Early Wheaties Cereal Box
Wheaties, a wheat and bran mixture baked into flakes, is a breakfast cereal introduced in 1924 and marketed by the General Mills cereal company of Golden Valley, Minnesota. It is generally associated with athletics and is well-known by its slogan, "The Breakfast of Champions".
Wheaties was created in 1921 as a result of an accidental spill of a wheat bran mixture onto a hot stove by a Minnesota clinician working for the Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills). By November 1924, after over 36 attempts to strengthen the flakes to withstand packaging, the process for creating the flakes had been perfected by the Washburn head miller, George Cormack, and the cereal was named Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. Soon after, the name was changed to Wheaties as a result of an employee contest won by the wife of a company export manager, Jane Bausman. Other names passed over included "Nutties" and "Gold Medal Wheat Flakes".
Early sports association
Wheaties began association with sports in 1933 through advertising on the southern wall of minor league baseball's Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the contract, Wheaties sponsored the radio broadcasts of minor league baseball team Minneapolis Millers on radio station WCCO, and Wheaties was provided with a large billboard in the park for Wheaties to use to introduce new slogans. The first such slogan on the new signboard was penned by Knox Reeves, of a Minneapolis advertising agency. When asked what should be placed on the sign for Wheaties, Reeves sketched a Wheaties box on a pad of paper, thought for a moment, and wrote "Wheaties-The Breakfast of Champions".
Throughout the 1930s, Wheaties increased in popularity with its sponsorship of baseball broadcasting, and by the end of the decade nearly a hundred radio stations carried Wheaties sponsored events. During these events, athlete testimonials about Wheaties were used to demonstrate that Wheaties was indeed the breakfast of champions. Also in the early 1930s, athletes began to be depicted on the packaging of Wheaties, and the tradition is continued today. See List of athletes on Wheaties boxes.
The heyday of Wheaties came in the 1930s and early 1940s, as testimonials peaked from nearly every sport imaginable. Among the many testimonials were included: baseball stars, managers, and trainers; broadcasters; football stars and coaches; circus stars and rodeo; livestock breeders; a railroad engineer; horsemen and jockeys; a big-game hunter; automobile racers; an aviator; a female speedboat driver; an explorer; and parachutists.
Wheaties maintained brand recognition through its definitive association with sports, and its distinctive orange boxes. It became so popular that in the 1939 All-Star Game, 46 of the 51 players endorsed the cereal. In the months following, Wheaties became a sponsor of the first televised commercial sports broadcast. On August 29, 1939, NBC presented the baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers to approximately 500 television set owners in New York City, while Red Barber was the inaugural play-by-play broadcaster.
Ties with Ronald Reagan
Wheaties radio broadcasting in the 1930s touched the early career of Ronald Reagan, who was at the time a sports broadcast announcer in Des Moines, Iowa. He was charged with creating play-by-play recreations of Chicago Cubs baseball games using transcripted telegraph reports, and was voted in 1937 as the most popular Wheaties announcer in the nation. He was awarded an all-expenses paid trip to the Cubs' spring training camp in California, and while there he took a Warner Brothers screen test. This led to his eventual film career, thus the Wheaties claim of perhaps leading Reagan into show business, and later politics as governor and 40th president of the United States.
Changes and children's promotions
Due to increasing costs in the 1940s of sponsorship of broadcasting, Wheaties began simple commercial sports testimonials on television or radio. These were less effective than the overall sponsorship (especially in the case of television), yet also greatly reduced costs for advertising of the product.
In the early 1950s, costs and strategy forced General Mills to redirect the Wheaties brand into a focus on children, alongside such noted brands as Cheerios, which had great success in this market. While initially seen as a growth measure, sales of Wheaties declined dramatically even after association with The Lone Ranger and The Mickey Mouse Club, mainly due to the adult cereal consumers dislike of a "children's cereal". More children did in fact eat Wheaties due to this association, but the gain was not enough to increase sales, much less stave off the decline of adult consumption.
Return of sports association
Because of the great decline in sales in the middle part of the 1950s, by 1958 General Mills was convinced that the sporting roots of Wheaties were its strongest selling point. In that year, the marketing strategy employed a three-pronged assault. First was the selection of the brand's first spokesman, Bob Richards, two-time Olympic pole vault champion (see Spokespersons for Wheaties). Second, Wheaties reentered the sports television sponsorship arena, while pioneering the concepts of the pre and post-game show, and third was the introduction of the Wheaties Sports Federation. The Wheaties Sports Federation promoted physical fitness, training, and participation in athletic events, through direct financial support of Olympic educational programs and the Jaycee Junior Champ track and field competition, and also through educational and instructional athletic films.
From the 1960s through the 1990s, Wheaties provided in-box promotions, but maintained a focus on athletic fitness and on-the-box sports figure promotions. Since the debut of the front cover depiction of Bob Richards, hundreds of athletes have been shown and promoted, including entire baseball, basketball, and football teams, while also highlighting Olympic successes (including regional Special Olympics editions). Wheaties also does not limit itself to current athletic stars, as special edition boxes have depicted baseball players from the early 20th century, and many athletes who were too early for Wheaties to cover (see Jim Thorpe).
Wheaties firsts and records
There have been a total of seven spokespersons for the Wheaties brand since 1958, including with their date of selection:
Like many popular cereal brands from the early 20th century, Wheaties has had its share of spin-off brands. Also, several athletes featured on the cereal boxes of regular Wheaties are featured on these brands. These are the two brands which have been created in response to the popularity of Wheaties, along with their introduction date:
- Honey Frosted Wheaties (Commonly abbreviated HFW) - 1996
- Crispy Wheaties 'n' Raisins (Commonly abbreviated CWR) - 1996
- Wheaties Official Site (http://www.wheaties.com/)
- Early Wheaties History (http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/story048.htm)
- Cereal.com (http://www.cereal.com/)