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General Mills Inc. is taking cereal out of the breakfast bowl for the first time by introducing oversized sweet and crunchy cereal flakes designed to be eaten out of the box at any time of day.

The company is treating Fingos as a potential blockbuster in the $8-billion-a-year market for ready-to-eat cereal by spending $34 million to promote it in its first year. The last General Mills product to get that much support was Multi-Grain Cheerios, which has sold at an annual retail rate of $80 million since its introduction a year ago."We're trying to get people to eat cereal beyond the breakfast occasion," said Craig Shulstad, a spokesman for the Golden Valley, Minn.-based company.

While 97 of every 100 U.S. households buy ready-to-eat cereals, rarely are they eaten in the afternoon or evening, Shulstad said. Ninety-three percent of cereal sold by General Mills is eaten at breakfast.

The marketing manager for Fingos is Barry Davis, who was involved in the successful launching of Basic 4 cereal at General Mills. He said Fingos is designed to meet three important consumer needs: convenience, nutrition and taste.

A 1-ounce serving of Fingos - about 17 to 21 cereal pieces - has a nutritional profile similar to a serving of a vitamin-fortified bowl cereal without milk. Honey Toasted Oat Fingos, for example, has three grams of fat, 110 calories, eight grams of sugar and 210 milligrams of sodium per serving. Fingos also comes in a cinnamon-flavored version.

The flakes are about the thickness of General Mills' Golden Grahams or Quaker Oats' Life cereals. They come in irregularly shaped hexagons that are bigger than corn flakes but smaller than potato chips. A family box of Fingos is as tall as a 12-ounce box of Wheaties, but the opening is squared off to make it easy for people to reach in and eat out of the box.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service