Walking through Target the other day, we were struck by something in the breakfast foods aisle. While most popular brands of cereal have a few varieties, Cheerios leads the way with a surprising array of flavors, which got us wondering: Do we really need dulche de leche Cheerios?
Since the introduction of Cheerios back in 1941 (called CheeriOats until 1945), General Mills has introduced and taken away different variations on a theme. There now are 13 types of Cheerios on grocery store shelves, which some fans of the original in the iconic yellow box think are 12 too many.
But if plain Cheerios aren't your bowl of oats, you can choose from sweetened selections like Fruity Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios, Berry Burst Cheerios and Yogurt Burst Cheerios. These are descendants of one of the first Cheerios spin-offs, Frostyo's, from the 1950s, when an animated bear praised the "goodness" of the "cookie-crisp sugar-charged oats," a phrase you probably won't hear these days.
From the beginning the brand has relied on animated characters to entice young cereal eaters. The first was Cheeri O'Leary, a mascot who appeared in 1942. Another early spokesman from the 1950s, the Cheerios Kid, is now making a comeback, according to AdvertisingAge. Today, in addition to a cartoon honeybee, non-cartoon older folks appear in ads, worried about health issues. There's also a classic ad with a grandma using Cheerios on a highchair tray to show her grandchild where relatives live. (And the commercial serves as a reminder that Cheerios is a first finger food for many American babies.)
In 1950s and 1960s TV commercials the animated boy the Cheerios Kid extolled the "Go Power" and the "muscle protein" of the cereal, claiming that Cheerios can help you grow stronger. The Kid's sidekicks were Bullwinkle the moose and an animated girl, Sue. Those old commercials mostly illustrate how much advertising has improved in recent decades. They also make you wonder about the messages girls received growing up in the Mad Men era. In the ads, Sue always gets into trouble, whether it's being tied to a log going over a waterfall or falling prey to a dragon or the evil "Rope Man." (We were baffled by this spot, because it shows the Kid running with sharp gardening shears. Obviously the guys who wrote that copy never heard the rule about not running with scissors.)
Each time, the Kid rescues Sue after eating a bowl of his favorite circles. "Will the Cheerios Kid save the maiden?" asks the announcer. Of course he will, because "his secret weapon is Cheerios." In another instance, when the pair encounter an alligator the Cheerios Kid proclaims: "Down, Sue. I'll handle this." Later, Sue tries to get the clueless Kid to kiss her, but he's more interested in eating another bowl of cereal.
In a new spot for YouTube, Facebook and WebMD, the Cheerios Kid and Sue resurrect an old slogan: "Connect the 'Big G to the Little O' to get the 'Go' power of Cheerios." (And this time, the Kid doesn't talk to Sue like she's a puppy and she doesn't try to kiss him.) The characters address the concerns of Baby Boomers, as indicated by this General Mills press release on the campaign, which explains: "Once Cheerios is digested, beta glucan mixes with water in the stomach to form a gel that moves through the intestines and can help naturally remove cholesterol from the body." Anybody getting hungry?
Over the years Cheerios has talked up the benefits of whole grains. But General Mills got in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration in 2009 for saying that Cheerios could "lower cholesterol 4% in six weeks." The FDA slapped General Mills on the wrist, saying its promotion was putting the cereal in the drug category. So the brand changed the claim on its boxes to indicate that Cheerios has "carefully selected oats that can help lower cholesterol." An asterisk guides consumers to an additional explanation: "Three grams of soluble fiber daily from whole grain oat foods, like Cheerios cereal, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Cheerios cereal provides 1 gram per serving."
We wondered what lies in store for Cheerios in the future. The website states: "We're always looking for questions people have about Cheerios." Faster than you can say, "Pass the milk," we sent off our queries, including curiosity about which variety is the most popular, have any flavors flopped and what new ones are on the horizon?
Apparently that information is as tightly guarded as the intelligence secrets on "Homeland," because we received this reply: "Thank you for your interest in Cheerios but we are going to decline this opportunity at this time."
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Since General Mills won't reveal what new configurations are in the works, we decided to take the high road and help the company out, by coming up with a list of Cheerios varieties we hope the taste-testers in their lab won't consider: Bacon and Maple Syrup Cheerios, Mac and Cheese Cheerios, Café au Lait Cheerios, Pizza Cheerios, Red Velvet Cheerios, Rocky Road Cheerios, Sushi Cheerios and a limited-time branding cross-over special event Rice Krispies Treats Cheerios. And while we're making helpful suggestions, we'd like to request that there be no more flavors containing the word "burst."
You're welcome, General Mills.
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