Is Cap'n Crunch Easing Quietly Into Retirement?


Cap'n Horatio Magellan Crunch, who has sailed the Seven Seas for Quaker Oats since 1963, has fallen into the brand equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

The cartoon sailor is nowhere to be found on the Quaker website. Quaker's corporate parent, PepsiCo (PEP), doesn't go out of its way to trumpet its association with the Good Cap'n, either. He doesn't even make an appearance in recipes for yummy treats such as Cap'n Crunch French Toast or Cap'n Crunch Ice Cream Pie.

The last press release I could find about the brand was in 2007 on a not-too-surprising survey that found that 83% percent of kids ages 8 to 13 thought it would be fun to be a pirate. For generations of children, Cap'n Crunch made eating cereal fun. According to nutritionists, this kind of food association is one of the reasons behind America's soaring childhood obesity rates, which have doubled over the past 20 years.

Pressure from Washington

PepsiCo. and other food companies are under pressure from the White House -- especially from First Lady Michelle Obama -- to make their products healthier. Activists have long been irate over the marketing of sweetened cereals such as Cap'n Crunch to children. Last year, PepsiCo vowed to reduce added sugar per serving by 25% and saturated fat by 15% in its products over the next 10 years. This pressure may explain why the Cap'n is less visible than he was in years past. A company spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

"Our research shows that PepsiCo is no longer marketing Cap'n Crunch cereal directly to children. In a sense, you could say that they have retired Cap'n Crunch, and that's a good thing," writes Jennifer Harris, director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, in an email. "Unfortunately, children continue to view hundreds of ads per year for high-sugar cereals from General Mills, Kellogg's and Post Foods."

PepsiCo, also the parent company of snack maker Frito-Lay, is a member of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a voluntary food industry self-regulation program designed to make sure that children under 12 see advertisements for healthy foods. Indeed, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the food and beverage industry's main lobbying arm, says on its website that the industry has changed its marketing practices "with more than two-thirds of food and beverage television advertising geared toward kids under 12 used to promote good nutrition, healthy lifestyles and simply making healthy food choices."

No Longer No. 1 Kids' Brand

Cap'n Crunch generated more than $118.6 million in sales last year from supermarkets, drugstores and mass-market retailers, down 6.8% from a year earlier, according to data from Symphony Group/IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, which excludes sales from Walmart Stores (WMT), club stores and convenience stores. Overall cereal sales were $6.42 billion, down 3.25% versus 2009, the market researcher says. In 2007, PepsiCo called it "the number one kids, presweetened brand in the ready-to-eat cereals category." That's not the case now as private-label brands and competitors such as Cheerios are bigger sellers.

Sponsored Links

"No, [Cap'n Crunch] is not close to the top," says Ryan Stredney, a spokesman for Symphony Group/IRI, in an email. "The whole brand line has under 2% market share of cold cereal."

The cereal sailor is hardly the only underemployed spokesman. Ronald McDonald, too, has been sidelined by McDonald's (MCD) as the fast-food giant tries to present a more sophisticated image to market expensive coffee drinks instead of Happy Meals, Bloomberg News recently reported.

The beloved cereal spokesman may be fading, but PepsiCo still keeps him around. The company includes Cap'n Crunch cereal on its list of brands both on its corporate website and annual report. And his image continues to appear on the cereal boxes. The company also maintains a Cap'n Crunch website, which trumpets that "It's an excellent source of seven essential vitamins and minerals, is low in fat, and contains zero grams of trans fat per serving."

And What About the Sugar?

What the site doesn't discuss is sugar. A single serving of Original Cap'n Crunch has 12 grams of the stuff, which nutritionists say is almost half of the recommended daily intake. It's also less than what's in many other children's cereals. According to Rudd research, the average preschooler sees 642 ads per year on TV, almost all of which are for cereals of questionable nutritional value.

"General Mills has announced that cereal advertised to children would contain 10 grams of sugar or less per serving, with some products already containing 9 grams of sugar. Post Foods is following suit to reduce the amount of sugar in its children's cereals," says Christine Munsell, research associate at Yale's Rudd Center, in an email.

Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries is tied for first on Rudd's list of the least nutritional cereals marketed to children and families. Perhaps it's time for the good Cap'n to retire from the cereal navy to avoid walking the plank.

Get info on stocks mentioned in this article: