To taste your favorite cereal is to transport yourself back to the saccharin days of youth — the Saturday cartoons, the lazy mornings, the innocent bliss.
Since we tend to romanticize the cereals we grew up with, debating which one is the best can be a rather contentious affair. Luckily, there’s some data out there on this that may settle things a bit.
Since 2009, MrBreakfast.com has maintained a database called the Cereal Project. The site has catalogued 1,568 cereals released over 150 years and has allowed visitors to vote on which one is the best cereal in history.
As of this writing, 570,572 total votes have been cast. The people have spoken:
Older cereals dominate the list
With 5,551 votes, Quisp is the champion of cereals.
Released in 1965 by Quaker, Quisp was originally marketed as "the vitamin-powered sugary cereal for QUAZY energy." Crunchy and corn-based, it had a comparable taste to Cap’n Crunch — and, largely thanks to its affable pink alien mascot, it quickly became the most popular cereal in the United States, raking in 1.6 percent of the entire breakfast cereal market. It was discontinued in the 1970s, and today it's only available online.
The rest of the top 10 — which is a very close race — is rounded out by old classics like Frosted Flakes (1952), Honey Nut Cheerios (1979), Cap’n Crunch (1963), and Wheaties (1924).
Overall, the list is heavily skewed toward older, defunct cereals: 61 of the 100 were released prior to 1980, and 54 of the 100 have since been discontinued. The average release year is 1971.
One might conclude from this that the 1970s were the greatest era for tasty cereals. More realistically, this average is tainted by nostalgia bias, or rosy retrospection.
Cereals are deeply intertwined with our memories of childhood, which we tend to romanticize. It is likely the elder cereal enthusiasts on MrBreakfast.com — those who came of age in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s — are predicating their votes on the mystic sheen of youth, rather than the actual taste or quality of the cereals.
"People are certainly voting for nostalgia, and their favorite cereal mascots, just as much as they’re voting for the flavor and quality of the cereals," says the site’s founder, Edwin Chavey.
This is confirmed with a glance through the hundreds of passionate, memory-filled comments voters have left on the pages for their favorite cereals:
Millennials have no love for cereal
The list’s lack of newer cereals is also indicative of a larger trend: Millennials aren’t so crazy about cereal.
As the New York Times reported earlier this year, breakfast cereal sales have dipped considerably in the past 15 years, from $13.9 billion (2000) to less than $10 billion (2015). An August 2015 poll from the global research company Mintel showed that while cereal is still popular among baby boomers, 40 percent of all millennials deem it "an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it."
For years, the cereal titans (General Mills, Post, Kellogg’s) have been trying to win back millennials by revamping nostalgic discontinued brands. French Toast Crunch — ranked 67th on the list above — was rereleased in 2014, after a 14-year hiatus. Passionate cries have been made online to do the same for Count Chocula (17th), Waffle Crisp (28th), and Oreo O’s (81st).
A final (thoroughly unscientific) signifier that this list exhibits an age divide is the fact that nearly every cereal-consuming millennial I showed it to took issue with it.
While the list is heavy on "fruit"-flavored (Froot Loops, Trix), marshmallow-flavored (Lucky Charms, Scooby-Doo), and honey-flavored (Honeycomb, Rice Honeys) cereals, it poorly represents millennials’ true love: waffles.
"Waffles are the best; fruits are the worst," says my colleague Alvin Chang. "I thought this was common knowledge."