Spoonfuls of Cheerios have kept kids ó and adults, too ó happy at the breakfast table for nearly three-quarters of a century. General Millsí Cheerios first appeared in 1941. - AP

Cheerios at 70: Iconic cereal endures, sells

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Here's a little quiz for the breakfast table: What is the most popular cereal brand in American grocery stores?

Hint: It's been General Mills' top name since 1951.

Another hint: If you're a parent, you've vacuumed it from the minivan and under the high-chair cushion by the cupful.

The answer, of course, is Cheerios. The iconic cereal, known by its distinctive yellow box, is 70 years old this year and still a force on the breakfast cereal market. One out of every eight boxes of cereal to leave the shelf in America carries the Cheerios name.

"They've been around since the beginning of man, right?" said Kathy Scott in Cape Coral, Fla. For her, the cereal's linked to memories of childhood Saturday morning cartoons.

"My mother was very old-fashioned, a stay-at-home mom," Scott, 50, said, "She made breakfast every morning, but on Saturday morning we were allowed to have cereal. Throw some fruit in there, sit on the floor and watch cartoons."

The tradition repeated itself with her own two children.

"Saturday morning cartoons and Cheerios," she said.

To make Cheerios, balls of dough are heated and shot out of a "puffing gun" at hundreds of miles an hour, according to General Mills. The company's waterfront plant in Buffalo has been firing them off since 1941, often cloaking the city with a distinctive toasty-with-a-sweet-finish aroma and inspiring T-shirts announcing "My city smells like Cheerios." More than 10 shapes and sizes were considered before the makers settled on little Os.

Since then, the company's introduced several new flavors, starting with Honey Nut in 1979 and last year, chocolate.

In 2009, sales of Honey Nut Cheerios surpassed the original flavor for the first time and remain in the top spot today.

But Kathleen Dohl, 30, sticks to the originals, the ones she refers to as the "old-school, yellow box, plain Jane" variety. She buys it in bulk at Sam's Club to keep her 6- and 3-year-old happy. "That's one of the first 'real people' foods that they ate," the Chester, Va., mother said. "They know when we're running late, they're like, 'can I get a snack bag of Cheerios?' " she said, "because it's something I can't say no to. I can say no to chips. I can say no to candy. I can say no to a dozen other things, but a snack bag of Cheerios?"

In honor of Cheerios' 70th Buffalo's Citybration Festival highlighting its assets will include a Cheerios breakfast on Sunday in sight (and smell) of the General Mills facility.

"Cheerios are actually a more iconic food to Buffalo than even the ubiquitous chicken wing," said festival organizer Marti Gorman. (The spicy Buffalo wing came along in 1964.)

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