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The Decline and Fall of
the Classic Breakfast Cereal


There was a time, not so long ago, when breakfast cereals were simple.  But the classic cereals have undergone mutations that have rendered many of them unrecognizable and nearly inedible.  This page is dedicated to those once-great breakfast cereals.

Note:  you won't find any mention on this page of the many chocolate flavored breakfast cereals.  They're gross.  I don't eat them, and therefore haven't really noticed whether they have changed or not.


Part I - Chaos Theory in the Context of Breakfast Cereals

The most disturbing trend in breakfast cereals is the exponential increase in the complexity of shapes and colors.

  The Classic Version Today's Abomination
Lucky Charms Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons, Orange Stars & Green Clovers Pink Hearts; Purple Horseshoes; Blue & Yellow Moons; Red & Orange Balloons; Blue, Yellow & Pink Rainbows; Yellow & White Shooting Stars; Light Green Hats with Dark Green Clovers; Orange & Yellow Pots of Gold; etc.; etc.; etc.
Fruity Pebbles Orange, Yellow & Red Orange, Yellow, Red, Green, Purple & Blue
Froot Loops Orange, Lemon & Cherry Orange, Yellow, Red, Purple, Green, and  "Jungleberry" (Red/Blue) Swirl
Trix Perfectly round spheres of Orange, Lemon & Cherry Various fruit shapes of WildBerry, Grape, Raspberry, Lemon, Orange & Watermelon
Crunch Berries Capt'n Crunch cereal with red berries Capt'n Crunch cereal with red, blue & purple berries
Apple Jacks Orange loops with red cinnamon sprinkles Orange and Green loops with red cinnamon sprinkles

 

Lucky Charms - Let's start with the most egregious example of screwing with classic breakfast cereals.  Lucky Charms used to have just four shapes of marshmallows, each with a single color.  They were:  pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers (and they were always recited in that order). 

Then, sometime in the mid to late seventies, blue diamonds were added (one site I found claims it was in 1975, but that seems a bit earlier than I remember).  Purple horseshoes were added in 1984, and then red balloons in 1989 (I think that was probably about the time that red food coloring was no longer universally feared, and the red M&M's were brought back).  So the original four marshmallow shapes had grown to seven.  That's already far too much for a person to keep track of that early in the morning.

But then things started to get really bizarre.  Back around 1986, they had a special advertising promotion that involved a whale, and a multicolored swirled whale marshmallow was added to the cereal for a limited time (see below for a description of this and other special edition charms).  Then, around 1992, they added rainbows with blue, yellow and pink stripes - the first permanent addition with more than one color - and thus began the era of the multicolored charms.  After that, another multicolored abomination was introduced around 1994 - a "pot of gold," which was yellow with orange on top.  And to make maters worse, the "pot of gold" replaced the yellow moons!  Now it's one thing to add weird new marshmallows to the cereal; it's quite another to eliminate one of the four classic charms.  That's sacrilegious!  Lucky Charms must contain yellow moons!  But this contempt for tradition was just the beginning.

Strangely, the moons were brought back about a year later, but they were blue!  (The blue diamonds were apparently dropped sometime prior to that.)

The late nineties saw either the elimination or the grotesque disfigurement of other classic charms.  The green clovers were replaced by a light green hats with dark green clover in them (like the hat that Lucky the Leprechaun wears) around 1996.  And the orange stars were first altered from six points to five points (1995), and then replaced by yellow and white "shooting stars."  The last time I checked, the pink hearts were the only one of the original four charms that remains.

Other changes in the nineties included turning the red balloons and the then-blue moons into multicolored charms.  The balloons became red with an orange star (1991), and the moons became blue with a yellow mouth (now called the "man in the moon") (1999).

Additionally, at various times since the mid-eighties, they have featured special edition marshmallows for limited periods of time. These have included rainbow-swirled whales (1986); green pine trees (for an Earth Day promotion); various Christmas themed marshmallows; Olympic themed shapes (1996); "twisted" two-color versions of the then-current shapes (1997); and a special "around the world" series featuring a green and yellow torch, a gold pyramid, a blue Eiffel Tower, an orange Golden Gate Bridge, a purple Liberty Bell, a pink and white Leaning Tower of Pisa, a red and white Big Ben clock tower, and green and white Alps (1999).  I wouldn't have as much of a problem with these temporary additions, as long as they went back to the four traditional shapes and colors at the end of the special promotion.

It's also worth noting that the pace of change has accelerated dramatically.  I'm not sure exactly when Lucky Charms first came on the market, but I'm guessing it was probably in the early-to-mid-sixties.  The first change (adding blue diamonds) was not made until the mid-to-late-seventies, and then it was nearly another decade before the second change was made.  Then, five years passed before the third change was made.  But starting in the early nineties, changes were made almost every year; and by the late nineties, changes could happen over the course of a few months.

Kids need stability in their lives, damn it!

Today, Lucky Charms are a complete mess.  They have charms with multicolored swirls, charms that change color or reveal patterns when the milk is added, and who knows what else.  I won't touch the stuff anymore.  It frightens me.

Fruity Pebbles

While I was growing up, Fruity Pebbles was, by far, my favorite cereal.  Those three bright, warm colors in my bowl were like little bits of sunshine greeting me in the morning.  Then, near the end of my childhood years, they added purple.  And that fundamentally changed the nature of the cereal.  Now don't get me wrong, purple is a fine color, and it definitely has its place (like in Boo-Berry, another childhood favorite).  But to add purple to Fruity Pebbles is just wrong.  It's a dark, cold color.  Fruity Pebbles used to be a cereal you could count on to brighten a dark, dreary morning.  But no longer.  I wonder if there have been any studies linking the rise in childhood depression to the introduction of purple pebbles.

Additionally, Post added light green (which I guess is supposed to correspond to lime - which at least somewhat fits in with the citrus fruits that correspond to two of the three original colors).  Then, most recently, they added a bright blue, which doesn't really correspond to any known fruit.  Today, Fruity Pebbles is just a kaleidoscopic technicolor mess.

Froot Loops

Froot Loops is another cereal that used to have the three classic fruit cereal colors - red, orange and yellow - and has felt compelled to add new colors.  Like Fruity Pebbles, they have gone from three colors to six.  First they added purple, and then green (or maybe it was the other way around, I can't remember).  And now they have an ugly red and blue swirled loop that they have referred to as "jungleberry."  In which jungles can you find this red and blue swirled berry?

More colors does not make the cereal more attractive.  The effect on the color of the milk is especially disturbing.  Maybe instead of trying find new ways to make Froot Loops look increasingly obnoxious, they should focus on improving the taste.  Not that it's bad tasting, but it's definitely not as good as either Trix or Fruity Pebbles.

Trix

Today's Trix bears so little resemblance to the classic version of Trix that it's arguable whether it should even be considered the same cereal.  Originally, Trix had the three classic fruits: orange, lemon and cherry, and the shape was perfectly round spheres (like a fruit version of Kix or Cocoa Puffs).  But like Fruity Pebbles and Froot Loops, they felt compelled to add new colors.  I've already discussed how I think the new colors ruined these classic fruit cereals.

After polluting the cereal with new colors, they changed the shape from spheres to various fruit shapes.  That also fundamentally changed the nature of the cereal.  One of the most fun things about about Trix was seeing how much you could fit into a bowl without them falling out, and if it overflowed, they would roll all over the table and you would have to try to catch them before they fell onto the floor.  But most of these new fruit shapes don't roll at all.  They just sit there next to your bowl.  What fun is that?

After changing to fruit shapes, they made many of the shapes multicolor.  A box of today's Trix describes the flavors as: WildBerry Blue (which looks like a blue flower with a red center), Grapity Purple (in the shape of a small bunch of grapes), Raspberry Red (the same floral shape as the WildBerry, but all red), Lemony Yellow (in the shape of a lemon wedge), Orangey Orange (round)  & Watermelon (green and red in wedge shape).  The only shape that even marginally resembles the original cereal is the orange, which is a single color and round (although I think it is a bit smaller than the original Trix spheres).

Having said all this, I actually kind of like this new cereal.  While the number of different colors makes it appear too busy, the color combinations do seem to work better than the new versions of Fruity Pebbles or Froot Loops (I think having a different shape associated with each color or color combination helps).  And the taste is still quite good.  But the thing that bothers me is that they call this cereal Trix, because it is not.

Update: Sometime in early 2007, a significant change to Trix occurred.  They went back to using all perfectly round spheres!  This is the first time that I'm aware of that one of the classic cereals has gone back towards the earlier simplicity.  They still have more colors than the original, but it's a fascinating and encouraging development nevertheless

Crunch Berries

Crunch Berries is another classic cereal that has undergone an unfortunate alteration.  The original version, with the golden color Captain Crunch cereal along with the bright red crunch berries, was perfect.  It was simple and there was absolutely no reason to change it.  However, Crunch Berries also fell victim to the trend toward making classic cereals more complex.  At least they haven't made it as obnoxious as some other cereals - three colors of berries is at least a manageable number, and the colors are relatively close to the colors of actual berries found in nature. 

Plus, I give them a lot of credit for finally doing something that I fantasized about in my childhood; they released boxes of "all berries."  Kids today don't have to go through the effort of picking out all the regular Captain Crunch cereal in order to get a bowl full of pure crunch berries.  I just wish that the crunch berries were still all red.

Apple Jacks

I was never really a big fan of Apple Jacks.  I mean, I would eat it if it were a choice between Apple Jacks and All Bran.  And the song from the commercials is pretty catchy.  But it wasn't one of my favorites.  So I don't get all that worked up about how it has been changed.  Still, I don't see how adding green loops to the cereal is an improvement.


Part II - How To Make Cereals Healthier:  Change the Name!

There is another category of cereal changes that really bugs me.  When I was growing up, starting off the day with a bowl full of sugar wasn't something to be ashamed of.  The main ingredient of all the good cereals was sugar - the manufacturers admitted it, our parents accepted it, and we loved it.  Then, in the mid-1980s, things changed.  Classic breakfast cereals were renamed in order to remove the word "sugar," leaving them with names that are far less descriptive, and, in the case of "Smacks," just plain weird.  Thankfully, the cereals themselves didn't change; they remained just as full of sugar as ever.

Original "Sugary" Name New "Healthy" Name
Sugar Frosted Flakes Frosted Flakes
Sugar Smacks Honey Smacks, then Smacks
Sugar Crisp, then Super Sugar Crisp Golden Crisp
Sugar Pops, then Sugar Corn Pops Corn Pops

 

Part III - What's Next?

Given the rate at which some classic breakfast cereals have been distorted to the point of being unrecognizable, it's hard to guess what the cereal companies will do next.  One possibility is that they will continue down this path, so that soon we will have Lucky Charms with 17 different kinds of marshmallows, including glow-in-the-dark marshmallows and those that play music when they come into contact with milk.  Another possibility (which is probably less likely) is that they will see the error of their ways and re-release "classic" versions of these cereals, like when the Coca Cola Company re-released "classic Coke" after they realized what a mistake they had made with "new" Coke.  Even if they just release classic versions as a limited time promotion, that would at least recognize that there are consumers out there that liked the old versions better.  And if those sell well enough, it might encourage them to rethink the wisdom of messing with a good thing.


Cereal Links

Topher's Breakfast Cereal Character Guide  - "A fun and educational reference on all your favorite cereal box characters from the early 1900's to the present."

Cereal Box Archive - "an archive of hundreds of cereal boxes."


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Last Updated 27 January 2008
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