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Kellogg's CEO faces backlash for saying people should eat cereal for dinner to save money

Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats and Special K cereals arranged in Germantown, New York, US, in July 2023. (Gabby Jones / Bloomberg / Getty Images via CNN) Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats and Special K cereals arranged in Germantown, New York, US, in July 2023. (Gabby Jones / Bloomberg / Getty Images via CNN)
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“Let them eat Corn Flakes” appears to be Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick’s advice to cash-strapped shoppers who are spending the highest portion of their income on food than at any point in the last 30 years.

In an interview with CNBC last week, WK Kellogg CEO Pilnick said the company was advertising cereal for dinner to consumers looking for more affordable options. “Give chicken the night off,” the ad’s cheery tagline reads. WK Kellogg owns cereals such as Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran and others.

“The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure,” Pilnick said. “If you think about the cost of cereal for a family versus what they might otherwise do, that’s going to be much more affordable.”

His advice hasn’t landed well with people frustrated by spending 26 per cent more on groceries since 2020; on social media the campaign is being seen as insensitive.

CNBC host Carl Quintanilla asked Pilnick if encouraging weary customers to eat cereal for dinner could “land the wrong way.”

Pilnick thought the opposite.

“In fact, it’s landing really well right now,” Pilnick said. “Cereal for dinner is something that is probably more on trend now, and we would expect to continue as that consumer is under pressure.”

Prices for groceries and restaurants have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. In 2022, consumers spent 11.3 per cent of their disposable income on food, the highest level since 1991, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing data from the US Agriculture Department

Food companies have raised prices since the start of the pandemic to cover higher costs for labor, ingredients and transportation — and because they could.

Cereal prices alone increased 28 per cent since January of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In its latest fiscal year, Kellogg raised prices by 12 per cent.

Food brands under fire

Despite the CEO’s assurances, Kellogg’s advertisement and Pilnick’s comments have led to a backlash on social media.

Some consumers have called the comments tone deaf from an executive who made more than US$4 million last year. They note that boxes of popular cereals now cost more than US$7 and cereal is not an adequate substitution for a full dinner.

The backlash highlights consumer anger at companies for raising prices on everyday foods and, in some cases, boasting about it.

“This is what [companies] think of you,” one user on TikTok wrote of Pilnick’s suggestion. “#CorporateGreed” wrote another.

McDonald’s also has become a regular target for social media users complaining about prices. Viral stories lamenting the cost of a Big Mac meal — particularly the US$18 ones at a widely maligned Darien, Connecticut, location off I-95 — have become a TikTok genre unto themselves.

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