Saturday, June 26, 2010

Breakfast Cereals: A Life-Long Staple

As a kid growing up in the mid-1970s, the weekday morning ritual revolved around one critical decision: Which breakfast cereal is going to ignite my taste buds and amp me with enough sugar to get the day going?

During that time—truly the golden era for breakfast cereals—leading companies Post, Quaker Oats, General Mills and Kellogg’s knew that the mere taste of wheat, corn or oats saturated with sugar and splashed with milk wasn’t enough to seduce us kids, so mascots were created to assist in branding. Among the first were the Rice Krispies elves in 1953, followed by Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit... all pretty good childhood friends of mine.

Manufacturers also began to include “prizes” inside the boxes. Among the most precious I recall are a 45 record by The Archies that you cut from the back of Super Sugar Crisp (see actual ad on box at right) and played on a phonograph; and a mail-in for a Banana Splits 45 (keen advertising for the Saturday morning cartoon, created by Kellogg’s). Amazingly, I still own the Splits’ single.

But the most valued prize came from my favorite cereal ever, Quisp, which offered a 12-inch cloth doll of its trademark cross-eyed space alien. The cost: two box tops and 75 cents. I slept with that critter alongside my Humpty Dumpty doll for years, even though it was about as plush as a box of cereal itself. Sadly, one day my mean older brother Chris and I got into a tussle and he grabbed Quisp by his propeller and tore my pal to pieces. My mamer wasn’t one for sentimentality, so he soon flew away to the landfill. Sadly, today a Quisp doll sells on ebay for $300. Thanks, mamer Evelyn!

Ah, for the days of King Vitaman (tasted like tree bark, but shaped like crowns!) and Kaboom (tasted like sweet Clorox, but fun colors!) and so many others that have succumbed to the tastemakers of time. Even now, whenever I travel abroad, among my stops is the cereal aisle of groceries to study their breakfast heroes—and how U.S. brands are uniquely marketed overseas. I suppose I've just realized: I am a cereal fetishist. Cool.And I’m certainly not alone. Homages to breakfast cereals throughout time inundate the web—from the myriad of Captain Crunch specialties (above) to du jour products like Mr. T or Hannah Montana—(click here, here and here for boffo sites), with tons of history, photos of evolving brands, commercials and trivia. That explains how I’ve just spent the last four hours on a Saturday afternoon exploring and reflecting on, uh, cereal.

Even as an adult, I’ve never considered buying a grown-up cereal; I mean, why deliberately eat cardboard when crunchy sugared saucers are so much fun? My favorite in modern times is Cinnamon Toast Crunch, followed by our handy countdown below. If gin and Trix only mixed, I’d truly have a breakfast of champions... for every meal. Cheerio!

And now... the No. 1 breakfast cereal of all time: Quisp!The official runners-up...The choca-faves...Artificially flavored fruit, anyone?
Whole-grain, with a heaving helping of sugar, thank you...
And last but not least, the ever-evolving, timeless Lucky Charms...(Photo collages: The Smoking Nun)