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How Breakfast Cereal Makers Fooled Americans in ’40s
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Hash browns, bacon, fruit juice, toast or pancakes, and cereal is the way of the American morning meal. This list, plus or minus, pertains to the average American breakfast. Even if you’re uninterested in the alchemy of modern breakfast, you have to be willing to admit that it has got full craze on cereal. But what we don't know is how breakfast cereal has become the most appetizing feature of the American breakfast table.

The Breakfast Cereal of Champions

In the Colonial America, breakfast was different from other meals. For the upper class, it was a pompous affair full of pastries, eggs, pancakes, oysters, beefsteaks and boiled chicken. While it was a luxury for the rich, it was a necessity for the labor class. For the laborers, breakfast was a thing before going off for a full day’s work. It comprised of leftovers or certain foods like porridge, bread, cheese or ale. By the time we set foot in the 19th-century, American breakfast extended to dishes like roasted chickens and beefsteaks, cornbread and flapjacks.


A typical colonial breakfast comprising of beefsteaks, oysters, boiled chicken and more.

During this time, Americans chronically complained of dyspepsia, commonly known as indigestion. Magazines and newspapers overflowed with articles about dyspepsia and what to do about it. John Harvey Kellogg, the most famous physician of the 20th-century believed the solution to all this suffering was a healthy diet. Kellogg developed different flaked grain breakfast cereals as healthy, ready-to-eat morning meals.

With the invention of the breakfast cereal, Americans replaced their meaty morning meals with dainty tidbits known as cereal. Before the end of the WWII, there were fewer than fifty cereals in circulation. The original version invented by James Jackson in 19863 was Granula, which had to be soaked overnight in milk to make it edible. Critics called this larger and tougher version of the cereal “wheat rocks.” But with the release of diabetes-inducing treacly cereals like Trix (1954), Cocoa Puffs (1958) and Cap'n Crunch (1963), the cereal industry saw a new market: Children. Between 1950 and 1990, major cereal brands gingered up their sellings.

People Eating Advertising

Like any food trends, the marketers wildly advertised cereal turning people into cereal enthusiasts. These over-sugared and over-processed corn cereal was the solution to every problem. The success of corn flakes inspired Grape Nuts, which actually contains neither grapes nor nuts. Grape Nuts was developed by C.W. Post after a stay in Kellogg’s sanitarium. He believed that cereal formed with glucose or “grape sugar” is an excellent source of fiber and provides your day’s whole grains. In fact, early ads claimed Grape Nuts could cure alcoholism or even prevent malaria. Kellogg’s corn flakes were marketed as ‘anti-masturbatory’ morning meals. Kellogg strongly believed that red meat increased sexual desire, you see. Reverend Graham and Dr. John Kellogg denounced that an un-sexy cereal could curb one’s sexual desires.


Vintage Ad #401: How's Trix?

1950’s onward, companies began full-scale commercial broadcasting to young Baby Boomers. TV advertisements were a smorgasbord of friendly-cartoon mascots selling cereal. This lead to the rise of iconic characters like Snap, Crackle and Pop, Sugar Bear, Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, and Tony the Tiger. In due time, every household in American began stocking up on ready-to-eat sugary-cereals.

The residual nostalgia still remains, however, the times have changed. With America’s focus on cutting out sugar, the biggest selling point in marketing these days is the low-sugar breakfast cereal. Companies like General Mills and Kellogg’s have replaced the word ‘sugar’ with terms like ‘honey’ and ‘golden’.

The Most Marketed Meal of the Day

The cereal industry has seen a steady and continued growth through its history. The breakfast cereal industry has gone from 324 new cereals between 1863 and 1990, to 340 news cereals in 1998 and 4,945 new cereals in 2012. The breakfast cereal market will exceed $43.0 billion by 2022. With emerging economies like India and Indonesia adopting the western dietary patterns, cereal makers will introduce new products to suit all range and lifestyles.


Nonetheless, times are changing. The general shift towards protein-heavy breakfast has impacted the cereal industry. Cereal makers are desperately trying to win back Millennials by producing nostalgic, discontinued brands like Oreo O’s and Count Chocula. They’re producing protein-enriched and whole-grain cereals to capitalize the on-going trend of ‘healthy food, healthy America’. The global breakfast cereals market is steering towards the high-demand for gluten-free, non-GMO and whole wheat cereals. The demand indicates there's room to improve the nutritional content of cold cereal. Let's sit and watch how the cereal industry plays this one out.

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