ARUN RATH, HOST:
The taste of foods from our childhood can trigger intense emotional reactions. That's a fact well known to students of French literature and marketing executives. Thanks to the power of food nostalgia, General Mills is bringing back the sugary cereal French Toast Crunch. To help us understand what's going on here, we turn to Nick Fereday. He's the executive director and senior analyst of food and consumer trends at Rabobank International.
NICK FEREDAY: Nostalgia is an important almost 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.
RATH: The excitement over this return of French Toast Crunch seems to be targeted at millennials. Here is a great example of the way they're trying to hit that nerve. They made an online ad for this new release of French Toast Crunch featuring the '90s staple call-in psychic Miss Cleo.
(SOUNDBITE OF FRENCH TOAST CRUNCH AD)
YOUREE DELL HARRIS: (As Miss Cleo) I'm sensing that you have a large box that keeps things cold.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As caller Steve) My refrigerator. Yeah, that's miraculous.
HARRIS: (As Miss Cleo) Is there a jug in there with 2 percent on it?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As caller Steve) I actually do have some 2 percent here. It's milk.
HARRIS: (As Miss Cleo) I predict that you will pour that milk into a bowl of French Toast Crunch.
RATH: We get a kick out of it, but does nostalgia work as a marketing strategy?
FEREDAY: Marketers like to find a story to tell about their product. And I think nostalgia is a great way of doing that if you can make that connection, if you can have that story around the product. I guess one of the challenges for the millennial generation is that it's a much more diverse group than, say, generations before. So, for example, not everyone may know who the horoscope lady is, for example, in a way that, you know, 40 or 50 years ago, everyone knew who the cartoon characters were.
RATH: Do you think that French Toast Crunch would be coming back if not for all the people talking about their love of it and desire for it on, you know, Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else?
FEREDAY: Probably not. I mean, it's a great way for people to get interested in that particular cause. It's also kind of interesting from a food company perspective that they're kind of having to look to the consumer for their ideas, which may suggest a lack of innovation on their part. Breakfast cereal has had a tremendous success story for over a hundred years. And in the last five to 10 years, they've started to decline.
And it's really a struggle. It's not just affecting breakfast cereal but also a lot of traditional foods in the American diet. It's left them scratching their heads to a certain extent, because they can't necessarily point the finger at one particular cause. It's actually almost like death of a thousand cuts where there's lots of different things going on.
And so to try and remedy that, they're trying, you know, more than one approach. So at the same time as re-launching an old product, they're selling us Cheerios that don't have any GMO food ingredients. And now you can get Cheerios with protein and even quinoa. I mean, kale will be next, I guess. So they're trying lots of different things and hoping that something will stick.
RATH: Nick Fereday is Rabobank International's executive director and senior analyst of food and consumer trends. Nick, thanks very much.
FEREDAY: Thank you very much indeed.
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