Back in time for breakfast: An analysis of the changing breakfast cereal aisle
Breakfast cereal improves overall diet quality yet is under constant scrutiny with assertions that the category has not improved over time. This study aimed to comprehensively analyse the category of breakfast cereals, the nutritional values, and health claims across eight distinct sub-categories at four time points (2013, 2015, 2018, and 2020). An audit of products from four major supermarkets in metropolitan Sydney (Aldi, Coles, IGA, and Woolworths) collected ingredient lists, nutrition information, claims and Health Star Rating (HSR) for biscuits and bites; brans; bubbles, puffs, and flakes; granola and clusters; hot cereal flavoured; hot cereal plain; muesli; breakfast biscuits. The median (IQR) were calculated for energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars, dietary fibre, and sodium for comparisons over time points by nutrient. Data from 2013 was compared with 2020 (by sub-category and then for a sub-section of common products available at each time point). Product numbers between 2013 (n = 283) and 2020 (n = 543) almost doubled, led by granola and clusters. Whole grain cereals ≥ 8 g/serve made up 67% of products (↑114%). While there were positive changes in nutrient composition over time within the full data set, the most notable changes were in the nutrition composition of cereals marketed as the same product in both years (n = 134); with decreases in mean carbohydrate (2%), sugar (10%) and sodium (16%) (p < 0.000), while protein and total fat increased significantly (p = 0.036; p = 0.021). Claims regarding Dietary Fibre and Whole Grain doubled since 2013. Analysis of sub-categories of breakfast cereal assisted in identifying some changes over time, but products common to both timeframes provided a clearer analysis of change within the breakfast category, following introduction of HSR. Whole grain products were lower in the two target nutrients, sodium and sugars, and well-chosen products represent a better choice within this category.
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