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Breakfast Cereal History & Kellogg’s

They’re Grrrrreat!


Food For Thought - Oct 8, 2003: Mark R. Vogel - Archive of Mark Vogel

The Kellogg’s Company, headquartered in Battle Creek Michigan, is the world’s largest producer of cereals with annual sales over nine billion.  Their cereal line is flagshipped by their venerable Corn Flakes, but also includes such famous brands as Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, and Special K among others.  Additional food lines include Keebler, Pop Tarts, Eggo, and Nutri-Grain.

     Kellogg’s revolutionized breakfast in the USA.  The Kellogg brothers were part of the first health movement in America that warned about the dangers of fatty, protein rich foods. Instead, they advocated a diet based primarily on vegetables, grains and fiber.  Their devotion to this dietary regime gave rise to the Kellogg’s company and the large consumption of cereals that exists today.

     Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) was a Seventh-day Adventist and vegetarian.  He recommended a plain diet for medical and moral reasons. His belief, reinforced by the prevailing religious thinking, was that a diet high in fat and protein, white bread, coffee and tea, as well as the use of tobacco, could not produce a person chaste in thought.

     Dr. Kellogg was appointed the superintendent of a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.  He believed the average invalid was suffering from bad intestinal flora and needed less protein and more roughage in his diet. He placed the patients on a strict and bland diet based on numerous vegetable and nut products that he developed, the most famous being a flaked wheat cereal called Granose.  Granose’s popularity was limited partially because it, like many of his vegetable creations, was insipid and tasteless.  Constant experimenting with various recipes led to the invention in 1902 of a cereal based on flakes of corn and flavored with barley malt. The famous Corn Flakes were born. 

     Will Keith Kellogg (1860-1951), better known as W.K. Kellogg, was the younger brother of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and a clerk in the Battle Creek sanitarium.  He never had a formal education and worked as a stock boy and a traveling broom salesman before being employed by his older brother. He assisted his brother in the search for new cereal products to support the vegetarian diet they both endorsed.  Different sources credit one or the other brother as the inventor of Granose and Corn Flakes, but it was most likely a joint effort.  W. K. Kellogg however, is the most famous since it is he who began the Kellogg’s company in 1906.  He relentlessly set forth to package, advertise, market, and sell their cereal products.

     In 1924 W.K. expanded the business to Australia.  Through the Great Depression, while many firms were shrinking, he increased his advertising and continued to expand the business. In 1938 he began selling his products in England.  Today, Kellogg’s products are manufactured in 19 countries and sold to more than 160 countries around the globe.


     In addition to being a sound businessman W.K. Kellogg is also famous for his philanthropic endeavors.  In 1925 he established the Kellogg Fellowship Corporation which played a role in the building of an agricultural school, a bird sanctuary, and a reforesting project.  In 1930 he created the W.K. Kellogg Child Welfare Foundation. The Foundation donated large sums of money to many youth based causes such as a school for handicapped children, a high school, a civic auditorium, and a youth recreation center. The Foundation continues to this day and supports a large variety of social causes. 

     Per capita consumption of breakfast cereals has steadily increased over the years, while consumption of all other grain products, with the exception of pasta have shown a decline. There has been some controversy about the actual nutritional value of cereals.  Cereals can be a good source of protein without the added saturated fat that accompanies animal based proteins. Whole wheat cereals certainly provide fiber, which is thought to help prevent colon cancer.  Non whole wheat cereals though, are stripped of the wheat bran’s outer layer and principal nutritional value.  However, almost all cereals are infused with a variety of vitamins and minerals.  This at least makes up for the vitamin loss in non whole wheat cereals but not the roughage.

     Many breakfast cereals have been criticized for their high sugar content. Sugar was added to cereals early in the industry’s history for a very obvious reason:  taste.  Humans are inherently drawn to the taste of sweetness.  One can only speculate how many millions in sales this simple additive created, mostly through the eager taste buds of children.

     However, Kellogg’s and the other major cereal companies all produce varieties based on whole wheat, supplemented by vitamins and minerals, with little or no added sugar. The cereal can be nutritiously sweetened by adding fresh fruit. When combined with low fat milk, you produce a breakfast high in nutrients and fiber and low in fat and cholesterol.

     Interestingly, recent decades have seen a renewed interest in diets low in fat and animal products and high in vegetables and fiber.  There is mounting clinical evidence to demonstrate the benefits of such a diet. In part, America owes the origins of these ideas to the Kellogg brothers.



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