Cereal Makes a Novel Play for Hip Young Americans

Breakfast has changed over the years, moving away from shredded wheat, but a new restaurant in Times Square hopes to change that.
(Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
Jun 30, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Times Square has seen a lot of outrageous things over the years, but a $7 bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes may very well take the cake.

This isn’t simply a story of “Everything’s more expensive in Manhattan.” It’s about a 110-year-old company that started out making old-timey medical claims about its dry-as-dust cereal flakes and catapulted itself to iconic American status. But today, with cereal consumption on the decline, Kellogg has become a dinosaur trying to find a way to be hip again—that is, if Corn Flakes were ever hip in the first place.

Behold Kellogg’s NYC, the “branded boutique” scheduled to open on Monday that will be entirely dedicated to Kellogg’s venerable stable of breakfast-cereal staples—from classic Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, and Rice Krispies to nostalgic childhood sugar bombs such as Froot Loops, Honey Smacks, and Apple Jacks.

The move into hipster territory is likely less about convincing NYC’s bright young things to start their day with a bowlful of Frosted Mini-Wheats than it is about convincing a legion of out-of-towners that Kellogg is cool. Serving hip cereal in Manhattan could help create that sort of Grandma-in-a-biker-jacket sensation that’s provoked by seeing staid Middle America brands juxtaposed against the zoom and zip of the bright lights in the big city. (If you’ve ever taken a peek in the Olive Garden in Times Square, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

But Kellogg has more in mind for its Times Square experience than simply serving up the dubious novelty of scarfing down your milk-sodden Frosted Flakes as you’re being serenaded by the Naked Cowboy. The menu features your favorite Kellogg cereals garnished with such irresistibly with-it ingredients as green tea powder, pistachios, and lemon zest. There’s the Circus, with Raisin Bran, toasted peanut, and banana chips, or the Corn Blues, which combines Corn Pops, blueberry jam, lemon zest, and a “pinch of salt.” Regular bowls run $7.50, and the small size costs a dollar less. Reached by phone for an interview with The New York Times, Anthony Rudolf, the store’s operator, was in Spanish Harlem buying a week’s supply of passion-fruit jam.

For the role of menu wizard, Kellogg has signed on no less than Christina Tosi, the über-hip chef-owner of the über-hip Milk Bar, the sweet offshoot of the über-hip restaurant Momofuku. It seems like a match made in marketing heaven. After all, Tosi is the genius behind such irony- and nostalgia-laden treats as the Fruity Cereal Milk Soft Serve, described as “a fun soft serve that tastes just like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles” (admittedly made by Kellogg archrival Post), and the Cereal Milk Cream Soda Float, topped with cornflake crunch.

But behind all this madcap zaniness lies the uncomfortable truth that the cereal biz has been more than a little soggy lately. Last year marked yet another decline in cereal sales; since 2012, the ready-to-eat cereal market has shrunk by a not-so-grrrreat 9 percent, as Tony the Tiger might say. Blame a host of newfangled breakfast options, or even the demise of breakfast itself, along with a growing chorus of myth busters challenging the oft-repeated notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Also, in our increasingly frenzied and fast-paced fast-food culture, the shelf-stable stalwart that was once the epitome of convenience (just pour and add milk!) is seen as “too difficult to eat” by some 40 percent of millennials. Not to mention that in an era when “fresh and local” has become something of a mantra for how we aspire to eat, even what were once perceived as the most wholesome of cereal brands have come to suffer from their association with packaged, processed foods and the swirl of concerns surrounding industrial agriculture, pesticide residues, GMOs, and the like.

Whether the magic of Manhattan can make consumers forget all that remains to be seen. But another longtime American brand has likewise found itself out of step with today’s food culture and is looking to reboot with a dose of Big Apple cool: Word has it that Kola House, an “experiential lounge” with an “artisanal menu,” is expected to debut soon in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. It’s brought to you by...Pepsi.