Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wither Thou, Frute Brute?

Back in my day, before anybody cared about feeding kids a ton of sugar because we were just going to run around outside unsupervised burning it off*, General Mills produced a range of 'Monster' themed kids cereals that were really just a thinly veiled excuse to cram as many marshmallows as possible into a cereal bowl.

*Often until well after dark.  This is of course when we weren't busy bicycling without a helmet or standing up on the front bench seat of the car while it was being driven down the freeway.  The 70s were a magical time.

The main three monster cereals that everyone remembers are of course Count Chocula (chocolate, obviously), Franken-Berry (Strawberry), and Boo Berry* (Blueberry).

*This subject was broached on a friends Facebook Feed where Boo Berry prompted some curiously impassioned hostile responses in the comment thread.  I feel sure there was a back story behind them but was kind of afraid to ask.

What is less widely remembered (until recently, for reasons that we'll get to in a moment) are the lesser two monster cereals.  The marshmallow laced bastard children of the General Mills Product family.  I refer of course to Yummy Mummy and its immediate predecessor, Fruit Brute (as it was then spelled)

A bit of history - Count Chocula came first (although he was originally Dr. Count Chocula - apparently he had his credentials stripped from him at some point in the early 70s, although no information is readily forthcoming as to what academic scandal precipitated this.)  Then FrankenBerry, Then BooBerry.  Then they branched out from single flavor marshmallows and attempted a fruity blend of flavors all in the same bowl.  Having already tapped the iconography of Vampires, Frankenstein's Monster*, and Ghosts they went to the next obvious monster The Werewolf.  I'm guessing however that 'Fruity Werewolf' didn't test market well as a name and so they instead went for a picture of a werewolf with a cereal name of 'Fruit Brute'.  A few years later they decided this wasn't really making a killing in the market (see what I did there?) so they discontinued it and replaced it with 'Fruity Yummy Mummy'.  This also didn't do well (despite the slightly desperate inclusion of the clarifying adjective in the title) and so they gave up on it as well and focused instead on the big three.

*not Frankenstein himself, as that was the scientist.  Seriously people, it's not that hard to keep straight.

Eventually the 80s happened, some jerk pointed out that stuffing kids full of marshmallows at breakfast might not be the healthiest option, and the line was cancelled.*

*This is roughly the same time that 'Sugar Bear' encountered his own significant PR problem from which he never recovered.  I believe he can be currently found in the parking lot adjacent to the Chinese Theater offering to go 'around the world' for 13 dollars.  Sad.

A couple of years ago, however, nostalgia for the 70s happened (curiously at around the time that Gen-Xers were settling down to a nice paycheck and a bit of disposable income.) and they Monster cereals were brought out of the vault. 

However, as I only recently discovered, they didn't actually come out entirely (insert joke here).  Instead, General Mills dodged the whole 'My isn't that a bowl of marshmallows' issue very cleverly by only producing the monster cereals for the three months before Halloween, thus getting them grandfathered in on the loosened sugar intake standards of the Halloween season AND making it look like that was a mere coincidence as 'honest, we're just celebrating our beloved Monster Characters in the spirit of the season. 

Well Played, marketing department of General Mills.  Well Played.

This went so well for the first couple of Halloween seasons with just the big three that THIS year they went whole hog and included both Yummy Mummy AND Fruit Brute.  (Because -  What the Hell.  How much sustained loyalty do they need to have to cover a three month window?)

Here they encountered a problem, however.  It turns out that since 1973 the FDA had gotten a little pickier about labeling something as 'Fruit'.  It turns out that just having a picture of an orange on the box wasn't enough.  And so, the re-release was rechristened 'Frute Brute'.*

*The label of Fruity Yummy Mummy was allowed to remain unchanged, which is an interesting distinction. 

Fruit loops underwent a similar issue a fair while back and is now 'Froot Loops'.  What I'd like to draw your attention to here is that through the necessity of having to deliberately misspell the word 'Fruit' in order to avoid accidentally fooling anyone into thinking there was any actual 'fruit' in the content', both cereals chose to adopt a visual rhyme to the spelling - in many ways making the new name feel much more fundamentally 'right' than the correct spelling had been.  To illustrate what I mean just try flipping the misspellings and see how discordant it feels in comparison.

So, for at least the next week and as long as supplies last, enjoy your daily serving of frute.  Remember - at the end of the day Werewolves are always cooler than any other monster.  Always.

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