halfway — inspired by a documentary of the same name — and the editor of The Reducetarian Cookbook and The Reducetarian Solution.

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