Harvard students want their snap, crackle, pop back
There are some things that even a $40,000-a-year Ivy League education can't buy. At Harvard, it's Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms.
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.
''I was shocked to see they had done this to our cereals," said Harvard senior Cameron Moccari, who last week launched the group ''Harvard Students for the Reimplementation of Brand-Named Cereals" on Thefacebook.com, a popular website that allows students to meet new friends or form study groups. ''They replaced all of the familiar cereals with ones that have weird names and don't taste good."
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."
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.
The breakfast shake-up occurs at a time when the cereal industry, which, despite popularity among college students, has watched sales steadily decline. Between 2002 and 2004, the top five cereal companies -- which make up about 86 percent of all brand-name cereal sales -- saw sales drop to about $5.2 billion from $5.5 billion, according to
''It is disappointing for us to hear that any university would discontinue branded breakfast cereal," said Jamie Stein, a spokeswoman for Quaker Oats in Chicago. ''We expect the students to be even more disappointed."
The disgruntled cereal fans at Harvard have no organized protest plans -- yet -- besides submitting negative feedback cards emblazoned with the message: ''Bring Back Brand-Named Cereals." They say they were not responsible for a December break-in at a residential dining hall that left $1,000 in damages and cereal strewn across the floor.
Some Harvard students say the swap is the latest, and most annoying, in a series of dining-hall downgrades over the past few years. The annual clambake, which featured lobsters for every undergraduate, was dropped in 2002.
''While I am not a huge cereal fan -- and I would hardly choose Cocoa Puffs over lobster -- I would say that I am generally supportive of efforts to improve the quality of quotidian offerings," said Paul B. Davis, a sophomore representative on the Harvard University Dining Services Student Advisory Committee and self-described ''chief agitator" of the group, ''Harvard Coalition For the Return of Lobster Night."
During the academic year, Harvard charges students $4,286 a year for three meals a day, seven days a week. Harvard dining officials said this summer will mark the completion of a $34 million renovation project to upgrade all 12 residential dining halls, some of which had not been refurbished since the 1960s.
''It's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture in all the minutiae of cereal, lobster, and chicken breasts," Snyder said.
At this point, Harvard does not seem to be in the vanguard of a movement toward alternative cereals. Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops are still available at Ivy League sisters, including Columbia University and Dartmouth College. ''We wouldn't do that," said Larry Levitas, Columbia's director of dining services, which spends $65,000 annually on brand-name cereals from
Students at state schools such as Framingham State College and the University of Massachusetts at Boston still get their Cheerios and Corn Pops.
Jeff Fernandez is still hoping that Harvard comes to its senses.
''I'm really upset about it," Fernandez said on Thursday after shunning the dining hall's Marshmallow Mateys -- the substitute for his Lucky Charms. The Harvard senior, known in the cereal group as Jeff ''Likes his Pebbles Really Fruity" Fernandez, said the new cereals get soggy quickly and taste like cardboard. ''It's frustrating when we're paying this much, and we can't get a decent cereal."
Still, there's at least one Harvard alum who sees the cereal switch as a ripe business opportunity. David Roth, founder of Cereality, has opened two ''cereal bars" near college campuses where pajama-clad staff offer dozens of brand-name cereals, toppings, and even cereal parfaits and smoothies.
Roth said he is capitalizing on college students' passion for brand cereals at the stores on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe and near the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Cereality is planning to open a third store this year in Chicago. But Harvard Square is now on Roth's radar.
''There's a fierce brand loyalty with cereal," he said. ''Give people what they know and love. It's just something that nurtures and comforts them."
Jenn Abelson can be reached at email@example.com.