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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

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Monday, March 28, 2005


I don't want to make a habit of cereal-blogging, but this Boston Globe article found by Best of the Web caught my attention.

Angry cereal fans are lashing out after Harvard University cleared its dining halls this school year of brand-name cereals, such as Fruit Loops and Cap'n Crunch, and swapped them for less expensive, apparently healthier options like Tootie Fruities and Colossal Crunch.


Harvard officials say student surveys showed an interest in healthier, organic products, and brand-name cereals have been slow to move in that direction. At the same time, the major cereal companies are raising prices about 8 percent to 10 percent per year, more than double the rate for natural and lesser-known cereals, according to Jami M. Snyder, a spokeswoman for Harvard University Dining Services. ''We have a responsibility to spend their dollars wisely," Snyder said.

Harvard has reduced its six-figure cereal budget by 25 percent this academic year since shelving most brand-name cereals, including Apple Jacks, Cheerios, and Frosted Flakes.

All well and fine, but people don't like the off-brand cereals.

For Harvard sophomore Allison Kessler, it's annoying to pay more than $4,000 for a meal plan that scrimps on her favorite breakfast foods. Particularly since, Kessler, like many college students, eats cereal several times a day.

''I used to eat Lucky Charms for lunch and dinner," she said. ''The fake stuff gets real soggy, and I've just stopped eating cereal. This is not fair."

Everyone with a basic awareness of the market knows that brand name cereals are more expensive, due to heavy marketing expenses. I wouldn't eat the off-brand cereals, though, due to the perception of lower quality. Maybe it's a lifetime of advertising that's led me to associate brand names with quality. Or, perhaps, the more expensive cereals are actually made with higher quality ingredients. The experience at Harvard is a good case study on the actual quality of the product.

You know, with one of the world's top business schools, you would think Harvard would recognize that brand name cereals dominate the market because people prefer them. And when you charge $4,286 a year for a meal plan, you can afford real Frosted Flakes.

As mentioned previously, with regards to a very different product, I hate products that are designed to con the purchaser into thinking they're buying something they're not. These off-brand cereals, with similar cartoon characters adorning them, certainly qualify. (I will admit, though, the superiority of these fake brands to the white-box-black-lettering generic foods I vaguely remember from my youth.)

My cereal preference? For my entire life, I've actually preferred the healthier flakes and fruits and nuts cereals (please, no jokes about your college faculty!) to traditional sugary kids' cereal. I have no idea why; it's just a matter of preference.


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