The concept of the brand has so thoroughly permeated modern American society that the notion of “selling out” has been completely transformed. Once, being a brand was a shameful alternative to real achievement; now it means making it to the top. To become a successful brand — like LeBron or Trump or Beyoncé — is to ascend from the realm of mortals into the firmament. Once upon a time you needed to be a king or an emperor to potentially become a god; now you just need to hit a globally acknowledged critical mass of sales, web traffic, and endorsement deals.
The flip side is that brands have become people.
We openly acknowledge personal relationships with the things we regularly consume, and few of those bonds are more intimate or long-lasting than the ones we form with our breakfast cereal. Growing up, Post Raisin Bran was the way I started nearly every day, except when I was on vacation in Door County with the family. Then, and only then, Cocoa Krispies and Corn Pops were allowed in the cabinet (and in my bowl). If you go to the store, all of those cereals are still there, unchanged since the late ’60s or ’70s, and unlikely to change for decades to come.
And while breakfast-cereal variations come and go blindingly fast, few new brands rise up. There just isn’t much oxygen or shelf space left when you consider, for example, the many variants of a popular cereal such as Cheerios (Honey Nut, Multi Grain, Ancient Grains, Honey Nut Medley Crunch, Frosted, Apple Cinnamon … up to around 16 flavors in total).
That’s what makes the introduction, earlier in 2016, of Tiny Toast so interesting. It’s not a riff or a variety; it’s a totally new brand in the breakfast-cereal arena. For the first time in 15 years, General Mills has created something new in this realm, rather than playing yet another minor riff on a classic.
Strawberry Tiny Toast is “flavored with REAL STRAWBERRIES” (dried strawberry puree, to be exact). Blueberry Tiny Toast is “flavored with REAL BLUEBERRIES” (blueberry powder, to be precise). The presence of legitimately natural fruit flavors in breakfast cereal is both pleasant and disconcerting — you’re not really expecting anything different from Fruit Loops or Trix in the tiny, bread-shaped lumps that comprise Tiny Toast, but what you get is a serious wallop of strawberry or blueberry flavor. General Mills could have been more conservative in terms of flavor volume, but Tiny Toast brings a surprisingly high intensity of fruit flavor combined with featherweight, crispy little bits of cereal that stay reasonably robust in milk.
Whether you’re ready for this much fruit in your breakfast cereal is likely to be a personal thing; Tiny Toast, for all its blandly affable packaging, is actually a fairly bold approach to a staid segment of the market, and it will likely produce fervent converts and unhappy detractors in equal quantities.
Whichever side of the divide you fall on, you’ll agree that it’s good to see a new face pop up among the diehards. Even brands need to hang out with some new people once in a while.