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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: The Birth of Kellogg's and the Breakfast Cereal Wars


An early ad for Corn Flakes in 1907
An early ad for Corn Flakes in 1907 (photo credit: www.firstversions.com)

On February 19, 1906, in Battle Creek, Michigan, Will Keith Kellogg, fueled by a mix of sibling rivalry and innovative thinking in food manufacturing, joined forces with Charles D. Bolin to create the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. This venture set the stage for the birth of Kellogg's, a company that would ascend to become a global powerhouse in the food manufacturing industry, and fuel the "Breakfast Cereal Wars" with Battle Creek, Michigan taking center stage.


The Genesis of an Iconic Brand

The narrative of Kellogg's begins with an unexpected discovery that sparked a division between Will Keith Kellogg and his brother, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. While working together at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, they stumbled upon the process of creating flaked cereal in their quest to invent a more digestible form of bread for their patients. This breakthrough led to a significant disagreement over whether to add sugar to the cereal, amplifying its appeal to the masses. Will Keith's insistence on creating a sweetened version of the cereal paved the way for the establishment of his own company, thereby sowing the seeds for what would flourish into the Kellogg's empire.


The introduction of Grape-Nuts by Post Cereals
The introduction of Grape-Nuts by Post Cereals (photo credit: www.postconsumerbrands.com)

The Cereal War

Inspiration struck Charles W. Post during his time as a patient at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where the Kellogg brothers promoted a diet rich in vegetarian and innovative health foods. Motivated by the dietary principles he encountered, Post ventured into the cereal industry, introducing Postum, a coffee substitute, followed by Grape-Nuts in 1897, and later Post Toasties in 1904. These introductions propelled Battle Creek, Michigan, to the forefront of the breakfast cereal industry, setting the stage for an epic rivalry with Kellogg's Corn Flakes.


Escalating Rivalry

The establishment of the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company by Will Keith Kellogg placed him in direct contention with Charles W. Post and his Postum Cereal Company. The ensuing rivalry intensified as both entities strove for supremacy in the nascent cereal market. Kellogg's distinguished its products through inventive marketing strategies and product enhancements. In contrast, Post Cereal ramped up its advertising efforts and product development initiatives, igniting a fierce contest for market dominance.


One notable facet of this rivalry was the protracted legal disputes over patents and trademarks, underscoring the lengths to which both companies went to safeguard their inventions and brand identities. These legal confrontations were strategic measures aimed at stifling the competitor's ability to innovate and market their products effectively.


Competition Driven Innovation and Expansion

Kellogg's Corn Flakes brought about a revolution at the breakfast table, offering an alternative that was both convenient and palatable compared to traditional breakfast choices. The success of Corn Flakes was buoyed by Kellogg's pioneering marketing tactics, including widespread advertising and product sampling. This methodical approach to marketing redefined consumer engagement, establishing Corn Flakes as an indispensable morning meal in American homes and setting new standards for consumer goods marketing.


Kellogg's mastery in marketing was not merely about promoting a product but about advocating a new lifestyle choice—a healthier way to kickstart the day. This ingenuity in marketing, coupled with a deep understanding of consumer preferences, became a cornerstone of the Kellogg brand's identity.


Kellogg's early advertising promotes healthy eating
Kellogg's early advertising promotes healthy eating (photo credit: https://theartofwant.com)

Impact on the Cereal Industry

The Kellogg's versus Post rivalry spurred considerable innovation within the cereal industry, fostering the development of novel products, refining manufacturing processes, and crafting intricate marketing campaigns. This competition was instrumental in cementing cereal's status as a fundamental part of the American breakfast tradition and was pivotal in broadening the breakfast cereal market.


Furthermore, the rivalry underscored the critical role of brand identity and consumer loyalty in the success of packaged foods. Both Kellogg's and Post grasped the importance of captivating consumers' hearts and minds to achieve long-standing success. As a result, they invested significantly in branding, packaging design, and advertising efforts to forge deep emotional connections with consumers, establishing a lasting legacy for their brands.


Diversification and Global Reach

Capitalizing on the triumph of Corn Flakes, Kellogg's embarked on a path of diversification and expansion, enriching its product portfolio and extending its global presence. The introduction of now-iconic cereals like Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes, along with convenient snacks such as Pop-Tarts, exemplified Kellogg's relentless drive for innovation and its ability to adapt to shifting consumer tastes. These endeavors not only diversified Kellogg's product range but also solidified its reputation as a provider of quality, convenience, and flavor.


By the mid-20th century, Kellogg's had transcended its American roots to emerge as a global entity, achieved through strategic international expansion and the establishment of manufacturing plants across the globe. This worldwide presence allowed Kellogg's to introduce its array of products to a diverse audience, adapting flavors to meet regional preferences while maintaining the impeccable quality standards that have become synonymous with the Kellogg name.


Did You Know?


Accidental Invention: While attempting to make a simple batch of granola, Will Keith Kellogg and his brother, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, left some boiled wheat to sit. Upon returning, they found it had gone stale. However, instead of discarding it, they decided to roll it out, hoping to salvage the mixture. To their surprise, each wheat berry separated into a thin flake, which, when toasted, became deliciously crispy. This accidental discovery led to the birth of Corn Flakes.


First to Advertise: Recognizing the potential of mass media to reach a wide audience, Kellogg's placed its first advertisements in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1909. This strategic move not only introduced Corn Flakes to a national audience but also set a precedent for brand marketing in the 20th century.


Snap, Crackle, and Pop: Introduced in 1928, Rice Krispies quickly became known for more than just their unique sound. Kellogg's introduced Snap, Crackle, and Pop, gnomish characters who became the cereal's mascots, marking one of the earliest uses of mascots in advertising history. These characters personified the distinctive sounds Rice Krispies made when milk was added, creating a memorable and enduring brand identity. Their introduction was a masterstroke in marketing, endearing the product to children and adults alike and cementing Rice Krispies' status as a cultural icon.


Tony the Tiger makes his debut in 1952
Tony the Tiger makes his debut in 1952 (photo credit: https://adissuesandinsights.blogspot.com/)

Tony the Tiger: Since 1952, Tony the Tiger has served as the charismatic mascot for Frosted Flakes, embodying the cereal's energetic and adventurous spirit. With his booming voice and famous catchphrase, "They’re Gr-r-reat!", Tony quickly became one of the most recognizable figures in advertising. This branding genius turned Frosted Flakes into a favorite among children and adults, showcasing the power of a strong, appealing character in building brand loyalty and appeal.


Nutrition Innovation: Kellogg's estab-lished itself as a leader in nutrition innovation by being one of the first companies to fortify its cereals with vitamins and minerals. This initiative, launched in response to the public health needs of the time, aimed to address common nutritional deficiencies. By enriching its cereals, Kellogg's not only improved the health profile of its products but also set new standards for the food industry, emphasizing the importance of nutritional value in everyday foods.


Space Age Cereal: Kellogg's played a role in the historic Apollo 11 mission by providing the crew with a specially formulated cereal. This cereal, designed to be compact and nutritious, suited the unique requirements of space travel, offering the astronauts a taste of home while millions of miles away.

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