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We remember the crunch, the sweetness, the slogans.
"They're GR-R-REAT!" "They're magically delicious." "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"
We're talking breakfast cereal, and a new book provides a fun and detailed history. It's called "The Great American Cereal Book," and it celebrates all those cereals we grew up on and maybe still devour.
Everyone had their favorites.
Were you a Froot Loops fanatic? An Apple Jacks junkie?
Barb Bittner couldn't resist Boo Berry, a blueberry-flavored cereal with tiny marshmallows that's been around since 1973.
She'd gobble up all the cereal and leave the best part — the marshmalllows — at the bottom of the bowl and then slurp them up.
"I loved how it turned the milk purple," said Bittner, who lives in Bellevue.
These days the 43-year-old Bittner eats bananas and yogurt for breakfast. But spotting Boo Berry in the cereal aisle brings back cozy memories of getting up early on Saturday mornings and watching cartoons with her sister as they dug into a couple of bowls.
People have powerful memories of their breakfast cereals, and marketing is a key reason.
Jonna Holland, associate professor of marketing and management at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said effective marketing is all about connecting with the senses. The folks at General Mills and other cereal companies nailed it.
"They hit the sweet spot,'' she said.
Breakfast cereals don't just have the taste factor. They have sound — the snap, crackle, pop. They have the visual — colorful boxes and characters like Cap'n Crunch, Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit.
The smell — that sugary, chocolaty or fruity bouquet. Even touch — that gravelly feeling as we dug our hand into the box searching for a prize.
Even though a lot of breakfast cereals aren't exactly health food, that's how they got their start in the late 1800s. An ad for one cereal from that era claimed it had no equal as "an adjuster of digestive troubles."
Whatever that means.
But that approach began to change in the 1920s and '30s, said Marty Gitlin, a co-author of the cereal book.
By the early 1950s, manufacturers had discovered demand for presweetened cereal among kids born in the baby boom era, a period that also became a cereal boom. Companies introduced lots of new cereals and many were sugarcoated like Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs.
Rob Dornsife, an associate professor at Creighton University who tracks pop culture, said baby boomers probably have particularly strong cereal memories.
They grew up in the days before kids could dial up their favorite shows anytime on cable. Saturday morning cartoons and cereal were a ritual.
Groggy kids scooped up spoonfuls while watching cartoons and commercials for Alpha-Bits or whatever else they were eating. That combination of viewing and munching every Saturday was powerful, said Dornsife, an English department faculty member.
Dornsife had his favorite. He was a Cap'n Crunch Vanilly Crunch guy.
What does he remember about the Cap'n?
Two words: "Pure sugar."
Are you a cereal geek? Test your knowledge of the crunchy stuff.
What is Cap'n Crunch's first name?
Who said Grape-Nuts reminds him of “wild hickory nuts?”
Naturalist Euell Gibbons
Who said in a TV commercial, “I pity the fool who don't eat my cereal.”
Mr. T (for Mr. T cereal, introduced in 1984)
When were Cocoa Puffs introduced?
What was the name of the character flying a biplane on the box of a 1970s grape-flavored cereal?
What cereal had mini marshmallows shaped like ninjas and weapons?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
What mid-1980s cereal was shaped in smiley-face wheels?
Cabbage Patch Kids
What real cereal was in a scene from the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction?”
What cereal is named after a monarch?
What teen idol appeared on boxes of Raisin Bran in 1972?
Source: “The Great American Cereal Book” by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis
Breakfast of champions
Wheaties is truly a star in the cereal lineup. Made of whole-grain wheat, it was first introduced by General Mills in 1924.
Wheaties is known for putting photos of big-name athletes on its boxes. Baseball great Lou Gehrig became the first in 1934.
A sampling of athletes who popped up on the box:
1938: Bob Feller, baseball
1952: Roy Campanella, baseball
1959: Esther Williams, swimming
1977: Bruce Jenner, track and field
1984: Mary Lou Retton, gymnastics
1986: Walter Payton, football
1988: Michael Jordan, basketball
1995: Dan Marino, football
1998: Brett Favre, football
2003: Wayne Gretzky, hockey
2005: Shaquille O'Neal, basketball
2010: Lindsey Vonn, skiing
So what's the deal with the marshmallows?
Pour a bowl of Lucky Charms and you'll spot those pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers.
Those tiny dehydrated marshmallows are called “marbits,” and they've been around for more than 40 years.
A vice president for General Mills is credited with inventing marbits for Lucky Charms. The executive got the idea after cutting up a few of those Brach's marshmallow circus peanuts and stirring them into a bowl of Cheerios. He enjoyed the combination.
Since then, marbits have popped up in dozens of other cereals such as Boo Berry, Marshmallow Alpha-Bits and a Batman cereal that showed up on shelves in 2006.
So what are marbits made of?
Sugar, corn syrup and gelatin.
First cereal required hammer and chisel
Next time you sit down to a bowl of your favorite cereal, give a little thanks to Dr. James Caleb Jackson.
He was an early health food guy and is credited with producing the first ready-to-eat cold breakfast cereal in 1863.
It was called Granula, and your kids definitely wouldn't scream for it in the cereal aisle.
Jackson mixed graham flour and water, baked it and broke it into bits. Then he baked it again.
It was tasteless and hard as a rock. It had to be soaked overnight in milk just so it could be eaten the next morning.
Talk about staying crunchy, even in milk.
Many of the cereals your family munches have been around longer than you might think:
Corn Flakes, 1906
Rice Krispies, 1928
Raisin Bran, 1942
Frosted Flakes, 1952
Froot Loops, 1963
Cap'n Crunch, 1963
Count Chocula, 1971
How's about a bowl of Barbie Fairytopia?
Starting in the early 1980s, cereal makers began naming their cereals after movies, TV shows, toys and games. Often the cereals lasted just a year or two while a certain movie or game was popular.
Do you remember these cereals? » Donkey Kong, 1983-85 » E.T., 1984-86 » C-3PO's, 1984-86 » Cabbage Patch Kids, 1985-86 » Rainbow Brite, 1985-87 » Batman, 1989-91 » Bill & Ted's Excellent Cereal, 1990-92 » Jurassic Park Crunch, 1997 » Finding Nemo, 2005-06 » Barbie Fairytopia, 2007-08
Source: “The Great American Cereal Book” by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis
Stephanie Dotzler, 25, La Vista
“I love cereal and have loved it ever since I was a little girl. My favorite cereal growing up was Lucky Charms and it still is today! I actually did eat the marshmallows first. I remember one time when I was staying at my cousin's house and my aunt saw me eating the marshmallows first and told me I shouldn't do that because it wasn't healthy. I remember getting in cereal boxes plastic spoons that changed color with the milk. Growing up I always wanted the big prizes on the boxes that required you to send money and two proof-of-purchase bar codes. My mom let me do it once and we got a set of four Kellogg's small cereal bowls. I think she still has all of them, but not in the best shape due to the dishwasher deforming them.”
Sally Swanger, 56, La Vista
“During the 1960s when I was a kid, my parents didn't indulge in cereals with prizes, unless they were cereals we bought on a regular basis. Begging for prize-studded cereals was not rewarded in our house. While I don't remember the prizes, I do remember many with games, puzzles, or cut-out figures on the back. It really made me want to empty the box quickly so I could have the box. I really liked Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Krispies, which we didn't get very often as chocolate was frowned upon as a breakfast choice. When I finished eating it I would have chocolate milk left in the bowl. I would pick up the bowl and drink from it like a cup, much to my mother's annoyance.”
Gregg Moeller, 46, Wisner, Neb.
“The greatest cereal was the old 1970s Post Frosted Rice Krinkles — basically sugar coated Rice Krispies. For a little kid, it was heavenly — solidly sweet, and the sugar actually helped keep the rice from going soggy! It was the cereal that my grandmother Emma Moeller always had on hand, so it also brings happy memories of being with her as well.
Worst cereal in the history of the western world — Quangaroos orange-flavored cereal. When I was a child, I was attracted to the cartoon kangaroo on the box, and insisted that we had to try it. Well, my father's aunt (my baby sitter) heard me talking about it and found it in the town grocery store in Pilger, Neb. She poured me a bowl, and gave it to me and the stuff was awful. It was soggy almost instantaneously, had the flavor of sawdust mixed with milk and Tang and it turned the milk a nasty peach color.
As a child growing up on a farm, I rarely got the “high end” cereals because of the cost. The most pricey cereal I remember was Fruity Pebbles. I would see others with it, and I'd be instantly envious. Even now, I feel guilty buying it, and I'll buy store brands instead.
Kellogg's 3-D baseball and football cards were terrific prizes — however, the amount of cereal needed to complete a set was beyond anyone's means! Also, any records from the back of the cereal boxes — especially Jackson 5 and the Monkees — were prized, though they were only playable a few times until the grooves wore out.”
Tammy Svagera, 48, Ralston
“My favorite cereal in the '70s was Freakies. I always looked forward to the magnets in the box or a Freakies figure. My mom would let us three kids pick out a box of cereal for the week and I would always go for the Freakies. My brothers would say, “Hey, I was going to pick that out.” Of course, they would pick a different kind then. The three favorite cereals I eat now are Honey Smacks, Corn Pops and Honey Bunches of Oats. It's always nice to have cereal around the house. If you don't feel like making anything, you can always have cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Ryan Callinan, 28, Omaha
“As long as the cereal was delicious and left a sugar swirl in the milk at the bottom of the bowl I was in! I had to have my Sugar Pops though, probably due to the early-morning brainwashings courtesy of Saturday cartoon advertisements. I remember thinking kid-tested, mother-approved was not only brilliant but a valid argument. And if we had some Cocoa Puffs I'd always have chocolate milk left over at the end. You could throw an incredible trinket in a mediocre box of cereal and you'd have my full attention.”
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