Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Holiday cereal showdown

With Christmas almost here it is a good time to review cereals related to the season. If you are looking for ways to get into the Holiday spirit perhaps having the right cereals around the house might help. And, this year there are four to choose from, all extensions of exiting brands: General Mills' Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch, Post Sugar Cookie Pebbles, and Quaker Cap'n Crunch Christmas Crunch. The General Mills varieties are brand new this year, whereas the Pebbles cereal is a repeat from last year, and the Cap'n Crunch one is a long-standing favorite.

So, here's a quick review to evaluate the 2014 Holiday cereal offerings, and I will use the same four criteria that are used in my normal reviews: taste, texture, experience, and nutrition.


It is obvious that the theme of this years' Holiday cereals is cookies, one of the favorite treats for this time of year. The exception is Cap'n Crunch Christmas Crunch, which is really Crunch Berries reformulated with green and red balls. As far as taste is concerned the Cap'n Crunch just doesn't do anything for me. It's nothing special, way too sweet, and far too dependent on artificial flavors and colors.

The three cookie cereals are much better. Sugar Cookie Pebbles and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch do have the billed taste, with the Toast Crunch the better of the two. The Holiday Sprinkles Cooke Crisp are somewhat similar, coming much closer to  shortbread cookies.

Overall, the taste winner for me is Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch.


There are few surprises here as the cereals bring with them the texture of the original brands upon which they are based. If you like a crunchy cereal that holds its own against milk Cap'n Crunch is the clear winner, but perhaps is to harsh right out of the box. Pebbles turn to mush quickly, especially after 5 to 10 minutes, whereas the Toast Crunch and Cookie Crunch find a more ideal middle ground.

In the end, Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp is my favorite for texture, retaining its cookie form and a certain degree of crunch even after time in milk.


These cereals are ultimately about experience. You buy them because they're fun and contribute to the feel of the season. On packaging alone, the Pebbles box by far provides the best breakfast table gazing, with Cap'n Crunch following close behind. But, it's about more than just the packaging. The cereals themselves contribute to the experience, and the Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp is the most authentic because the cereal has the look, feel and taste of cookies. As good as the Toast Crunch and Pebbles are for mimicking sugar cookie taste, their form factor provides little resemblance to what they are representing.

For me the experience winner is a toss-up between the great looking Sugar Cookie Pebbles box and Holiday Sprinkles Cookie Crisp.


Let's be honest. You don't buy these cereals for their nutritional qualities. All four are relatively high in sugar (Cap'n Crunch the highest at 46% of total weight, Toast Crunch the lowest at 29%), low in protein and fiber, and contain artificial ingredients. Of course, there are fortified vitamins and minerals in an attempt to make up some of the other shortcomings.

It's really hard to declare a nutrition winner here. Perhaps Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is the lesser of the evils, but does it really matter?


So, is it possible to pick a champion in this year's Holiday cereal showdown? Not really. Ultimately, it will come down to personal appeal and taste, and any of these will liven up your Holiday breakfast times. If I had to make a recommendation it would be to at least try the two new General Mills cereals because they are brand new this year and offer something fresh and interesting. Hopefully, cereal manufacturers will keep innovating in future years, with other holiday flavors and tie-ins. Perhaps someone will even attempt a fruit cake version. OK, maybe scratch that latter idea!

Whichever you choose, may you and your family have a wonderful Holiday season!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Consumers Want: Favorites from the Past

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote on how General Mills may have misread consumers in their recent push to use non-GMO ingredients. It seems like the company is starting to get it, now going after what consumers really want. Evidence of this comes just a few days ago when they announced the return of a cereal they discontinued eight years ago, French Toast Crunch.

Obviously, in 2006 the executives at General Mills figured that sales were not sufficient for this variant of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch series (which incidentally just celebrated its 30th birthday) so they dumped it. What they did not realize is how passionate some people were for this cereal. The loyal following made their disappointment known, and some even went to great lengths to get some from Canada where it has remained available. With the recent growth of social media the pressure on the company seemed to increase, with even one fan (@FTCtoUSA) creating a special Twitter account to rally fans around the purpose of getting General Mills to bring their favorite cereal back.

It has worked, and in the New Year grocery shelves will be brimming with the red boxes. Fans are ecstatic, a point that General Mills is quick to highlight. Who knows if French Toast Crunch will really make a difference in overall sales for the company, but at this point it is better for them to listen to what consumers really want and to tap into their passions. At minimum they have earned tremendous goodwill and have a powerful story to tell.

I personally do not have any special memories of French Toast Crunch, but I will be trying it out again (and featuring a review here). I do hope, however, that it becomes a trend that other cereal manufacturers will follow. As I've discussed on several occasions before, bringing back nostalgic cereals (not just retro boxes, but actual cereals) would be a great way to re-energize consumers who are tired of many of the current offerings on the market. General Mills has done this previously with their Halloween monster cereals, and I believe that there are many other opportunities out there. For example, Adweek just highlighted five other cereals from the past that appear to generate significant Twitter chatter: Oreo-O's, Waffle Crisp, Nesquik cereal, Pop Tarts Crunch, and the monster cereals.

What cereals would you like to see return, even if for a limited time? (My short list: Freakies, OKs, and Pink Panther Flakes).