Prize for eating healthful breakfast a half-full bag of cereal from new box

Sep 3 2013 - 12:11am

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This newly opened bag of honey crisp medley with almonds — seen Monday in columnist Mark Saal’s Farmington kitchen — is clearly just half-full even though not a single cereal flake has been removed. Consumer outcry in three, two, one ... (MARK SAAL/Standard-Examiner)
This newly opened bag of honey crisp medley with almonds — seen Monday in columnist Mark Saal’s Farmington kitchen — is clearly just half-full even though not a single cereal flake has been removed. Consumer outcry in three, two, one ... (MARK SAAL/Standard-Examiner)

Granted, this isn't the biggest miscarriage of justice a crack investigative journalist such as myself will uncover this week.

But it's important to me.

The other morning, I sat down to enjoy some of my favorite cereal flakes for breakfast. Rifling through the pantry, I quickly determined there wasn't an unopened box of cereal to be found. But there was a new box.

A new box! Remember the joys of tearing into an unopened box of cereal when you were a kid? The excitement of finding the prize inside? Of fighting with siblings -- and sometimes Dad -- over the prize inside? Of quickly breaking or losing that prize inside?

I couldn't tell you what's causing childhood obesity these days, but I know exactly what did it back in the late 1960s: breakfast cereals and the siren call of their "Prize inside!" promises.

My sisters and I used to gorge ourselves sick on all sorts of sugar-sweetened cereals, knowing that the faster we devoured the current box, the sooner we got to the new box -- and yet another prize inside.

Toy cars. Submarines that dive in the bathtub. Rubber band-propelled rocket ships. Hovercraft powered by small party balloons. The better the prize, the faster -- and more -- we ate.

"My, my, my," our mother would exclaim, "you children sure have healthy appetites this morning. I wish you'd eat like this at dinnertime."

Yeah? Well, then perhaps you should've tried a similar approach with dinners, lady. ("OK, kids. Somewhere in this fluorescent-colored, sugar-filled casserole I've baked is a mini flying disc.")

Fast-forward back to 2013. The fiber/whole-grain junk we middle-aged adults have to gag down these days rarely offers cool prizes inside. Unless, of course, "heart health" is considered anything less than the lamest prize ever.

But when I opened this particular box the other day, there was a surprise inside. I felt just like Papa Bear in the story of Cinderella: "Somebody's been eating my honey crisp medley with almonds ..."

Inside, the box was very nearly half-empty. Or, I suppose if you're more of an optimist, half-full.

Either way, the empty space was glaring.

I know, because I measured it. The cereal flakes in the 10.5-inch-high box were just 6 inches deep. Now, I'm no mathematician, but those kinds of numbers mean the box was clearly less than 60 percent full.

Look, I understand the concept of contents "settling" as much as the next guy, but this was downright ridiculous.

Oh, the manufacturer covered all his fine-print bases. One of the tiny side flaps on the box top reads, "Net weight guaranteed." The other reads, "May settle during shipment."

But this isn't settling. It's more like a cereal sinkhole.

Just to make sure this wasn't a fluke, I double-checked my hypothesis. We had a second box of unopened flakes in the pantry, so I opened that one, too. (And don't think somebody won't be in Dutch with the missus over TWO opened boxes ...)

If anything, the second box was even less full than the first.

This will not stand, this aggression against cereal-lovers. Because in addition to being misleading at best -- when I see a box yea big, I expect it to contain yea amount of cereal -- it's also incredibly wasteful from an environmental standpoint.

And don't give me that lie about the box being filled "as full as modern packaging methods will allow," either. What, we can fake a moon landing, but we can't design equipment that can fill a box fuller than 58 percent?

Like I say, this may not rise to the level of, say, the Syrian conflict, but it's this very kind of consumer-advocacy reporting that wins prestigious national and international journalism prizes.

And if that happens here, I'll gracefully accept my large cash award. But I assure you, the accolades of others is not my intent here.

I'm just an ordinary guy, trying to have a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.

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