Today, there are Alpha Bits and Apple Jacks, Bran Buds, Bran Flakes and Raisin Bran, Cheerios, Corn Chex, Rice Chex, and Wheat Chex, Cocoa Krispies, Cocoa Puffs, Concentrate, Corn Crackos, Corn Flakes, Corn Nix, Crispy Critters, Froot Loops, Frosty O’s, Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes, Honeycomb, Krumbles, Lucky Charms, OKs, Puffa-Puffa Rice, Quake and Quisp, Rice Krispies, Special K, Stars, Sugar Crisp, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Sugar Jets, Sugar Pops, Sugar Smacks, Sugar Sparkled Rice Krinkles, Total, Trix, Wheat Stax, and, of course, Wheaties — to name a few of the breakfast cereals now on the market.
The list amounts to second-degree assault on the language, but it adds up to about 1.2 billion pounds of cleverly disguised corn, oats, rice, and wheat that will be sold to Americans this year as breakfast food. Americans, obviously, buy a lot of ready-to-eat cereals. Retail sales of dry cereals will total about $660 million this year. The business can be very profitable: even a one percent share of that market can generate something on the order of $1 million in pretax profits.
With sales up 43 percent in the past five years, the dry cereal business has been one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry. It is no coincidence that this growth has paralleled a surge in the number of very young Americans. Children consume about half the cereal eaten in the US.
The industry’s ability to reach this market so well rests on two things: persuading mothers of the nutritional value that is built into even the most ridiculous names on those gaudy packages; and persuading the children themselves, on afternoon and Saturday morning television shows, to demand cereals featuring “go power” or “crunchability.”
This bifold approach has sold a lot of cereal. It has also enabled the manufacturers to promote the uniqueness of their brands, and thus insulate themselves from private labeling and price competition that raise havoc with other package groceries.