Emasculated Breakfast Cereal

Strawberry Chex

By: General Mills

Suggested Retail Price: $3.19 for a 13.5-ounce box

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 3stars

Growing up, I always associated Chex with masculinity, for reasons that are undoubtedly deeply rooted and difficult to articulate. Part of it was probably that Dad ate them, which made them a serious cereal, not to be trifled with. Part of it was probably how businesslike they were: little squares subdivided by other little squares, tiny Adam Smithian models of rural commerce. They had sensible, direct names: Rice Chex. Corn Chex. For the superserious breakfast, Multi-Bran Chex.

And now here comes Strawberry Chex, a sashaying pink potential savior for those who can’t handle the simple, austere, masculine power of the brand’s old-school flavor varieties. The cereal isn’t uniformly strawberry; it’s actually a mix of unflavored and ultraflavored pieces. For every seven or eight strait-laced, lightly flavored, Rice Chex–esque squares, there is one that looks like it’s been dipped in a powdery substance that tastes suspiciously like strawberry Nesquik.

What’s the result? A cereal at war with its own identity. Sweet? Serious? Healthy? The box boasts of the “deliciously light taste of strawberries,” but it’s a flavor that winks in and out in a heavy-handed manner, overcommitting when it chooses to appear. It has an almost chalky, saccharine attack, far less evocative of fruit than artificially sweetened beverages.

Strawberry Chex certainly aren’t near the bottom of the processed-cereal barrel; there are far more egregious things on the market. But they represent a misdirection of the brand’s image.

And, if my experience is any indicator, many consumers are likely to find them emotionally threatening.

Wild Animal Crunch

By: Kellogg’s

Suggested Retail Price: $2.99 for an 11-ounce box

Taste: 1stars


Marketing: 2stars

Well, well, well. It’s a cereal named Wild Animal Crunch, featuring giant photos of endangered species—such as a big, dewy-eyed panda bear—on the package. “Share your love for animals,” proclaims the cereal’s website.

So, does a percentage of sales go to save wild animals?

Either it’s none, or the cereal makers (Kellogg’s and its eager cosponsor, the Animal Planet network) are so modest they’ve chosen to conceal that information from consumers.

In fact, the relationship between Wild Animal Crunch and actual wild animals seems to be this:

1. Wild animals are on the box.

2. Wild animals appear on Animal Planet.

3. Animal Planet is on the box.

4. People who buy this cereal might watch wild animals on TV afterward. Particularly if they’ve solved the Word Forest puzzle on the back of the box. (Here’s a hint: Explore is written BACKWARD!)

The naturally (oh, whoops, and artificially) flavored vanilla-chocolate whole-grain cereal bits may very well be designed to look like animals of some sort, but the closest they get is looking like fetuses. Human fetuses.

And the flavor? Good Lord. It would make more sense to eat actual pandas for breakfast than to try to choke down a bowl of this stuff, which suffers from the “cut with real sawdust” flavor that typifies your local grocery store’s generic knockoff version of Froot Loops. There’s an unpleasant, lingering dryness that follows each bite, notwithstanding the milk, and “vanilla-chocolate,” as it turns out, isn’t much of a flavor choice. It’s halfway between watery chocolate milk and wheat bread.

If ever a cereal needed to be taken out behind the barn and put down, it’s Wild Animal Crunch.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.