Why your morning cereal tastes like frosted cardboard

Consumer products companies are allowing social activists and junk science to destroy the appeal and efficacy of a variety of consumer products.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on this phenomenon in the context of kids’ cereals:

Six years ago the Minneapolis-based General Mills embarked on a makeover of products in its portfolio. To improve the “health profile” of a particular product, it set the goal of taking out 10% of something on the bad list, such as sodium, sugar, fat or calories, or adding 10% of something beneficial, such as vitamins, fiber or whole grain.

To ensure the cereals’ longevity in milk as sugar levels were reduced, the company added in whole grain or fiber to beef up the texture. And to arrive at a sweetness level that would still entice children to eat it, food scientists either added natural flavors or changed the placement of the sugar from within the puff or flake to a coating around it, which Mr. Mendesh says “changes how your palate receives the sweetness.”

But when it comes to sugar reduction, General Mills thinks it may not be able to go much further.

“We know that right around nine grams of sugar per serving, you’re at the breaking point where the sugar level is so low that the sweetness is not enough for a kid to eat it on day two after trying it on day one,” says Susan Crockett, who heads the company’s Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, a nutrition-research division. “We’re close to the sweetness threshold in cereal.”

The motivations for tinkering with success are as follows:

Altering products without introducing other problems—or leaving them bland—is a challenge all food companies face. But it’s one that increasing numbers of companies have taken on as they try to fend off criticism related to the American diet.

For food companies, reformulations aren’t just a public-relations move. General Mills found that its fastest-growing items are those that carry some type of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved health claim. [Emphasis added]

But of course the criticism and health claims are both junk science-based. As to the critics, we’ve reported on the Center for Science in the Public Interest many times.

As to the health-based claims, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad”, much less “magic”, food.


This article quotes CSPI’s Margo Wootan who says she wouldn’t feed General Mills’ cereals to her own child. In checking to see whether she actually is a mother (she is), we learned that Wootan takes that child to McDonald’s — “But even a member of the food police sometimes must submit to the entreaties of a child,” the Boston Globe rationalized.

We also learned that Wootan is married to Gene McCarthy, a former Democratic Capitol Hill staffer who is a senior vice president for the Washington, DC-based PR firm of Powell Tate. The firm works on food and nutrition issues under the direction of former Washington Post reporter Sally Squires. Here is a Powell Tate newsletter from its food policy practice — note the issues are right up CSPI’s alley. Pepsi is a Powell Tate client. This is the twisted, conflict-rife world of Washington, DC.

5 thoughts on “Why your morning cereal tastes like frosted cardboard”

  1. Errrrmmm … I was allowed neither sugary cereal nor sugar on my cereal as a child. I still ate cereal. The problem is the whole diet, most Americans (not just children) expect too much sugar. The bread is so sweet it is effectively inedible, at least long-term, to many non-Americans. I could not live in the US until I found (a) a reliable source of unsweetened bread and (b) an area with a few bars serving decent, real beer, preferably English bitter.

  2. The worst thing about the American diet is the accumulated anxiety wrought by junk science alarmism. If you believed *ALL* the hype, you wouldn’t eat anything from a can, anything from a bag, anything from a bottle, any meat, raw plants, anything with salt on it, or anything imported – whic pretty much leaves you starving to death.
    Back in the 70’s reknowned biochemist Dr. Isaac Asimov argued that the most potent carcinogen is the naturally occurring radioactivity in the carbon-based food we eat – Carbon-14.
    Who wants to live forever?

  3. I love cheerios too, but I put sugar on them…..thats bad I guess, but somehow i don’t really give a dam what anyone else thinks.

  4. Cheerios, a General Mills product, which hasn’t changed a bit in 60 years has 1 gr. of sugar per serving. It tastes just fine without added sugar. I grew up on it that way and still eat a whopping bowl full that way. So do our kids. We never bought them a sugared cereal until they were 12 or 13. They know when and when not to eat sugar.

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