RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A number of major food brands have been rethinking their outdated corporate mascots - Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth. At the same time, a group of young entrepreneurs have set out to create new breakfast cereal characters that reflect this moment. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Emily Elyse Miller says the new cereal she and her team created, OffLimits, has brand mascots unlike any other. Dash is a high-strung, high-achieving female bunny.
EMILY ELYSE MILLER: In an '80s-style power suit with sneakers. She's a K-pop fan, a workaholic.
DEL BARCO: And, she says, Dash has a lot of anxiety to deal with.
MILLER: So her cereal turns the milk to cold brew and has coffee and chocolate.
DEL BARCO: Zombie is just the opposite, a lazy dude who looks like he just rolled out of bed to eat his mellow cereal.
MILLER: There's adaptogens, pandan, vanilla - so everything you need to mellow out.
DEL BARCO: Miller, a 29-year-old food writer, is all about breakfast. In fact, she wrote "Breakfast," a cookbook. And she created the BreakfastClub, walking tours of New York restaurants. Her latest venture, OffLimits cereal, also seems to appeal to millennials. Miller's hoping they might relate to Zombie, who has a bit of Bart Simpson, or Dash, more of a Lisa Simpson.
MILLER: The whole brand is really run by these emotionally unstable and extreme cartoon characters.
DEL BARCO: Dash and Zombie are a far cry from the buff, confident cereal mascot Tony the Tiger.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Tony the Tiger) They're great.
DEL BARCO: Dash is not the first female cereal character. In the early 1950s, Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes was repped, for a short time, by Katy the Kangaroo, who wore a bandana and carried her baby in her pouch.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Katy the Kangaroo, singing) I'm Katy the Kangaroo. I hop and skip and bounce around. You'd think I was elastic. And with these frosted flakes of corn, I trip the light fantastic.
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) New flakes, frosted flakes - Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes.
DEL BARCO: Kellogg's ultimately bounced Katy the Kangaroo for Tony the Tiger, also dropping sugar from its name. Fast forward to 2020, where cold and hot cereals are a more than $20 billion industry in the U.S., according to market data firm Statista, with sales expected to grow. To succeed, cereal brands have to be nostalgic, healthy or have more modern mascots, says analyst Melissa Abbott.
MELISSA ABBOTT: There is a demand for something completely different that isn't, you know, masculine, Tony the Tiger, macho.
DEL BARCO: Abbott is vice president of culinary insights at the Hartman Group. She says cereal is not just a breakfast food. New brands are promo'd on podcasts and purchased online. Abbott says OffLimits and another new cereal brand, Magic Spoon, appeal to a different aesthetic.
ABBOTT: These characters that are going to win, essentially, today, particularly in the breakfast category, they have to contain more of this multi-dimensional take on the human personality, the flaws and all.
DEL BARCO: Abbott says consumers might like that OffLimits' characters were designed by artist Shepard Fairey's studio. Now the question is, will they go for coffee-flavored cereal repped by a stressed-out bunny in a power suit?
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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