Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Moral Fiber In A Box

Boxed cereal was a relatively unknown breakfast habit until pasteurized milk became a household staple, and Kelloggs Corn Flakes started putting huge mass-marketing budgets behind their brand in the 1930s and 40s.  Breakfast used to be about bread (or toast), cheese, cold cuts of meat, eggs and bacon… depending on what country you were in.

The cereal idea had its faddish beginnings in late 19th century America, where a group of  religionists wanted a new food within the vegetarian diet recommended by their church. They experimented with different grains, like wheat, oats, rice, barley, and corn. In 1894, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the then superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan (and a devout Adventist himself), used cereal-based recipes as part of a strict vegetarian regimen for his patients -- also insisting on no alcohol, no tobacco and no caffeine.  Kellogg piously insisted that sweet, spicy or flavorful foods would make his patients “slaves to their passions”, and were to be avoided.

By the 1940s Americans were allowed to have more fun.  Along came Cheerios, the iconic cereal brand from General Mills, which now sells nearly 100 million boxes a year.   Curiously, the characteristic ‘O’ shape was not the original product format; other formats – square, triangular –  were tried first.  But the ‘O’ was the popular one.  The name was changed from “CheeriOats” to Cheerios in 1945.

There is a strange and surprising degree of public devotion among Americans to a cereal product that has been around for seventy years.  The Character Consultancy has opined that that Cheerios has “deep emotional resonance” for American consumers, a kind of ethereal “family connection”.

General Mills has confessed that the Cheerios brand “enjoys loyalty beyond reason” and continues to beat off competitive attacks from cheaper cloned products.  Consumers talk about the “amazing emotional experience they have had” while consuming the O-shaped cereal, or serving it to their kids.

Does the Cheerios brand deserve this bizarre degree of shopper idolatry?   Breakfast cereal is a major source of healthy fiber for Americans, and nutritionists at Cornell University say it's actually a good idea to eat cereal as a relatively low-calorie lunch or dinner, ”even the sugar-sweetened variety”.  Along with the sweet taste beloved of children, General Mills sprays on vitamin additives too. "It's a technique that breakfast food companies have learned and it works… but it's good because that's where they're getting their fiber in the morning," Cornell nutritionists have pronounced.

Pi says: O.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: USA / North America Product – Consumer Products