Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Transport Impacts of Breakfast Cereal

A recent BBC documentary entitled 'The Foods that Make Billions' has provided interesting insights into the morning eating habits of the British population. The breakfast cereal is the classic exemplar of a mass consumed and highly processed food technology. The UK is the largest consumer of these ready to eat cereals having bought a staggering £1.8 billion worth of cereal in 2009. This trend is predicted to continue to a massive £2.2 billion worth of sales in 2014. foodanddrinkeurope.com, 22 January 2010

The BBC documentary gives an historical account of the marketing war between the egg and the breakfast cereal in the 1960's that arguably shaped current British breakfast habits. More recently, the documentary highlighted Ofcom's TV advertising ban of high fat and high sugar products aimed at children on February 2007. parliament.co.uk A significant proportion of breakfast cereals were threatened with exclusion from TV advertising due to their high sugar content. BBC 4 November 2003 However, the food technology was tweaked by adding vitamins, adding wholegrain and reducing sugar, to allow the continuation of the standard marketing practices of the large multinationals thus maintaining the breakfast cereal as the morning meal of choice for many. What was less commented on was how the developments in both the marketing and constitution of this particular food technology have far reaching impacts on transport.

Quick and convenient breakfast meals have partly structured the morning routine, a morning routine that often involves a commute to work or a commute to school for kids. A quick and convenient breakfast combined with regular sleeping patterns and quick showering can free up time for a longer commute to work. In this way the temporal scheduling of the breakfast meal can be seen as shaping and being part of an overall daily life schedule which includes regular travel demand for work or schooling.

Ofcom's decision to ban TV advertising of high sugar and high fat products in 2007 threatened to destabilise these morning regimes by changing the public perception of the breakfast cereal. One can only speculate as to what it may have been like for health conscious families if they had to suddenly spend more time preparing alternative breakfasts in the morning. However, the response by the large multinational food companies was to change the constitution of the product to fit with marketing requirements. This development of food technology has saved families from looking for an alternative morning meal and thus maintaining the current demand for the morning work and school commutes.

In future, breakfast food technology may see the cousin of the breakfast cereal, the breakfast cereal bar, have a greater impact on transport. It seems that pouring milk into a bowl is now too inconvenient for many who now opt for an even quicker meal on the move. Eating on the move could potentially reschedule existing morning schedules and regimes, freeing up even more time for commuting, potentially pushing people further still from their workplaces and further increasing demand for travel in the process. It will be interesting to see how food technologies, morning schedules (including the commute) and eating practices will co-develop under the new health policy of the coalition government that is set to be influenced to a large degree by large multinational food companies. Guardian 12 November 2010

1 comment:

  1. It would be interesting to see how health scares such as salmonella food poisoning in the UK have fortified moves away from eggs for breakfast.