Do you remember being that kid in the supermarket pleading for your dream breakfast cereal like your life depended on it?
The breakfast cereals of the 1980s ushered in a whole new era of products that were highly desired by kids. An explosion of cereal varieties and characters, along with great advertising campaigns, made these breakfast cereals as coveted as some toys.
You can listen to the podcast version about 1980s cereals, or if you like to listen with your eyes you can read on!
The Brave New World Of 1980s Breakfast Cereals
If you grew up like me you probably were very rarely allowed sugary junk cereal. Anything that came from a brightly colored box with some sort of cartoon on it was not going to be making it into my bowl. I took this worse than some countries that lose their independence.
We were raised on the standard Cheerios, Cornflakes, Weetabix, and, if we were lucky, Honey Nut Cheerios. That’s as extravagant as our cereal choices were. A lot of the things I was seeing in commercials could not really even be considered foods. They were more facsimile foods, but that didn’t matter because I wanted them more than life itself.
Seeing Cookie Crisp commercials when you were younger was borderline abuse knowing that I would never get to have cookies for breakfast. To me, this was the very definition of utopia. A big thing would happen in the summers however when we would head north to the cabin. Our whole family would be up there sharing these cottages and my aunts and uncles were in charge of the food.
I remember almost passing out the day I saw a box of Corn Pops and Fruity Pepples on the countertop. For 9 year old me this was my dream come true. The problem for these brands was that they were 100% targeted to kids and really had no hope of cornering the adult market. Except for maybe stoned college students.
The top-selling breakfast cereals have always generally been:
- Honey Nut Cheerios
- Frosted Flakes
- Honey Bunches of Oats
- Cinnamon Toast Crunch
- Special K
- Mini Wheats
- Lucky Charms
For an ‘80s kid, there are a few gold choices in there specifically Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms. Adults though were the main ones buying cereals but heading into the ‘80s that would change.
The Very Real Effect Of Pester Power
A kid begging and pleading for anything from
Manufacturers are aware of this and aim to direct advertising to children as they know they are the ones that can influence a lot of the family’s purchases. McDonald’s spends more money advertising the Happy Meal than they do on adolescents and adults. And it works.
Cereal companies, and many other manufacturers, are big on using cartoon animals in their products due to the effect of anthropomorphism. This is when animals, especially cute cartoony ones, take on human traits. This really draws in children and creates a strong association with the character and ultimately the product.
The next time you’re in a grocery store check out the cereal aisle. All the
Basically, these companies know how to get a kids attention and with the very real effect of pester
So with all that out of the way, let’s look at some of, what I think, are the cereals that are most synonymous with the 1980s.
I’m going to jump right into these first because they were my favorites and are pretty interesting. I’m of course talking about Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and my personal favorite, Boo Berry. But did you know there were actually a few more that rounded out the Monster Cereal collection?
The Monster Cereals first started in the early 1971 with Count Chocula (who;s official name was Count Alfred Chocula) and the strawberry flavoured Franken Berry. The idea is they would base the cereals on a cartoon version of a classic movie monster. Franken Berry ran into some problems in the early ‘70’s when some of the pigment used to turn the cereal pink was causing kids crap to turn pink.
Boo Berry was introduced in 1973 and helped to swing the whole line into popularity heading into the 1980s. This is when the lesser known other Monster Cereals made their debut which included Fruit Brute which was discontinued in 1982 and was replaced by Yummy Mummy. Yummy Mummy replaced it in 1987 and lasted all the way until 1992.
I thought I had a good grasp on all cereals but I had never heard of Fruit Brute or Yummy Mummy. What else did I miss…?
These cereals were pretty much discontinued into the 2000’s but in 2010 they started to re-release them around Halloween each year for a couple of months. I know I jump all over them when they hit the shelves. In August 2013 they decided to release all 5 of the Monster Cereals which included Yummy Mummy and Fruit Brute which had both not been on shelves for more than 25 years.
What a time to be alive.
Not captain but Cap’n Crunch goes back into the 1960s but most of us were very aware of it during the ‘80s. It was based on a recipe that involved putting brown sugar and butter over rice. I’m not making that up. Creating this flavor required coming up with a new special baking process that involved using an oil coating for “flavor delivery”
This seems in line with the “crunch enhancer” the non-nutrient cereal varnish created by Clarke W. Griswald jr…
The design of the cereal was to create a desire to keep eating more of it which they termed “want-more-ish-ness”. I have to agree because as I look back I can’t think of too many other cereals that I could eat more of. Cap’n Crunch was always a 2-3 bowl experience, until it tore the living hell out of the roof of your mouth.
Cap’n Crunch was the mascot of his own cereal and was based on an 18th century naval captain. You know how kids love naval captains…
His actual name was Horatio Magellan Crunch which is amazing and he is captain of a ship called the “Guppy”. Huge controversy exists because Cap’n Crunch wears a uniform that has generally only shown 3 stripes which would technically give him the rank of commander and not Captain which requires 4 stripes.
Your childhood has been a fraud.
The voice of Cap’n Crunch in the commercials was done by Daws Butler who also did voices for Elroy Jetson, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss and the iconic Yogi Bear.
A few other iterations of Cap’n Crunch have existed over the years including Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries, Choco Crunch, Christmas Crunch, Oops! All Berries, and Cap’n Crunch Orange Creampop Crunch. Yep, that was a real cereal.
The Cap’n Crunch Whistle
Do you have time for a story? If you’ve read the great Ready Player One by Ernest Cline you know where I’m going with this. Cap’n Crunch once included a toy whistle called the Bo’sun whistle and was meant to replicate the whistle used by sailing captains to signal meal times or commands.
So these whistles played a frequency of 2600hz which was the exact frequency that could be recognized by telephone lines. A former U.S Air Force electronics technician named John Draper was one of the first to discover that if you played this recognizable tone into the phone you could make long distance calls for free. This created an underground group of people called “phreakers” who would use these
John Draper and these groups would become somewhat of an influence on a young Apple co-founder named Steve Wozniak who would seek out Draper to learn more. Wozniak even once tried to prank call the Pope using one.
Seriously, if you haven’t make sure you read Ready Player One. The whistle makes up a big part of the story which was not used in the movie.
Mr. T Cereal
Made by Quaker Oats this was kind of a Cap’n Crunch rip off. O.K it was a total rip off in the shape of “T’s” and contained more iron and b vitamins.
Mr. T cereal first came out in 1984 and would be a huge cereal hit of the 1980s. It capitalized on the popularity of Mr.T (aka Laurence Tureaud) who had achieved some mainstream success with his appearance in the Rocky movies and on the A-Team. Mr. T cereal was pretty much crack in a bowl and had one of the highest amounts of sugar ever put in a cereal. Remember that “want-more-ish-ness” from Cap’n Crunch? This was like sprinkling crack onto it…
Some of the catch phrases used to sell the cereal included:
“ Team up with Mr.T, it’s cool” and “I pity the fool who don’t eat my cereal”.
Quaker oats was definitely not trying to sell you grammar with this one. And who could forget it’s appearance in a low budget campy film called Pee Wee’s Big Adventure where Pee Wee acted out the line and then poured it all over some eggs and pancakes.
Here’s another classic. Made by Kellogs C3-P0 cereal were a honey sweetened oat and corn cereal that were in the shape of a figure 8. It came out in 1984 and only lasted 2 years. It was notable for having a cut out mask of Luke Skywalker on the back of it and they tasted a lot like Alpha-bits.
C3-P0 cereal had an interesting release timing. Return of the Jedi had already been released wrapping up the Star Wars trilogy. Kids thought this was the last they would ever see of Star Wars until commercials came out later on showing C3-P0 and his cereal. It at least gave them some excitement for some new Star Wars content until the Droids cartoon and the later coming prequels. They should have just ended things at C3-P0 cereal…
I’m still not sure why they were in the shape of an 8. Was it to look like his eyes? It was obviously an easy design or a cereal they had lying around they needed to make use for.
I have to say this may be my favorite of the ‘80s and maybe of all time.
E.T was obviously a huge hit in 1982 and there was some merchandising done and I only wish I had time to go into the disaster that was the E.T Atari game. I’ll save that for another time but this cereal didn’t come out until 2 years after the movie. It was made by General Mills and was a two-grain crunchy combination of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s been awhile since I’ve had it but I can still practically taste it.
Unlike the confusing “8’s” in C3-P0 cereal, E.T cereal was at least made up of little “E’s” and “T’s”. Wait, I wonder if that was connected to Mr. T cereal in some way. There’s a lot of shadiness in the breakfast cereal game…
As good as this cereal was it only lasted a year so I’m glad I got to try it when I did. Nothing would capture the imagination of my taste buds like this again until Reese cereal.
A pretty awesome marshmallow based cereal that came out in 1983. The arcade game was obviously massive and this of course needed to be followed up in cereal fashion. Made by General Mills, Pac-Man cereal was a crunchy sweetened corn cereal with marshmallows. The cereal part were basically the round dots that Pac-Man would eat and the marshmallows were shaped like various Pac-Man characters like Ms. Pacman and some of the ghosts who actually had names; Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and for some reason, Clyde.
This one had kind of a Corn Pops/Kix taste and crunch to it and kids in the commercials eating the cereal were considered “ghost chompers”. Did you recognize the voice of Super Pac-Man from the commercial? Sounds a lot like Paul Winchell who did the voice of Gargamel on the Smurfs and was also the voice of Tigger. Add to this he helped to co-create one of the first artificial hearts with Dr. Heimlich. Yep, of the Heimlich maneuver.
Don’t say I’ve never taught you anything.
Cookie Crisp Cereal
The bane of my existence so it has to have a place on this list. I grew up in Canada and even though we watched all the American channels and commercials some of the products just didn’t make it to our fair land. Cookie Crisp was one of them. That or my mom just hid them all in the grocery store so I wouldn’t freak the hell out when I saw them.
Cookie Crisp cereal was made by General Mills who wasn’t even trying to hide the fact they were trying to recreate the taste of chocolate chip cookies in cereal form.
Cookie Crisp cereal holds a special, but frustrating, place in my heart…
Ice Cream Cones Cereal
Here’s another example of a cereal company not giving a crap the same way they did with cookies for breakfast. In this case we have actual ice cream cone shaped and flavored cereal. I do vaguely remember having this cereal made by General Mills in 1987. I remember actually thinking it was too sweet, and I was only like 10 years old. That’s like your sweet tasting enjoyment prime.
Ice Cream Cones Cereal was made of puffs sweetened to taste like chocolate, vanilla, or chocolate chip flavor and sugar cone shaped pieces sweetened to taste just like sugar cone. Probably explains the onslaught of cavities that were heading my way.
The mascot for this cereal was good ‘
S’mores Crunch Cereal
I remember being enticed by this Golden Grahams rip off from 1984. It was like having a campfire for breakfast? Was that the idea behind it? Once again, General Mills at the forefront here with a cereal they described as “ marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers together in new S’mores Crunch cereal…like a dream come true”.
So I guess it was Golden Grahams with a light dusting of chocolate.
Nintendo Cereal System
No, not a console but an actual breakfast cereal and this is a unique one. Made by the unknown Ralston Cereals it came out in 1989. The Nintendo Cereal System combined Mario and Link and was made up of two different parts. Inside the box was two vertical bags that had a different type of cereal. The Mario side contained a fruity flavoured combination of characters like Mario, Bowser, Koopas etc. The Link side was more of a berry flavoured cereal made up of things like Link, hearts, keys, and boomerangs.
Sadly, this cereal didn’t make it out of the’80s being discontinued in 1989.
Smurf Berry Crunch Cereal
Made by Post, Smurf Berry Crunch cereal came out in 1983. It was fruity sweetened corn, oat, and wheat cereal fortified with the usual extra vitamins that get completely removed during the manufacturing process. It was a red and purple cereal that kind of looked like berries and would lead to Magic Smurf Berry cereal in 1987 which contained marshmallows.
If there’s one takeaway here it’s that you can never go wrong adding marshmallows to something.
Pro Stars Cereal
I’ll save the best for last. This meant the most to you if you grew up in Canada like I did and were enamoured with Wayne Gretzky. ProStars might best be known as a saturday morning cartoon that featured Gretzky along with Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan but the cereal came out in 1984.
It was arguably a “healthy” cereal in that it was a whole grain cereal with a touch of honey and were stars with holes in the middle. The cereal would come with hockey cards and also lead to the greatest moment of my young life.
Pro Stars Cereal ran a campaign in 1984 where you would send in the box tops and the first prize was to actually meet Wayne Gretzky. Well spoiler alert I didn’t win that but actually won the third place prize which was a brand new pair of shoes from a still somewhat new company named Nike.
Do you know how that can change the trajectory of a kids life when he can walk into school with shoes that no one else could get? And they were a unique kind of blue suede. I was killin’ it back then.
Other Notable Cereals
- OJ’s– An orangy/citrus based cereal similar to Apple Jacks
- Dunkin Donuts Cereal – I guess there was always a time that American ran on Dunkin.
- Powdered Donutz Cereal – Yep, with a Z! Basically it reused Cheerios with an extra dump truck of sugar on them.
- Nerds Cereal – You may as well just have ate regular Nerds
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cereal – Kind of like Shreddies with marshmallows
- Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal – I’ve actually got nothing here
Wrapping It Up
Phew. Honestly If I don’t stop now this post will keep going until the end of the time. But this was some of the best of 1980’s breakfast cereals and there’s no doubt I may have forgotten some of your favorites so feel free to share them down below.
In the meantime check out this sweet ‘Mr.T cereal’ mug you can get on Amazon. And here’s a great monster cereal shirt from General Mills called ‘Midnight Munchies’. (not sure their intended audience but it’s an amazing shirt..)
Also from General Mills, check out this awesome monster cereal 3D wall art. They’re based on the old Halloween masks and they come in a box that looks like the old cereal boxes. They’re also on Amazon and you can get:
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