A few months ago, I heard about a project called Cerealize. They were the winners of the StartupBus competition at SXSW with the blisteringly brilliant idea of letting you “mix custom breakfast cereal from your favorite ingredients” online!
My first reaction? Something along the lines of “Oooooooo yeah!”
One day while browsing the ‘net, I saw Cerealize was accepting the first 100 people that sent in a reply to try out their website and get a taste of their product before it went “live” for the rest of the world. I quickly fired off an email and found out I was lucky number 10 of 100! Booya!
Once I got the secret credentials to login for ordering, I went to their website and saw this exquisite menu to choose from…
THE BASE INGREDIENTS
- Puffed Quinoa
- Corn Flakes
- Mini Cookies
- Honey Roasted Oates
- Whole Grain Os
- Cocoa Nibs
- Shredded Coconut
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
- Goji Berry
- Brown Sugar
- Cayenne Pepper
- Cocoa Powder
- Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
- Yogurt-Covered Raisins
Mix and match? Any and all items? No limits?
The 8 year old in me was completely freaking out.
- Peeps and Marshmallows on a base of Honey Roasted Oates!
- Bacon and Brown Sugar on a base of Whole Grain Os!
- Cocoa Nibs, Cocoa Powder, Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans and Shredded Coconut on a base of Corn Flakes!
I finally decided on something simple. Corn Flakes, Brown Sugar, Honey, Whole Grain O’s, Mini Cookies, Honey Roasted Oates and Bananas.
I finalized my personal magical concoction, and went straight to the PLACE ORDER page when I saw something that stopped me cold.
Any order and any combination would be $10.
$10? For a box of cereal? Dude! There better be something else in that box aside from whole grain goodness!
After my inner “Scrooge McDuck” quit WAAAAH WAAH WAH-ing and calmed down, I rationalized the cost wasn’t really that bad, and if I wanted new companies like this to succeed, I needed to invest.
Head in the clouds, and hoping for the best, I placed the order.
A few weeks passed, (with the occasional hard twitch when I thought about how much that ONE BOX OF CEREAL cost), but I finally received the box from Cerealize!
It was a bit smaller than I expected, but I was thrilled to see that it actually arrived and it was full of the breakfast goodness that I had created!
On the outside of the box was my number, immortalized in sharpie for all of cardboard time. #10 of #100!
When I opened the box to pull the bag out, I heard a clink at the bottom.
A plastic spoon? That’s kind of charming, I thought. But then I looked at the bag of happy bliss I had summoned from the vapors of the internet itself, and I immediately noticed…
No bananas. None. Not a single Bah. Not a single Nana.
You would think one of the very top things of the to-do list when letting customers make their own $10 cereal is to get the ingredients right on their order. Forget about putting a half cent plastic spoon in the box! The customers are ordering custom-made cereal! Online! They probably already own a spoon-like food delivery tool of their very own! Job number one should have been “Did the contents of the bag match the order?”.
Inside the box was also a congratulatory letter addressed to me, saying how wonderful Cerealize is, yadda yadda yadda, and by the way, here’s a copy of the list of the ingredients you ordered. Ingredients that, you know, should have been in the cereal.
Aaand it gets worse.
I opened the bag and poured the cereal into a bowl. The contents didn’t look bad, but it didn’t look great either. Let me rephrase that… they didn’t look $10 kind of great.
You know those cereals that come in a big giant plastic bag at the supermarket? The ones waaaay at the end of the cereal isle with names like FROSTED FLAYKES and CHEERY-OHS? Those $1 cereals looked way better than what I saw in the bowl.
So the big question… the question that could make a bronze contender into a gold medal top-shelf grand poo-bah winner in the last few seconds of the home stretch… What did the cereal taste like?!
I poured in the milk and took a giant spoonful. It all tasted the same. Like nothing. The cookies didn’t say COOOOKIE. The Corn Flakes didn’t CRUNCH and say HEY THERE, MAC, HOWS YOUR MORNING? The bowl was uninspired. Everything blurred together. The cereal was, for lack of a better word, bland.
Not flat. Not tasty. Not terrible. Not stale. Just terribly bland.
The closest thing I can come up with to describe this cereal is if someone went back in time to a whole foods store from the early 80’s. Back when they didn’t know healthy food could have a taste, or that healthy food could taste like anything for that matter! It’s almost as if they put a baggie under every one of those old-fashioned floor-to-ceiling tubes of 80’s health-food cereals and went POOT POOT POOT down the line to fill a bag. Sure, everything looks different, but it all tastes the same.
When you mention “whole grain Os” to a cereal junkie, they’re going to expect Cheerios. When you mention “Mini Cookies”, to a cereal junkie they’re going to expect Cookie Crisp. When you mention “Corn Flakes ” to a cereal junkie, they’re going to expect Frosted Flakes. When you charge $10 to a cereal junkie, they’re going to expect something better than if they went out and bought three boxes of cereal at $3 each and poured them all together into a bowl themselves!
Right now on their ABOUT page, Cerealize says it “was born as a side project and we haven’t yet built cereal-production capabilities. We’re flattered by all the interest we’ve been getting, though. If there is enough market demand we might turn this into a business.”
Cerealize, if you’re reading, I wanted to believe. Really. This was a brilliant idea, guys. Brilliant! I can totally see Jerry Seinfeld being your spokesperson and the concept of Cerealize making the existing cereal juggernauts of the world have a righteous freak out. But man, this thing fell out of the sky and hit every branch of the ugly tree on the way down!
Make the ingredients tastier!
Make the boxes cheaper!
And don’t screw up the customer’s order!
Get those things right, Cerealize, and come again.