The Glorious End Of Cereal

The Glorious End Of Cereal

Did you have any idea that cereal is considered threatened? That analysts and consultants wake up every morning, put on their suits, and dream up ways to reverse this new business narrative?

Cereal makers have been losing the battle for the breakfast table to other offerings, notably yogurt. So Kellogg Co. has struck a deal with Dannon Co. to bring its cereal across enemy lines–to the yogurt aisle.

Dannon’s YoCrunch brand is known for mix-ins on top of its yogurt cups, which include granola, Oreos and M&M;’s. The deal with Kellogg to do the same with Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops in YoCrunch Cereal Bowls that are hitting shelves this spring is the first for breakfast cereal, executives said, and a sign of the times for the morning meal.

There is something odd about these cups that we, after decades of conditioning, might strain to see: They are not breakfast items. They are desserts, or at best guilty snacks. Adding cereal to yogurt makes it less, not more, like something you should eat at the beginning of your day. The reason for this is obvious and yet sounds radical: Cereal is not a breakfast food.

That is not to say that cereal cannot serve as a breakfast food, or that it is never appropriate to eat in the early hours of the day. The best thing about cereal, and a reason it is so often confused with a real breakfast food, is that it is quick and versatile. But set aside your expectations and prejudices and traditions and consider what a bowl of Corn Flakes or Cheerios or Raisin Bran is really suitable for. In order:

1. Lunch
2. Simple hunger (snack, emergency dinner)
3. Dessert
4. Digestive aid
5. Garnish (on yogurt, liquid or frozen)
6. Breakfast (as a compromise, for children or large numbers of people)

Cereal is filler; it satisfies hunger and provides pleasure. It is a utilitarian semi-meal — Soylent, basically, for the psychologically sound. It is exactly what you need in the middle of the day, when hot food would put you to sleep and leafy food would instill a craving for something much worse. Lunch is for cereal and cereal is for lunch.

What cereal is not is the long-lasting, protein-rich foundation on which to build an entire waking day. Cereal as breakfast is a historical aberration — a series of questionable marketing efforts writ large:

There was a problem during the Industrial Revolution: people were still eating a farmer’s diet, but they were shifting to a more sedentary lifestyle, which caused indigestion. People who were interested in health started looking into that and started coming up with solutions. Sylvester Graham, the reformer who became a preacher of health ideology, advocated for vegetarian food, and whole wheat as kind of a panacea for health problems, which becomes the answer to the question of breakfast. Then, people who ran sanitariums, including John Harvey Kellogg, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, really took that idea and flew with it and invented new ways to eat farinaceous foods.

Entrepreneurs — some of whom worked in the sanitariums, like Charles C. Post–really build on these ideas and make them a healthy requirement. He creates all sorts of crazy testimonies that serve as advertisements for Grape-Nuts, where people’s lives are saved from chronic illness and they’re able to walk again.

Then, there’s also the history of orange juice and milk, with the discovery of vitamins in the 1910s…

And on and on, you can imagine where this goes.

Anyway: Cereal makers and cereal consumers, embrace the change. The decline of cereal is a correction and a blessing, and if the world is just, it will not be stopped.

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