Big Cereal has big ambitions.
The makers of the sugary stuff that traditionally has fueled American breakfasts are setting their sights far beyond the bowl. You can buy coffee creamer flavored like Fruity Pebbles, ice cream (er, “dairy dessert”) that tastes like Lucky Charms and even a Frosted Flakes beverage.
Now, you can also buy cereal formatted and packaged specifically for snacking. Akin to potato chips or pretzels, many of the new versions are essentially cereal, sized up or made into wafers, in bags that bring to mind their more familiar, salty counterparts.
You can hardly blame the cereal wizards for busting their way past the cereal aisle like so many sugar-dusted conquistadors. People are eating cereal, lots of it, at all times of the day – that’s according to research by Post Consumer Brands, says Tom “TD” Dixon, the company’s chief growth officer.
“The underlying theme is the fact that people are falling in love with cereal,” he says, “It brings people together and gives a level of comfort.”
He says people are eating cereal at lunch and dinnertime, which suggests that future products could even be aimed at replacing sandwiches or other entrees.
And if cereal is everything, it seems everything is cereal: You can eat Twinkies in cereal form thanks to an alliance between Post and the company that makes Hostess snacks. Little Debbie paired up with Kelloggs to cereal-ify its brownies and Oatmeal Creme Pies. One of the biggest food trends on TikTok last year was cereal made up of tiny pancakes (it’s a meta concept, in miniature!).
So how do these cereal snacks taste? Well, if you’ve ever stuck your hand into a box of cereal and shoveled a handful into your mouth, you’ve got the basic idea.
I started with the Honeycomb Big Bites, which are basically a pumped-up facsimile of the traditional cereal bits, as if someone at the factory just turned up a dial by 30% or so. (Yes, I realize my idea of commercial food production is ridiculously unrealistic and based more on Willy Wonka movies than the real thing.) They tasted exactly, and unsurprisingly, like ... Honeycomb cereal. The regular version had that graham cracker-y note and the cocoa one announced its chocolate-y flavor from the moment I opened the pouch.
The Froot Loops snack version was the same, giving me a sort of “Alice In Wonderland” feeling. Had I shrunk, and the pastel-toned loops were regular size? Whatever rabbit hole I had fallen down, the flavor was familiar enough to be grounding.
One of the odder sensations came from the Fruity Pebbles version. Rather than those little multihued flakes, the snack version is formed into a wafer that looks like a colorful patchwork quilt. It crunches like a thin rice cake and has a slight savory quality to it. It’s the most unlike its original form of the bunch.
And General Mills’ offerings in this category, dubbed “Remix Snacking Mixes,” take a slightly different approach. They’re regularly sized cereals, blended with other regularly sized cereals, into combinations such as a s’mores-inspired mélange of Cocoa Puffs and Golden Grahams with mini marshmallows.
I’m ambivalent about these, but that’s because I generally dislike the concept of snack mixes and mixed-nut blends. My issue is that I always have my favorites among the components, and wind up rooting around for the best bits (in this case, I bypass the dry marshmallows for the Golden Grahams), which makes me a bad citizen of Snack Nation. But perhaps if you’re a serial cereal blender, it might save you the hassle of having to pour from different boxes?
And ease does seem to be the idea behind this new category. In other words, we’re just really, really lazy. Making cereal 30% bigger means saving a few bag-to-mouth curls per snacking session. Which means we have more energy for our other pandemic pursuits, such as lifting the remote control and doom-scrolling.
Or, perhaps, for philosophical pondering. The morning after my tasting, the weird cereal-snack transmogrification I had been thinking about came to a full circle (or was it a loop?). I spotted my husband standing in the kitchen, eating a bowlful of the leftover snacks shaped like Froot Loops – a cereal he loved as a kid – doused with milk.
He shrugged as he lifted his spoon. “It’s like big cereal,” he said.