October 25, 2014


General Mills

          By the late 1960s, General Mills had developed new chocolate and strawberry-flavored formulas that would not only could be infused into cereal and marshmallow pieces, but would turn the milk into those flavors. They tasked their ad agency, Dancer, Fitzgerald and Sample, with developing new mascots that could adorn the cereals they hoped to launch with these new flavorings. In 1969, Laura Levine would run through a gamut of famous fictional characters and pop culture pairings before settling the classic Universal Monsters of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. The concept and cereal-themed names were handed off to the art department consisting of George Karn and Bill Tollis to come to life (so to speak).

In March of 1971 they finally debuted their first Monster Cereal: Count Chocula. He was a brown, single-fanged vampire who preferred the taste of chocolate to blood. It was touted as the first chocolate cereal to have chocolate-flavored marshmallows, and also turned the milk into chocolate milk. Joining the Count that October was Franken-Berry; a pink version of Frankenstein’s Monster that loved strawberries.; a pink version of Frankenstein’s Monster who loved strawberries (which was fitting since that was his cereal’s flavor).  

The first animated commercial for the cereal, animated by Bill Melendez Productions, saw the two monsters arguing with each other over whose cereal was better. However, they were both frightened by a passing kid before they got very far into it. This was Levin’s contribution, a twist to make both of them scaredy-cat monsters so as to diminish their potential to frighten children. Jim Dukas supplied the voice of Chocula by doing an impersonation of Bela Lugosi; who was best known for his role as Dracula. Larry Kenney would replace him in 1978 upon his retirement. Bob McFadden was Frank, impersonating Boris Karloff who had played the Monster on film. In 2009, 9 years after McFadden’s death, Rob Pruitt was brought on by DFS’s successor, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, to assume the role.

The Count likely got an advantage in their eternal argument when the red dye originally used in Franken-Berry’s cereal proved unable to be digested, resulting in eaters’ excrement turning pink, causing a bit of a health scare until doctors deduced the cause. This was known as (what else?) “Franken-Berry Stool.” However, Chocula would take his own bite out of controversy in 1987. As part of a promotion with Universal, they featured an image of Lugosi as Dracula sporting his customary medallion, which Jewish people saw as the Star of David and an insult to their faith as it seemed to imply validity to “Jewish Blood Libel”: the anti-Semitic belief that Jews would steal the blood of non-Jews to use in rituals. The medallion was edited off of the boxes in later shipments.

Controversies aside, both cereals proved immensely popular and General Mills tinkered with adding another cereal to the line-up. In 1972 they tested out a blueberry-flavored cereal before making it national the following year. The name and mascot for this one was Boo Berry, a blue ghost who wore a straw hat and bowtie and was adorned with chains tethered to a bowl and his cereal. In the commercials, he could often be found putting a fright in Chocula and Frank. Paul Frees provided his voice, impersonating Peter Lorre who starred in a number of horror films. Peter Waldren would take over from Frees and Chris Phillips would inherit the role in 2009. Like Franken-Berry, Boo Berry’s original dye was undigestible and turned stool green.

The following year, Fruit Brute was introduced; a werewolf who adorned an unspecific fruity cereal with lime-flavored marshmallows. Fruit Brute would become the first casualty of the monstrous quartet as his cereal underperformed in comparison to the others. The cereal was discontinued in 1982, although it did attain a cult status and fans often clamored for it to return. Fruit Brute cereal would go on to make an appearance in the Quentin Tarantino movies Reservoir Dogs and Pulp FictionIn 1983, the remaining cereals gained larger marshmallows with distinct shapes, that of their corresponding monster’s head (they would change shapes in years following), and in 1985 the cereal pieces became ghost-shaped.

In 1987, General Mills attempted to give the fruity cereal a new (after)life with a new mascot and name: Yummy Mummy, a colorfully-wrapped mummy that blended Jamaican music with a traditional Egyptian sound in his commercials. While the fruity pieces were retained, the marshmallows were changed to vanilla-flavored. Unfortunately, it seemed like the public was against the fruity cereal and it was discontinued once again in 1992. However, Frank and Boo soon joined him as they were quietly phased out with all the focus placed on Chocula’s cereal. 

Over the years, the remaining monsters had their designs updated to coincide with the animation style of the times, featured a variety of premiums, and engaged in pop culture tie-ins by introducing Casper and Wendy marshmallows in 1998 for the film Casper Meets Wendy and Goosebumps and Scooby-Doo marshmallows in 1999. However, sales for the cereals began to steadily decline. General Mills contemplated introducing a new mixed berry cereal, with Saatchi & Saatchi art director Peter Bregman designing several possible characters including Phantom-Berry, BerryPatchra, Dr. JekyllBerry and Bride of Franken-Berry. They ultimately decided not to do the cereal, stopped production of the commercials in the early 2000s, and changed the cereal pieces from oat to corn. Eventually, the cereals began to only be featured in select markets rather than being widely distributed; especially the less-popular Franken-Berry and Boo Berry. In 2010, the same year Betty Crocker released Franken-Berry and Boo Berry Fruit Roll-Ups and General Mills released Count Chocula cereal bars, the monster cereals were made available only on a seasonal basis in the fall months where they experienced a massive sales spike. 

The five monster cereals, together again for the first time. Retro (above) and modern versions.

In 2013, for the first time since their ending, Fruit Brute (renamed Frute Brute so as to avoid legal complications about declaring the cereal contained any real fruit) and Yummy Mummy were bought back with the other cereals; making it also the first time all five cereals were available at the same time. Target  exclusively carried the cereals with retro packaging, reminiscent of their debuts. Even the aforementioned Fruit Roll-Ups and cereal bars received the retro touch despite not existing when the cereals began. Since having two non-descript “fruit” cereals in the same line made no sense, Yummy Mummy was now an orange creamsicle flavor while Frute Brute became cherry.

The 2014 DC Comics editions of the boxes.

In 2014, General Mills partnered with DC Comics to feature a re-imagining of their boxes using DC artists. Terry and Rachel Dodson rendered Count Chocula, Dave Johnson did Franken-Berry, and Jim Lee tackled Boo Berry. The boxes also featured a comic strip by Brent Schoonover. Target once again carried the retro versions of the box, each with a cut-out mask of the mascots. 

The 2022 KAWS boxes.

In 2020, they teamed-up with special effects artist Karlee Morse to create busts of Chocula, Boo and Franken for a sweepstakes giveaway. For the line’s 50th anniversary in 2021 a special Monster Mash cereal was released, which combined elements (though not flavors) from all five cereals into one. For 2022, Frute Brute returned and General Mills partnered with street artist KAWS to have him provide the art for the boxes in his distinctive style as part of a promotional giveaway for a set of miniature figurines designed by him. 

Monster Cereal bobble head statues.

The cereals remain popular, with countless fan websites dedicated to them. Not popular enough for year-round production for General Mills, but enough to keep them coming back every year. Many of the boxes have become sought-after collector's items, on top of the merchandise featuring their respective characters. New merchandise continues to be made with them, including bobble-head statues, vinyl figures and action figures.

Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2022.


John P said...

I know NOW that the cereal was probably not good for us, (too much sugar). But DAMN, I LOVED Count Chocula!!!!! LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

Good read. Thanks. I come across this on a Saturday morning as I'm about to eat some Boo Berry. Yeaaaa.