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Cereal showdown: Post buys MOM Brands

Cereal showdown: Post buys MOM Brands
Post Holdings bought MOM  Brands, makers of Mom’s Best cereals and Malto-Meal, but the alliance may mean nothing more than a distraction for shoppers looking for healthier cereals.

When General Mills bought Annie’s, we called it “selling up” rather than “selling out." But the $1.15 billion deal announced Monday that brings MOM Brands and its additive-free cereals into the Post Holdings family might be described as “selling sideways,” at best.

The MOM’s flagship brand in natural, Mom’s Best cereals, do lack high fructose corn syrup, artificial additives and preservatives, but a cereal lineup that includes a Lucky Charm’s knock-off like Mallow Oats is hardly the healthiest choice in the aisle. The browned-down packaging and lack of a cartoon mascot don’t make a highly sweetened cereal healthy. A cup of those Mallow Oats include 13 grams of sugar and 120 calories. Three Sisters (another MOM brand) offers a “Simple Goodness Promise” with its Cocoa-Snapz.

All of this smacks of the nutritional equivalent of greenwashing, but $1.15 billion may also be something of a white flag on the cereal front for Post. The company has to know that the era of Fruity Pebbles and Alpha Bits is drawing to a close. Indeed, they may have suspected that that back in the ’70s when Super Sugar Crisp turned into Super Golden Crisp on its way to plain old Golden Crisp (although front-of-the-box mascot Sugar Bear kept his name -- that must have been in his contract). More natural cereals like Mom’s Best don’t automatically mean healthy, but shoppers undoubtedly feel better not having that creepy Leprechaun staring back from the shopping cart. According to reports, the cereal category is dropping as a whole, but we could see the close-to-natural brands best positioned to hold onto shelf space.

What does this mean for nutrition? That’s the “selling sideways” question. Dropping artificial colorings and preservatives can’t be questioned, but the health benefits of replacing high fructose corn syrup with sugar and plain-old corn syrup may be minimal.

Annie’s might have something to teach General Mills about organic food, and that deal could help solidify an organic supply chain at scale. What Post Holdings can learn from MOM Brands likely ends at the packaging. Annie’s was a 25-year-old brand when it got bought, a product of emerging organic awareness in 1989. MOM Brands was founded in 1919, hardly a pinnacle of nutrition enlightenment, and launched with Malt-O-Meal, among the most archaic of the “That still exists?” cereal brands.

Acquiring the third largest cereal maker in the country (behind Kellogg’s and General Mills) certainly makes Post bigger, but we can’t confidently say it makes it better.

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