Hello, Cheerios: May 1, 1941
There are plenty of wheat cereals and corn flakes on the market at the time, but General Mills breaks new ground by launching a “ready-to-eat” cereal made of puffed oats. The company calls the little circles “CheeriOats.” Four years later, after complaints from Quaker Oats, it shortens the name simply to “Cheerios.”
Not that it matters much. The cereal is an instant hit, in part because Americans are encouraged to eat oats to save wheat for the war effort, in part because General Mills is smart enough to make Cheerios sponsor of the nationally-syndicated radio show, “The Lone Ranger.” The cereal gets a cartoon mascot in 1942 named Cheery O’Leary, but she’s replaced in the 1950’s–when the advertising switches to TV—with a character named the “Cheerios Kid,” who’s able to solve problems after eating his Cheerios. But the brand also keeps its ties to “The Lone Ranger” when it moves over to TV and 1961, some of the first action figures, a miniature Lone Ranger and one of his horse, Silver, are included inside boxes of Cheerios.
It survived in the sweet and colorful cereal market by adapting, first by offering different flavors, beginning with Honey Nut Cheerios in 1979, followed by almost a dozen more, including Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in 1988, MultiGrain Cheerios in 1992, Frosted Cheerios in 1995, Chocolate Cheerios in 2010, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios in 2011 and MultiGrain Peanut Butter in 2012.
Also, in the mid-1970s, General Mills had smartly started marketing their top cereal as finger food for toddlers. (Who knows how many Cheerios have ended up stuck inside car seats?). Then, in the 1990s, it began promoting Cheerios’ health benefits. After studies showed that of all breakfast cereals, Cheerios was the only one that could help reduce “bad” cholesterol, the company went so far as to print “You Can Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in Six Weeks” on its boxes. In 2009, the FDA objected, noting that if the cereal was going to make that kind of claim, it would need federal approval to be sold as a drug. General Mills objected, but eventually removed the language.
Today, Cheerios are as popular as ever. In fact, one out of eight boxes of cereal sold in the U.S. is some version of Cheerios. And, according to BrandIndex’s Brand Buzz Rankings, it’s the #3 brand in America, ranking behind only Subway and Amazon.
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