The History of Breakfast Cereal

Rude Health has been around for 15 years, which feels like ages to us. But, compared to our competition in the cereal aisle, we’re spring chickens.

Spring chickens that mean business though, as we’re one of the only brands in the cereal aisle that are still growing every year. Breakfast cereals as a whole have been consistently shrinking year on since the new millennium.

Why is that? To explain we need to go way back to the time before cereals and supermarkets.


THE ORIGINAL ‘CLEAN-EATING REVOLUTION’

In the 18th and 19th Centuries people believed that society was suffering because of overconsumption, particularly of alcohol. But there were radicals at the time who didn’t stop there.

Reverend Sylvester Graham was an outspoken proponent of strict vegetarianism. He travelled all over the US to preach his message of abstinence. Reverend Graham believed that foods such as meat and spices caused impure thoughts and led to carnal sin. So he prescribed a diet of whole grains which were supposed to suppress these impure thoughts. Although he didn’t actually invent them, Graham Flour and Graham Crackers are still sold today.

James CalebJackson, a nutritionist and Seventh Day Adventist, saw an opportunity in this new diet of whole grains and created what you could argue was the first breakfast cereal. It was called Granula. Whole wheat flour was baked into a thick, rock-solid ‘cake’ that was broken into pieces. It was so hard and dry that it had to be soaked overnight to be barely edible the next day. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t take off.


ENEMA OF THE STATE

The chief medical officer at the Battle Creek Sanitorium, John Harvey Kellogg, prescribed a strict regime of exercise, vegetarianism, abstinence and enemas to cure his patients and set them on a purer path.

John Harvey was looking for a suitable food to serve to his patients, so he began experimenting with his cooks at the sanitarium. It needed to be vegetarian, it needed to be made of grains readily and easily available to him, and, most importantly, it needed to be bland to discourage any impure thoughts.

By a stroke of genius, or possibly blind luck, they took the original Granula recipe but rolled it out into a thin layer, toasted it and broke it into crispy flakes.

And so, Corn Flakes were created.

John Harvey’s younger brother, Will Keith, was a businessman and entrepreneur, he had less interest in his brother’s nutritional and religious rigidity. He saw an opportunity.

There was just one small thing wrong with the corn flakes. They were missing a key ingredient in order to make them more moreish and palatable.

Sugar.

John Harvey and Will Keith argued over this recipe change. For JH it went against everything that he stood for.  But eventually WK won and began promoting Corn Flakes under the name ‘Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company’.

Using pioneering marketing, WK grew Kellogg’s from a tiny mail order brand to a multi national company exporting all over the world.

This spawned a whole swathe of opportunists and many of the cereal giants still present in our supermarkets today.

UN-WHOLE/HOLY GRAINS

Product developers soon realised that the key to success in a product was to strip away all the goodness from grains in order to make tasty cereals. A whole grain consists of three main parts: The skin or bran, the germ and the endosperm.

The bran was removed because it inhibits flavour absorption and makes the cereal taste bitter. The germ was removed because it has too much oils (including vitamin E) and is likely to go rancid. So all that remains is the endosperm, which is the starchy part of the grain with little flavour or nutrition. This method is still used today for the vast majority of cereals on the shelf.


UNNATURAL SHAPES

With exponential growth and massive opportunity came new technology, including a process known as extrusion. This is where grain flours are mixed with sugar, salt, flavourings, colours and water, forced through a die at high temperature and extreme pressure in order to form appealing shapes. This can be hoops, pillows or letters of the alphabet.  In fact, almost all cereals sold in supermarkets are produced using this intrusive method.


THOSE DAMN HIPPIES

Up until the late 60s the cereal industry had been largely unchallenged. They marketed their products as healthy and nutritious, with little evidence to back it up. But this changed in the 60s and 70s when a new movement challenged big industry and rampant consumerism.

An activist called Robert Choate was called to give evidence at a congressional hearing regarding the nutritional claims of the cereal companies. He coined the term ‘empty calories’ to describe what was truly in these products. Part of the evidence presented was a famous study where rats were fed on cereals or the cardboard box the cereal came in, and of course the rats eating the cardboard lived a lot longer than those eating the cereal.

So what did cereal manufacturers do, they added vitamins and minerals to the same products that they were already making and changed the messaging slightly. So now they were able to claim that their products contained essential vitamins and iron, despite being made in the same way.


DECLINE

Something odd happened at the turn of the new century. Cereals began to decline. Despite huge advertising budgets, lots of exciting new product development and the most expensive consultants available.

These consultants have come up with various reasons for this decline. Lower birth rates, ethnic diversity, convenience, the decline of the family sit-down meal. But all of this seems hard to believe when overall breakfast consumption is on the rise. More people are eating breakfast than they used to. They just aren’t eating as much cereal.

Why? Why? Why?

THE SECOND ‘CLEAN EATING’ REVOLUTION

It would seem that in the midst of this decline would be the worst time to launch a new cereal brand. But that’s what we did. What the hell were we thinking? Every consultant would tell us we’re mad. But, we’ve been bucking that downward trend every year since we began. Our cereals are being picked up and eaten by more and more people every day…

In 2005 we mixed our first muesli recipe, on our kitchen table, using ingredients we could find at any good market. Including whole grains, nuts, fruit, seeds and spices. Wow. Seems so simple. Not to the cereal industry it isn’t. Where’s the refined flour, sugar, vitamins and minerals? Why isn’t it made of colourful shapes? Baffling.


OUR (NOT SO) SECRET TO SUCCESS

We’d like to think we’re really clever, but we’re not. We just mix real, tasty, healthy ingredients that you would probable have in your own kitchen.

We never add ingredients that you wouldn’t find in your own kitchen, so that means no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, no colours, no flavourings.

We never extrude our cereals. We use whole grains and we like to keep them whole.

We put EXTRA into the Ordinary