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Overcoming A Controversial Past
By: Tori Mends-Cole
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Although Coca-Cola’s chief historian categorically denies it, most people have heard about Coca-Cola’s long-ago switch from cocaine to caffeine. Now the most-recognized brand in the world, Coca-Cola was first invented to be a medicinal cure-all for various diseases and even impotence. Coca-Cola's early and brief dabble in narcotics is well known, but the beginning of other brands is not as well documented or as widely known. Few people realize that other iconic American staples were also invented to treat various illnesses or promote adherence to religious principles. One of those staples is corn flakes cereal, which was invented as a cure for carnal urges more than 100 years ago; the inventors were two brothers following the theories of the developer of graham crackers on how to decrease sexual passions.

The Kellogg brothers, Seventh Day Adventists who were also interested in healthful living, deliberately devised a bland meal course as a way to decrease the libido of their patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. The brothers’ dietary plan was combined with various holistic therapies designed to help patients follow a more chaste and balanced lifestyle. Before corn flakes took off, a typical breakfast consisted of all manners of meats, biscuits, and an impressive list of fattening, but tasty fare; the sanitarium did not serve any of these foods. Patients such as C. W. Post (who later developed the Post cereal brand), J. C. Penney, Sojourner Truth, and other notable personalities convalesced at the sanitarium and, in some cases, were heavily influenced by the Kellogg's philosophies.

When William Kellogg began adding sugar to the cereal and focused on commercial and financial objectives, rather than on healthy or religious benefits, the brothers parted ways professionally and Kellogg’s corn flakes, as we now know it, was born. So to what extent does controversy affect a brand's growth and longevity? Kellogg's does not chronicle any controversies or mention religion on its official website, but the website quickly illustrates the strength of its international brand. Recently, Kellogg's ongoing litigation over exaggerated health benefits, brain boosting abilities, and last month’s recall have had little adverse effects on the brand and did not make for sensational news.

Why? Is it simply because Kellogg’s evolved with its customer base and changing times; in today’s world where convenience and taste routinely trump health needs, cereals can be seen as one of few options for a quick meal in the mornings? Perhaps the answer lies in human nature; research shows that humans are creatures of habit. Eating cereal in the mornings is an American tradition that has spanned more than four generations. Substantial breakfasts are typically reserved for weekends or special occasions and on weekday mornings; cereal and convenience products are a knee-jerk reaction. Feeding children cereal is a long-forming and cross-generational habit that is difficult to change. Kellogg’s, like Coca-Cola, is deeply entrenched in the everyday lives of families; eating cereal is too hard a habit to break.


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About the Author
Tori Mends-Cole is the Communications Coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union. She holds an M.A. in communication from the University of Maryland at College Park.
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