FORTIFIED WITH FACTS
Cereal is one of those childhood favorites that most of us don’t outgrow. And why would we? It’s cheap, it’s versatile, and in the case of some less-sugary varieties, it can be downright nutritious. But how much do you really know about your favorite cereal? Here are 30 of the most interesting tidbits about all the brands you know and love.
TONY THE TIGER HAD COMPETITION
Close your eyes and picture your Frosted Flakes not with Tony the Tiger, but … Katy the Kangaroo? In 1952, Kellogg’s rolled out boxes of the cereal festooned with Tony, Katy, and two other potential mascots: Elmo the Elephant and Newt the Gnu. Tony was the most popular of the four, and the rest is history.
MASCOTS LOCK EYES WITH KIDS FOR A REASON
You might notice Tony the Tiger and other advertising icons gazing slightly downward next time you’re in the cereal aisle. The reason? Cereal executives want those friendly mascots to make eye contact with your kids.Eye contact promotes trust in a brand, which of course can spur more purchases — or in the case of kids’ cereal, more whining and begging for parents to buy a specific variety of sugar-laden goodness.
WHEATIES WERE A HAPPY ACCIDENT
The wheat flakes came about when a clinician accidentally spilled wheat gruel on a hot stove, a mistake that changed the gruel into the eponymous General Mills cereal we know today. Bonus trivia: Michael Jordan is the athlete who’s been on Wheaties boxes the most, with a whopping 18 appearances.
CAP’N CRUNCH HAS A DOOZIE OF A NAME
Oh captain, my captain. A Twitter user recently questioned whether the mascot is actually “Commander Crunch,” pointing out that naval captains typically have four stripes on their sleeve, not three. The Cap’n himself decried the charge as “hearsay.” In the process, he also revealed his “real” name, and it’s quite befitting of a seafaring cereal icon: Horatio Magellan Crunch.
URKEL HAD HIS OWN CEREAL
In 1991, Ralston briefly made “Urkel-Os” to capitalize on the fame of the nerdy “Family Matters” star. That’s far from the only TV show or movie to spin off a cereal. The 1980s — the heyday of movie and TV cereals — gave us boxes of sugary stuff based on everything from “Rainbow Brite” and “Transformers” to “E.T.” and “Ghostbusters.”
CORN FLAKES WERE INVENTED TO CURB ‘CARNAL SINS’
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg wanted Americans to eat corn flakes because he thought the bland food would reduce desires for sex and masturbation, among other sins. But his brother, William Kellogg, was a lot more interested in selling cereal than repressing our baser instincts. So he founded the Kellogg Company and started pumping out a different version of corn flakes – with the dreaded addition of sugar, much to his brother’s chagrin.
FRANKEN BERRY CEREAL CAUSED PINK ‘FRANKEN POOP’
The early ‘70s were a simpler time in a lot of ways, but maybe not for doctors forced to diagnose “Franken Berry Stool.” Yep, the neon pink poop was a real condition, caused when kids downed too much of General Mills’ new Franken Berry Cereal. Turns out the cereal received its bright hue in part from the indigestible and soon-to-be-banned Red Dye No. 2.
COUNT CHOCULA WAS ACCUSED OF ANTI-SEMITISM
In 1987, General Mills came under fire from Jewish groups after using an enhanced image of Bela Lugosi as Dracula on the box. The problem? Many thought it looked like he was wearing a Star of David, making it look like Dracula was some sort of blood-sucking Jewish monster. General Mills apologized and changed the boxes, blaming the error on a computerized design process.
CHEERIOS USED TO BE ‘CHEERIOATS’
One of America’s most ubiquitous breakfast cereals first appeared on grocery shelves in 1941 not as Cheerios, but “Cheerioats.” General Mills aimed to highlight the cereal’s main ingredient, oats, at a time when most competitors were still using corn. But that tactic didn’t fly with rival Quaker Oats, which objected to the use of the term “oats” in the new cereal’s name. General Mills backed down and switched to “Cheerios” instead.
HONEY SMACKS HAVE MORE SUGAR THAN A TWINKIE
Well, no one is exactly accusing most sugary kids’ cereals of being health foods, but some are worse than others. Kellogg’s Honey Smacks is 55.6 percent sugar by weight, the Environmental Working Group has found, placing it atop its “10 Worst Children’s Cereals” list. That’s more sugar than you’ll get eating a Twinkie, the group says. The cereal suffered another black eye earlier this year when it was linked to a salmonella outbreak.
THE KING OF POP HAWKED ALPHA-BITS
A young Michael Jackson and the rest of the Jackson 5 starred in five musical Alpha-Bits commercials in 1973, three years after their smash hit “ABC” came out. You can catch a couple of the spots here.
FROOT LOOPS ARE JUST ONE FLAVOR
Red, green, blue, purple — all those fruity O’s are supposed to represent different fruit flavors, right? That’s a negative. Kellogg’s itself has confirmed that each color represents only one sugary “froot” flavor, or in the words of Food Beast, “mildly sweetened cardboard.”
GENERAL MILLS SHOT CEREAL OUT OF A PUFFING GUN
Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms — these iconic cereals and more owe their existence to the General Mills puffing gun, an invention that helped it produce puffed cereal as quickly and cheaply as possible with the bonus of a loud, impressive “BOOM.” The puffing gun evolved over the decades, and today most cereal is not blasted into existence but forced through an extruder barrel.
THERE WAS ALMOST A FOURTH RICE KRISPIES MASCOT
Rice Krispies’ long-standing mascots, the adorable elves Snap, Crackle, and Pop, started appearing in ads for the cereal in the ‘30s, and came together on the box beginning in 1941. But in the 1950s, Kellogg ad executives used a fourth character named Pow in a couple of commercials. He was a spaceman character who never spoke, instead zipping around on some sort of spacecraft and “adding power” to every box of Rice Krispies.
FROSTED FLAKES FLEW TO THE MOON
One small step for man, one giant leap for cereal? When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969, Kellogg’s made sure they had plenty of fuel for the mission — in the form of cereal, of course. Apollo 11 was stocked with both Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes, the latter of which were sent as fruit-flavored cubes.
GRAPE-NUTS SPONSORED AN ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION
Post’s Grape-Nuts was among the sponsors that helped finance Richard E. Byrd’s second expedition to Antarctica in 1933, even putting maps of the journey on the backs of its cereal boxes. But Grape-Nuts’ adventuring days weren’t yet over: The cereal helped energize Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay when they became the first climbers to summit Mount Everest in 1953.
FRUITY PEBBLES HAD A CRINGE-WORTHY PRECURSOR
Sold in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Post’s Sugar Rice Krinkles were basically a sweeter version of Rice Krispies, but the cereal’s Asian mascot, So-Hi, would never pass muster among advertising executives today — see for yourself by watching one of the old commercials. Post eventually pulled the plug, but used Sugar Rice Krinkles as a base for Fruity Pebbles. That cereal was introduced in 1970 with the help of the less-offensive Flintstones, who are still on the box today.
EARLY CHEX CEREAL WAS CALLED ‘SHREDDED RALSTON’
Though General Mills makes Chex now, in its early days, Wheat Chex was known as Shredded Ralston, made by Ralston Purina — yes, the company better known for its pet food. Even weirder is why Chex came to be in the first place. It was meant to feed adherents of Ralstonism, a social movement that espoused mind control and eugenics, among other questionable tenets.
POP ROCKS DIDN’T KILL LIFE CEREAL’S ‘MIKEY’
If you were a ‘70s kid, you surely remember the Life Cereal ad featuring finicky little Mikey. “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” screams his older brother, pleased that his guinea pig approves of the cereal. The spot, one of the longest-running commercials of all time, eventually spurred a pervasive urban legend that the child who played Mikey had died after Pop Rocks and soda exploded in his stomach. But nope — little Mikey grew up and became, fittingly enough, an advertising executive.
KELLOGG’S FIRST BANANA EXPERIMENT WAS A DUD
In 1964, Kellogg’s launched an innovative new Corn Flakes with Instant Bananas cereal, but apparently it didn’t go over so well. It lasted just a couple of years, with the not-so-tasty bananas “turning an unappetizing brownish color in milk,” according to Mr. Breakfast. Never fear, banana fans: Kellogg’s isn’t done experimenting with bananas. Raisin Bran recently added bananas, and Banana Crème Frosted Flakes are hitting store shelves this year.
LUCKY CHARMS HAS HAD A REVOLVING SLATE OF MARSHMALLOWS
When Lucky Charms debuted in 1963, it was sweetened with four marshmallows: Green clovers, pink hearts, orange stars, and yellow moons. Today, only the pink hearts and green clovers remain relatively unchanged. The yellow moons have turned blue, and the orange stars are now orange-and-white shooting stars. Also in the current lineup: Rainbows, horseshoes, balloons and unicorns. Has-beens include hourglasses and blue diamonds.
THE TRIX RABBIT HAS EATEN HIS CEREAL ONLY THREE TIMES
“Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids!” So goes one of the most iconic lines in cereal advertising. But it turns out the Trix Rabbit has indeed gotten his paws on a bowl of his favorite fruity cereal three times: in 1976, when he tricked kids by dressing up as a balloon seller; in 1980, when kids took pity on the rabbit during a mail-in vote; and in 1991, after winning the “Tour de Trix” bicycle race.
CORN FLAKES OFFERED THE FIRST CEREAL ‘PRIZE’
You probably have fond childhood memories of digging some sort of trinket out of your favorite cereal. It turns out the first-ever cereal prize came from boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in 1909. Buyers actually had to send away to receive it, a book called “The Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Book.” Kellogg’s continued to give away the same book for 23 years.
THERE ARE FEW REAL CEREAL TOYS ANYMORE
Speculation about the downfall of cereal toys often includes safety reasons. For instance, in 1988, millions of toy flutes and binoculars found in Kellogg’s cereals were recalled for being a choking hazard. In reality, it turns out we can probably blame the Internet. After all, telling kids to go online and play a cereal-sponsored gameis way cheaper than putting some plastic trinket in the box.
YOU CAN STILL BUY QUISP CEREAL
If you’re a Baby Boomer who fondly remembers eating Quaker’s sugary, crunchy corn Quisp Cereal in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you may be surprised to find that you can still buy it in bulk on Amazon. The alien-festooned box has also popped up sporadically on store shelves over the past several decades, partially thanks to the enthusiasm of devoted fans who will pay four figures for Quisp memorabilia.
APPLE JACKS GOT IN TROUBLE FOR ITS ‘BAD APPLE’
The Apple Jacks kids may be the most well-known Apple Jacks mascots, having reigned for more than two decades starting in the ‘70s. But a more recent campaign, involving a Jamaican cinnamon stick, CinnaMon, and the grouchy Bad Apple, had the cereal in the hot seat. Several groups called on Kellogg’s to change the ads because they were disparaging fruit and teaching kids that “apples are not good for them to eat.” Though it called the charges unfounded, Kellogg’s did agree to stop calling apples “bad.”
PUMPKIN SPICE HAS SPARED FEW CEREALS
When a pumpkin spice latte just isn’t enough, never fear: Your favorite childhood cereal may have also hopped on the pumpkin spice bandwagon. Grocery shelves have recently hosted limited-edition pumpkin spice Cheerios, pumpkin spice Frosted Flakes, pumpkin spice Frosted Mini Wheats, and pumpkin spice Life, among other varieties. Most have been well-reviewed, with the Cheerios even receiving a thumbs-up from Bon Appetit.
CORN POPS USED TO BE SUGAR POPS
If you’re a Corn Pops fan, you may remember the cereal having a different name at the breakfast table when you were a kid. Introduced in 1951, this Kellogg’s favorite used to be called Sugar Pops. In the ‘70s, it became Sugar Corn Pops, before ditching the word “sugar” altogether in the ‘80s. It’s not the only cereal to ditch the word “sugar” as parents pushed back against unhealthy cereals — for instance, Post’s Golden Crisp used to be Sugar Crisp (and it’s still known as such in Canada).
THE FIRST RAISIN BRAN WASN’T KELLOGG’S
Though Kellogg’s arguably makes the most well-known Raisin Bran on store shelves, a company called Skinner introduced the cereal in 1925. But both Kellogg’s and Post started making their own versions in 1942, leading Skinner to sue for trademark infringement. It lost, with the court ruling that the name Raisin Bran is “merely descriptive of the ingredients.” Today, you can find Raisin Bran from just about every cereal manufacturer, including a ton of generic store brands.
FROSTED MINI WHEATS DON’T MAKE YOU SMARTER
Yes, Kellogg’s actually claimed back in 2009 that its cereal would boost kids’ attention and memory. Turns out that the study it paid for to make those claims didn’t really show anything of the sort. The company ended up shelling out $4 million in a class-action lawsuit brought by parents who were angry over the deceptive advertising.