Friday, 3 May 2013

Future Foods: Episode 1 - Cereal Solutions

Sci-Fi Forward dons a pair of investigatory moon boots and prods at the sugar-coated underbelly of space-themed breakfast cereal in the first of a new series looking at the many ways in which science fiction has influenced The Food What We Eat.
Breakfast - the most important meal of the day
As a child in the 1980s I was spoilt for choice when it came to cereal. Humdrum offerings such as Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes were quickly supplanted by more exciting fare such as Rice Krispies and Sugar Puffs once I realised that a combination of pleading with/moaning at my poor Mum in the supermarket could result in the purchase of teeth-dissolvingly good treats. My desire to make DOUBLY SURE I ingested my recommended daily allowance of sugar in a single spoonful wasn't my only motivation when it came to choice of cereal however, I was also hypnotised by a combination of cartoons, commercials and 'collectable' free gifts. Muesli may well be good for you but Frosties had an animated talking tiger. Called Tony. Who wore a cravat. Ace. 

Whether I was putting together a collection of almost unplayable flexi discs by bands I'd never heard of or amassing enough of those stalwarts of 'Weren't the 80s TOTALLY BONKERS' TV shows, Spokey-Dokeys TM, to drive my neighbours to an early grave as I clicked and clacked up and down the street, my sticky-pawed formative years seemed to derive an unreasonable amount of excitement from cereal. And it wasn't all about promotional items... Firstly there were 'Kellogg's Variety Packs' which featured eight wee packets of different cereals and were usually bought to 'take away with us' when we went on holiday. In the monochrome world of the 1980s, Variety Packs offered the discerning child an almost unbelievable amount of choice at breakfast (and gave my Mum a wonderful opportunity to fill the back of our cupboard with uneaten packets of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes). And then there were The Sci-Fi Cereals. As we know, few things are more appealing to a child than The Wonders Of Space, with its endless possibilities and lack of school teachers. Apart from sugar and chocolate, the one thing guaranteed to elicit a nauseating whelp from my little face when browsing the cereal aisle with Mum was a tenuous link to The Great Black Void wrought in cartoon-form on the front of a packet. Maybe I could save the world from the clutches of Generic Space Alien Man... by eating some crisped rice.

Anyway... Dear reader, why not come with me as I run down the Top Five Sci-Fi Themed Cereals... EVER!!!?

5. Ricicles

Essentially Rice Krispies with added sugar, Kellogg's used a 'Henry's Cat' tie-in to market the product at launch, realising several years after everyone else that said cartoon was in fact just a shit 'Roobarb & Custard'. The perma-stoned jaundiced feline was soon removed from packets and replaced by {drum roll} Captain Rik. Looking like a cross between the MilkyBar Kid and that irritating green alien knobcake from The Flintstones, it seems fair to assume that Rik purchased his commission in the manner of a Victorian nobleman, unless 'flying round a bowl of cereal with a wimpy jetpack like a wheezing bee' is considered enough of an achievement to warrant promotion to Captain in The Future. Ricicles still have a space theme today but the redesigned Captain Rik looks even more gormless. They're just a bit, you know, 'ordinary'...  Kellogg's added divvy marshmallow bits at one point in an attempt to inject a bit of interest, but this move resulted in a drop in sales so they soon reverted to the 'puffed rice with sugar' of my childhood. Full marks for staying power but Ricicles only scrapes into the top five.

Captain Rik then and now
4. Nestle Honey Stars 

The first entry for a cereal I've never actually eaten comes from Evil Corporate Megalith Nestle. Honey Stars are only available in the UK as a ludicrously expensive import from online grocery stores and, as much as I'm committed to this blog, I aren't prepared to pay £10 a box. Soz. They do look pretty cool though. The cereal itself is star-shaped, with the recent addition of the occasional rocket-shape. *Amaze*. Sadly the cereal loses points as its mascot is a lame-ass bear in a spacesuit. Literally seconds of thought must have gone into that one. Seriously, just look at him. What a nipple end.  

UnBEARably bad box art

3. Ready Brek

How exciting can porridge be? Thanks to a stroke of genius from the marketing bods at Lyons, the answer is 'very'. The message was simple: eat Ready Brek and you will attain a radioactive orange glow during your walk to school. More than once I could've sworn I saw this aura reflected in a car or shop window on a cold winter's morning. In your face Jack Frost. The fact that I developed no interesting mutations or special powers after consuming Ready Brek beyond a slightly higher tolerance to chilly weather was rather disappointing but maybe if I just ate a few more packets...


"Get up and glow" kids

2. Weetos Meteors

I mean HOLY SHIT y'all. If Weetos Meteors had existed when I was a kid I would have died of a wheat overdose before high school. Yer standard Weeto was pretty darn special, depositing so much chocolate into the bowl that they made Coco Pops look worryingly anaemic. And the trippy adverts sparked the catchphrase "Derek was reaaaaaaaally bored" which led the similarly named Dad of my mate Johnny to think that our entire school was taking the piss out of him. 

Evidently Weetos included copious amounts of lysergic acid diethylamide... 

But they were just hoops. Been there, done that. Meteors though?!! And did I mention that alongside these meteors are stars? Wow. Not only that, they're actually pretty good for you, containing hardly any sugar, salt or fats. If they threw some rockets into the mix they'd be pushing for the number one spot...

1. C3-PO's

C3-PO's what?

Ok, so they were never released in the UK (as far as I know) and they were apparently bloody awful but come orrrrrrn! This was a cereal with serious pedigree. Freakin' C3-PO was no mere cartoon, this dude helped rid the universe of the Evil Galactic Empire. What I would have given to have his gold head stare at me from the breakfast table when I was a kid. And you didn't just get any old free gifts with this bad boy, there were Star Wars related trading cards and even a creepy Luke mask should you want to convince your friends that, not only were you said Jedi Knight, but that you'd spent all your cash on botox and cocaine.

This is either the back of a box of C3-PO's or a Nazi recruiting poster, I'm not sure which

The accompanying ad campaign was pretty weird too. Our camp friend is seen evading lazer fire by dashing into a cave with a tray of cereal, revealing to R2-D2 that he wants to name the cereal after himself while wearing a pinafore, then looking rather frightened as a fluffy monster puts his arm round him like a predatory disc jokey. It also features that staple of advertisements, the 'nutritious breakfast', which every cereal is meant to be 'part of'. I mean really, who the hell has an orange, several slices of toast and a whole pot of coffee on top of cereal?

"Two crunches in every double-o" apparently

So there you have it, conclusive proof that a product need not be either a) any good or b) available in your own country for it to be OFFICIALLY THE BESTEST THING THERE IS if it's associated with the right sci-fi movie.

Rational thought 0 - Capitalism 1

1 comment:

  1. FWIW, "Henry's Cat as Ricicles mascot" does ring a (very) faint bell in my head, but he definitely wasn't the first. I remember they had a mascot that looked like a cub version of Tony the Tiger before that (circa early 80s). (#)

    But Google Images also turns up some older looking boxes before my time, including ones featuring The Magic Roundabout characters (definitely the 70s) and even ******* Noddy (apparently from the 60s).

    I could understand Kellogg's using licensed characters on a cereal marketed around them (like C3POs), but it seems odd that they did it with Ricicles.

    Noddy! Ugh... even the bland Captain Rick is preferable to that. Talking of which, I guess Kellogg's got fed up of paying licensing fees and just stuck with Captain Bland.

    Mind you, I never actually liked Ricicles anyway!

    The picture of C3POs reminded me very much of Kellogg's "Start" which IIRC launched in the UK circa the mid-80s. Under closer inspection, the C3POs only have two joined loops to Start's three, but it looks like pretty much the same thing otherwise.

    IIRC Start was marketed using a "sporty" slant vaguely implying it was athlete fuel, but in hindsight I'm not convinced it was that much different to any other oversweetened cereal. (##) The fact that something similar was sold as sugar-loaded kids' fodder elsewhere reinforces that suspicion!

    (#) I've just come across a picture of a Ricicles transistor radio that has this character on the front of it- apparently he's called "Tony Jr", and it's dated 1977.

    (##) Remembering how sweet it was, I know I'd hate it today for that reason.