The Weirdly Controversial History of Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

After finding success with their marshmallow-infused Lucky Charms in the late 1960s, the cereal think tank at General Mills believed they had discovered the next great evolution in processed breakfast: Something so rich in chocolate flavor that it would turn a bowl of milk into mud.

The as-yet-unnamed cereal was developed at the same time as a similar marshmallow and grain concept that used a strawberry flavor. The company wanted to debut them at the same time and asked their advertising agency, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, to come up with a commercial campaign that would personify the products in the same way Tony the Tiger and the Rice Krispies trio had become grocery aisle celebrities.

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

“My boss, Tony Jaffe, gave me the assignment,” Laura Levine, a former copywriter for the agency, tells mental_floss. “At the time, Cap’n Crunch was very popular, and Tony wanted something funny.”

It was 1969, and Levine had just been hired by Jaffe. Because there wasn’t yet a free office, she worked at a desk in the secretary’s area, coming up with—and often crossing out—a list of possible duos that could represent both cereals while playing off one another in commercial spots.

Levine doesn’t remember what suggestions she gave Jaffe other than the two he focused on: parodies of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, which Levine had dubbed Count Chocula and Franken Berry, respectively.

“The whole concept was monsters, but monsters who were scaredy cats,” she says. “They’d act tough, and then they’d be terrified by the sight of a little kitten.”

Jaffe brought the concept to General Mills, which had an enthusiastic response. Since late movies had started appearing on television, the Universal horror film monsters had become familiar to a new generation of fans, who embraced merchandise like Aurora model kits and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

Levine, illustrator George Cern, and animators Bill Tollis and Bill Melendez defanged them further, making them look and sound kid friendly. Still, Levine recalls that General Mills took nearly two years to refine her scripts, deliberating on wording and design before the cereals made their debut in March of 1971.

The products were an immediate hit: General Mills added Fruity Yummy Mummy, Boo Berry, and Fruit Brute in short order. But the “Monster Cereals,” as they came to be called, had more problems than their questionable nutrition.

In 1972, the press delighted in reporting some gastronomic difficulties suffered by children who ingested the red dye used in Franken Berry. While harmless, it had a tendency to turn their stool pink or red, leading anxious parents to believe their child might be suffering internal bleeding.

In 1972, the journal Pediatrics published a case study that dubbed the condition “Franken Berry stool.” After being hospitalized for four days with suspected rectal hemorrhaging, a boy was found to have been enjoying the cereal in the days prior. Physicians realized it was the culprit.

In 1987, with everyone’s bowels in order, the company came under fire once again when a commemorative cereal box featuring actor Bela Legosi as Dracula was perceived by some to feature the Star of David. Jewish groups protested, offended that a piece of religious iconography was adorning a vampire. General Mills apologized but didn’t recall the 4 million boxes that had been shipped.

medea_material via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

 
Despite the occasional misstep—fans also cried foul when the company briefly made Chocula a live-action character in a vaguely disturbing ad—the cereals have become special attractions for Halloween. Since 2010, a rotation of horror mascots are distributed to stores in the fall, feeding the demand of nostalgic fans. Some even hoard boxes to resell on eBay; a man in Fort Collins, Colorado who made an unauthorized Chocula craft beer nearly emptied out his town’s supply.

Although Levine had moved on to another agency just before the cereals hit shelves, she's happy to be the originator of a character that has been a beloved cereal mascot for 45 years—and she's not the only one. “It comes up often,” she says. “I do the New York Times crossword every day and remember being very excited when Count Chocula was one of the answers.”

But with the cereals both a regional and seasonal affair, she doesn’t often come across them at home. “In Los Angeles, I don’t ever see them.”

Nearly $100,000 in Instant Ramen Was Stolen in Georgia Noodle Heist

iStock
iStock

It's not easy to steal a small fortune when your target is instant ramen, but a team of thieves in Georgia managed to do just that a few weeks back. As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the criminals made off with a trailer containing nearly $100,000 worth of noodles, and the local police force is still working to track down the perpetrators.

The heist occurred outside a Chevron gas station in Fayetteville, Georgia some time between July 25 and August 1, 2018. The 53-foot trailer parked in the area contained a large shipment of ramen, which the truck's driver estimates was worth about $98,000. Depending on the brand, that means the convenience food bandits stole anywhere between 200,000 and 500,000 noodle packs.

Some outlets have connected the truck-jacking to a recent string of vehicle-related robberies, but the Fayette County Sheriff's Office told the AJC such reports are inaccurate. Any potential suspects in the case have yet to be revealed.

The outlaws join the list of thieves who have stolen food items in bulk. Some of the most ambitious food heists in the past have centered on 11,000 pounds of Nutella, $75,000 worth of soup, and 6000 cheesecakes.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Are Millennials Really Killing Mayo? An Investigation

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iStock

If the headlines are to be believed, then Millennials have killed chain restaurants, beer, bars of soap, cereal, diamonds, marriage, marmalade—and now mayonnaise.

Philadelphia Magazine ran a story earlier this week under the headline "How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise," and judging by the reactions, people have some pretty strong opinions about their preferred condiments, and whether or not said condiments are "literally dead," as a Millennial might say.

As evidence of the eggy mixture's untimely demise, the article's author, Sandy Hingston, cited BuzzFeed headlines outlining why mayonnaise is the "devil's condiment" and pointed to her personal experience of having to bring home potato salad and deviled eggs that went untouched at a family cookout.

Hingston went on to write that 20-somethings "would sooner get their news from an actual paper newspaper than ingest mayonnaise."

But does the data support this claim? Business Insider did some digging and discovered that mayonnaise sales are, in fact, down. In the U.S., sales fell 6.7 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to Euromonitor. To sell their products, Hellmann's and Kraft have been forced to lower mayonnaise prices, which fell 0.6 percent from the beginning of 2017 to 2018. And, Millennials tend to get blamed when sales numbers tank in particular industries because, as of 2018, they are the largest generation alive and also account for the most spending power.

According to Hingston, Millennials' distaste for mayo could be because it jiggles, it looks like a gross bodily fluid, and it seems like "a boring white food," as opposed to something more exotic, like aioli (mayonnaise with garlic). Also worth noting, though, is the rising popularity of healthy, vegan diets, as well as the availability of egg-free "mayonnaise" products.

So, while Millennials may have "deeply wounded mayonnaise," according to Business Insider, it probably won't disappear from store shelves anytime soon. Instead, companies are getting creative and releasing new mayonnaise products, like Heinz's new Mayochup (mayonnaise and ketchup) and Real Mayonnaise, made from cage-free eggs, lemon juice, oil, and vinegar. Many supermarkets also sell garlic, herb, hot and spicy, and lime variations.

As to whether Millennials will continue on their killing spree, Jason Dorsey, who researches Millennials at the Center for Generational Kinetics, tells the BBC, "The real issue is not that Millennials are not killing industries or businesses, but businesses aren't adapting." Jeff Fromm, the president of consulting firm FutureCast, agrees: "Millennials are the canary in the coal mine regarding trends. Innovation is going to be required."

[h/t Business Insider]

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