Cereal Fetish

Photo credit: Mebajason
Met a woman from Germany on Saturday. She grew up in former communist East Germany and we talked about decisions. I thought it was only American anti-consumerist critics like me who harped about the cereal aisle, but it was one of the first examples she mentioned. (Not that she hasn't adjusted just fine to this American life, having two kids and breakfast cravings of her own.)

Despite my complaints, I keep that particular aisle in business. I like the variety. I like cereal and I like having a greater chance of finding something on sale that my family enjoys.

And I like watching advertisers show off their creativity and strategy, sparring as they do shelves high and 75 remarkable feet wide on a veritable playing field of color and shape, crispness claims, offers of mailable-linkable-retrievable Free Stuff, sugar content, box and oat cluster size, fiber facts, artificial and natural ingredients, fruit bits or chunks or flavors, and Box Top for Education coupons. It's all part of a magnificent display of competition where the weaker brands die and the talented designers move their wares to more prominent positions.

I've shopped long enough to narrow the field; to do my own selection (natural, of course, as I don't care much for artificial), which makes the whole stimulation factor less distracting. In fact, I skip entire swathes of products because I've determined previously that I have no use for them. So on one hand I'm embarrassed that we need so many choices, but on the other, thrilled to have them. Beating the system and navigating the clutter alleviate my guilt enough to keep me from protesting.  

Maybe Tatiana was better off. Communist oppression is no viable option, but humans appreciate products in scarcity more than in abundance. We adapt just fine to having less and we show more gratitude when this is our lot. I know it from wilderness excursions where you carry the minimum on your back, and from being poor as a child. One of the most memorable experiences as a college freshmen was being walked into the cafeteria and shown where to get trays, drinks and any of thirty types of cereal. I asked our campus guide if we were allowed to have more than one bowl.

"Of course," he said. He looked surprised.

We had a half-bowl limit growing up. I spent the first semester eating cereal three meals a day (with salads and sides, of course!), sometimes 4-5 bowls in twenty-four hours.

Obviously, having abundance at my fingertips isn't necessarily healthy. Signs of decay (tooth and otherwise) appear everywhere self-discipline wanes and I too often end up in the display case like the mayor who gorged to a drunken stupor in the film, Chocolat. I need help. We all do.

Can cereal advertisers do anything about it? Should they? Would limitations or discouragement mutate our shopping freedoms into some sort of captivity? These are tough questions for me. Until I find answers, and as long as They send notable coupons, I'll probably keep enjoying the game.        

4 comments:

shrinkingthecamel.com June 22, 2011 at 6:25 AM  

Yeah, those are tough questions. The thing is, we select our "favorites" (brand or flavor) and then screen out everything else. I guess there's enough people buying enough "favorites" right now to justify the entire wall of cereals.

Marcus Goodyear June 22, 2011 at 9:53 AM  

This post reminds me of a hilarious deleted scene from Borat:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uexC5wK9rM

But I'm also amazed at the overall selection. When I drive through San Antonio, there are just SO MANY stores. All of them full of their version of the cereal aisle.

I'm not a businessman, but I don't see how there is enough to demand to support all these buildings and all this stuff. Maybe that's why I'm not a businessman... :)

Bob Gorinski June 23, 2011 at 11:28 PM  

I think that Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the absolute best "post-workout recovery meal," blue collar P90X included.

Agreed - that all the variety is a bit ridiculous.

For our home group, is it Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke?

And that's just the Coke!

Sam Van Eman June 27, 2011 at 10:46 AM  

Enough favorites to justify, but Marcus asks a good question: how is there enough demand for all of those stores with all of those cereal walls? It is baffling. Maybe more people than I think eat cereal like I did in college.

Bob, so chocolate milk is the best exercise drink and Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the best post-exercise food? I need to follow your diet more regularly.

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