A Brief History Of Cereal Monsters: Count Chocula Has A First Name
How do you get kids to eat their breakfasts? You scare them, of course. Not with fear-mongering, threats, or frightening nutritional information, but with monster cereal. With the Halloween season fast approaching, let's look at how cereal manufacturers decided that kids needed a good scare in the morning as part of a well-balanced breakfast.
It was the '70s, Obviously
It all started in the 1970s, when marketing sugar-laden products directly to children was all the rage, and so were monsters. The Munsters was a hit TV show that '70s kids grew up on. They also had a steady diet of monster movies, starring Godzilla, Frankenstein, Mothra, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. More than dinosaurs, superheroes, and baby dolls, the kids of that decade clamored for monsters.
Welcome, Count Chocula and Franken Berry
General Mills released the first two monster kinds of cereal, Count Chocula and Franken Berry, in March 1971. They were virtually identical cereals of puffed corn with marshmallow chunks, just in different flavors. In fact, both cereals were marketed as ways to create flavored milk in your cereal bowl: Count Chocula cereal turned regular milk into chocolate milk, and likewise, the Franken Berry cereal produced strawberry milk. Unfortunately, that wasn't Franken Berry's only unusual byproduct.
Franken Berry Stool
Within a year of the release of Count Chocula and Franken Berry, General Mills was getting numerous weird complaints from consumers. It seemed the dye that was used to turn the Franken Berry cereal and the milk poured into it pink had the same effect on consumers' poop. The condition that no doubt gave many mothers a nasty shock was dubbed "Franken Berry stool." Since the side effect was deemed harmless, if entirely unwanted, General Mills opted not to change the dye it used in Franken Berry cereal. It must not have been that off-putting; sales of the cereals continued to soar.
Count Chocula and Franken Berry appeared in a series of television commercials together over the next few decades. The cartoon version of Count Chocula, whose first name was revealed to be Alfred, was loosely based on horror movie actor Bela Lugosi, while Franken Berry was reminiscent of actor Boris Karloff. Most of the commercials, which were aimed at young children, featured the two cereal mascots arguing lightheartedly over which cereal was the best, so engrossed in their debate that they would not notice a person, usually a child, approaching them. In an ironic twist, the commercial would end with the child scaring the monsters.
Most Monsters Joined the Scene
In December 1973, General Mills added a new monster cereal to the mix. Boo Berry, voiced by Paul Frees, became the mascot for the blueberry-flavored version of the famous cereal. It was followed the next year by a werewolf-fronted cereal, Fruit Brute. Over time, Fruit Brute was discontinued, but in 1987, it reemerged as Fruity Yummy Mummy, with---plot twist---a mummy mascot.
Games and Prizes
In addition to sugary goodness and comically spooky mascots, cereal manufacturers had another trick up their sleeves (and in their boxes) for getting kids to beg their parents to buy their cereal: the promise of games and prizes. The back sides of the cereal boxes contained tales of the monsters' adventures or games like word searches or riddles. Inside the boxes, kids could find small trinkets like figurines or stickers that they were encouraged to collect.
The Monsters Retire
In 2010, General Mills decided to stop year-round production of its monster cereals. Instead, the company announced that they would produce them seasonally to celebrate Halloween. In 2014, the monster characters all got a facelift from a team of artists to give them an updated and more appealing look, as seen above. Although they are now only available for a portion of the year, Count Chocula and the rest of the monster cereals have the honor of being the longest-running cereal mascots in pop culture history.