Breakfast cereal’s hegemonic grip on the American diet is loosening. A new report by the research firm IBISWorld, highlighted today in the The Los Angeles Times, estimates that by year’s end, sales of hot and cold cereals will have declined by about 17 percent from $12.7 billion in 2009; that downward trend is expected to continue unabated until 2020. The reason appears to be two-fold. Analysts told the L.A. Times that Americans just don’t think breakfast cereals are all that healthy anymore, overloaded as they are with sugar, despite the efforts of Post, Kellogg, and other corporations to rebrand, rejigger and put out seemingly healthier options. Plus, cereal may not be the most practical, portable or even affordable breakfast choice in this here digital era, when a free podcast with a homophonically similar name carries more cultural currency than a brand mascot like Count Chocula or Lucky the Leprechaun.
Millennials, in particular, have turned a cold shoulder to Snap, Crackle, and Pop, either because they’re lazy—the standard narrative among baby boomers, who edit the newspapers that put forward such ideas—or because they don’t think they have enough time to sit for five minutes at a breakfast table and eat a meal before they head off for whatever jobs they don’t have. As the L.A. Times points out, 39 percent of millennials told the market research company Mintel that they found cereal impractical because it required rinsing off a dish at meal’s end. Quelle horreur!
But the unacknowledged reason for cereal’s unpopularity, I think, is that people are finally waking up to the fact that they aren’t cats—that they are sentient human beings with a universe of foods and flavors before them: sweet, savory, bitter, umami. Who needs a bowl of milk every morning when breakfast pho beckons?