Good and Good for You…Cheerios

Studying the history of heritage brands always turns up some odd plot twists. Cheerios, for instance, first built its point of differentiation around taste and convenience. Over the years, the brand position has moved with the times, and is now firing on many “healthy” cylinders simultaneously. Its authentic positivity, resolutely stated, has kept the brand highly relevant through the years.

“Heart-healthy” has been a main product feature in recent decades, but the brand has not always fully embraced what has become a matter of fact. That is, for the many parents who avoid processed foods for infants at all costs, Cheerios is the first packaged, branded product that those parents trust.

The brand is returning again to that message on several levels. First, with a “controversial” TV ad that should not have been controversial in this day and age. More engaging on a personal level, though, is a bold new packaging campaign that breaks convention with a spare back panel on Cheerios boxes. Words like “Trusted” and “Smile” are writ large and centered on a wide yellow field that glows ever so slightly behind the text.

The “Trusted” box proudly states: “Tried and true, Cheerios is the first finger food so many moms trust for their little ones.” The “Smile” box says: “Perfectly familiar and crunchy, there’s something about the taste of Cheerios that kids never outgrow.” These messages are authentic and resonant to brand loyalists as well as consumers that may be thinking about returning to the brand.

The original “Cheeri Oats” recipe was 75% ground oatmeal and 25% corn and rye flours. Today, the first of seven total ingredients (only seven!) is still whole grain oats. The oats are now combined with corn starch and wheat starch, and just a little sugar and salt.

The convenience angle in the early days was that kids and adults could get their morning serving of oats without having to cook them. That should make the whole family cheery! The brand promise was in the brand name, deftly combined a few years after its introduction into one word, Cheerios.

Dropping the “oats” from the name was a tradeoff. It served one targeted purpose for the times, as it downplayed negative associations with healthy food to compete head-to-head with sweeter competition. Yet, in the long run, it negated a broader gain, that of its hearty, healthy position. The brand would have to wait for the culture pendulum to swing back before pushing that benefit hard again.

I may be an anecdotal anomaly, but I didn’t realize the relative healthiness of Cheerios until my toddler’s doctor approved of the cereal. This was a funny realization after eating and loving cooked oats for breakfast… for decades! For whatever reason, the oats connection in the “o” of Cheerios didn’t come through to me, an oats lover.

Nevertheless, Cheerios succeeds in many positive messages, whether it’s a heart shaped bowl on its front panel or a campaign that promotes reading at a young age. One last positive, sustainable message on the package is given rather low prominence, at the bottom of one side panel. In a small rectangle, the text says:

Our Mission is Nourishing Lives
We guarantee your satisfaction with the quality of our products, and we are committed to nourishing lives, to protecting our environment, and to giving back to our global communities.


Cheerios through the years

Sustainable packaging initiative video

National Cereal Day