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Marketers Turn To Memories Of Sweeter Times To Sell Cereal

General Mills is bringing back the popular '90s cereal in a nod to nostalgia and in the hopes of boosting its weak cereal sales.
General Mills
General Mills is bringing back the popular '90s cereal in a nod to nostalgia and in the hopes of boosting its weak cereal sales.

The taste of foods from our childhood can trigger intense emotional reactions. It's a fact well known to students of French literature and marketing executives.

And it's changing the make-up of the cereal aisle. Thanks to the power of food nostalgia, General Mills is bringing back the sugary cereal French Toast Crunch.

Nick Fereday, the executive director and senior analyst of food and consumer trends at Rabobank International, tells NPR's Arun Rath that nostalgia is an important weapon in a marketer's arsenal.

"It's one of those standard things that companies like to play with every now and again to lure customers back to their products," Fereday says.

The return of French Toast Crunch seems aimed squarely at millennials. One of General Mills' new online ads featuring '90s call-in psychic Miss Cleo.

Fereday says marketers like to find a story to tell about their product and nostalgia is a great way of doing that. It's all about making a connection.

"One of the challenges for the millennial generation is that it's a much more diverse group than generations before," he says. "So, for example, not everyone may know who the horoscope lady is ... in a way that 40 or 50 years ago ... everyone knew who the cartoon characters were."

Fereday says it's interesting that food companies are essentially looking to the consumer for ideas, which he says might indicate a lack of innovation on their part. Historically, he says, breakfast cereals were a tremendous success story for over 100 years. But in the last five to 10 years they've been on the decline.

"It's really a struggle that's not just affecting breakfast cereal but also a lot of traditional foods in the American diet," he says.

But marketers can't point to one particular cause, he says, so instead it's been a variety of different things. A "death by a thousand cuts," he says.

To remedy this, Fereday says that's why we're seeing a number of approaches: re-launching old products like French Toast Crunch, selling Cheerios with no GMOs, and putting out Cheerios with protein and even quinoa.

"I mean, kale will be next, I guess," he says. "They're trying lots of different things and hoping that something will stick."

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