The Entomology of a Breakfast Cereal

Posted on September 3, 2010



“How to Induce a Sugar Coma in 4 Easy Bowls”

Early one spring morning of 1949, a researcher at the Post Cereal Company had an epiphany.

After decades of producing dry, bland, hardtack-like brick cereals such as the original “Shredded Wheat” (which was really just old burlap potato sacks that had been baked until crunchy and then cut into squares) and Corn Flakes (many of which still had strands of corn silk in them … at least you hoped it was corn silk), Post Cereals launched what would be the cornerstone of a diabetic empire: Sugar Crisp, those wonderful, initially crunchy puffs of wheat glazed with, as U.S. Consumer Reports magazine reviewed, “more sugar per serving than two glazed Dunkin’ Donuts,” — a cereal so bold, so daring and so devil-may-care that it actually bragged about it’s primary ingredient right there on the box, in large red letters, for whiny kids to beg for in markets from the tiniest berg to the most thriving American metropolis. And the kids went wild. (Of COURSE they did! They were all hopped on a massive sugar high!)

So popular became Sugar Crisp that Post created an anthropomorphic turtleneck-wearing cartoon mascot named “Sugar Bear,” (which to this day I maintain was always intended to be the implied love-child of Dean Martin and Bing Crosby) who sang the product’s jingle – “Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp” all throughout a series of fantastic adventures in the pursuit of his obvious heroin-like addiction to sugar.

And for 15 years, Sugar Crisp sold like … well … using that analogy is kind of pointless since most of us douse pancakes in more syrup than half the state of Vermont consumes in an entire winter). But then, in 1966, the executives at Post Cereals recognized that times they were a’changing. Products needed more promotion. People needed more convincing. Breakfast foods needed more adjectives. And Sugar Crisp needed more sugar.

And so was born, Super Sugar Crisp! So brazen, so radical, so “mod” that it not only announced a 20 percent increase in it’s sugar content (50 percent by weight), it screamed it from the rooftops of diabetes clinics all over North America. Sugar Bear became “Super Sugar Bear,” complete with tights and a cape and the requisite underwear-on-the-outside-of-the-costume. Suddenly Super Sugar Bear was fighting an array of monsters and villains who were all after his crack … er … cereal, and he defeated them all quite handily, empowered by the “super energizing cereal kids love.” And kids went wilder.

Sugar Crisp (along with its equally anti-dietetic Kelloggs’ clone “Sugar Smacks”) remain the only two mass-market breakfast cereals to ever be issued a Consumer Reports warning to parents that they should choose cereal brands with better nutritional ratings for their children.

But then came the 1970s; hippies, peace-love-dope, tune-in/drop-out, and the general common knowledge of Woodstock, and mirroring the growing American obsession with health food and the rapidly rising popularity of granola and Post Grape Nuts (which I’m still convinced is made of the tree bark that  Euell Gibbons told us was almost as natural as Grape Nuts is), Post had to do something to douse the smoldering flames of hatred growing against all things processed, including (insert ominous organ music here) … SUGAR!  So, nearly overnight, Super Sugar Crisp became Super Golden Crisp.

Now in boxed honey-colored lettering instead of the sugar-reminiscent red,  Super Sugar Bear became a clearly stoned, laid-back, everything’s groovy, take-it-as-it-comes kind of mascot — still pimping the cereal, mind you, but doing so in a far more mellow fashion, with his eyes barely half-open, and sort of a cocky, but who-cares approach to whether it gets stolen from him or not. And you can find commercials from that era on YouTube where I swear there is an inordinate number of five-leafed plants all over Super Golden Bear’s forest.

In the late 70’s, Post launched a series of variations on the original Sugar Crisp formula — Super Orange Crisp, Super Banana Crisp, Super Cocoa Crisp, and Super Vanilla Crisp — the same puffed wheat, but with nigh-toxic dose of artificial flavors and colorings added. Never heard of the Super Other Crisps, you say?  That’s because they lasted only slightly longer on the store shelves than Post’s other disastrously health-conscious attempt, Super Anchovy Crisp.

The cereal is still sold as “Super Sugar Crisp” in some areas, mostly in Canada, where the box still displays Sugar Bear, and the jingle is still, “Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp.” The name “Golden Crisp” is effectively unknown in Canada.

And the kids – while epidemically fatter – are still going wild.

And the bear is still jonesing for a fix.

Posted in: My Twisted Humor