Crunch Time! – Wherein the Author is Cap’n of His Fate

Sometimes, being a value shopper leads to some good things. Like when Cap’n Crunch cereal turned up on a BOGO deal at one of the stores we frequent. This is a little different from many of the food tales that I tell in that I was not the one urging action. In my household, there is another person for whom Cap’n Crunch cereal is a true treat. That person’s husband is a little more ambivalent. The dilemma was that Marianne really loves the stuff, but has not bought it in years – because she is much better about healthy eating than the poor slob who writes here. So a deal was struck – I would buy two boxes of the Cap’n and agreed in advance to do Marianne a solid and eat most of it. The things we do for love. So how did it measure up?

Marianne’s childhood love of Cap’n Crunch came from being one of five kids growing up in a household where the cereal choices were usually restricted to Cheerios or Shredded Wheat. Somehow a box of Cap’n Crunch showed up at her grandparents’ house (isn’t that what grandparents are for?) and life changed.

My relationship with the Cap’n was always a little more complex. My younger sister was the big fan in my family, and our mother was far less invested in what kinds of cereal her children would eat. With only two of us, the rule was we each got to pick a box when we went with Mom to the store. I would normally head to either Cocoa Krispies or Sugar Pops, while Sis alternated between Lucky Charms and Cap’n Crunch.

It was while fulfilling my spousal promise following my Cap’n Crunch purchase that I got curious about its origins and started a little research. It seems that the story started around 1961 with market research indicating that kids under 10 preferred crunchy cereal to soggy cereal. Which proves that dumb surveys of obvious things are not new. Then the Quaker Oats Company hired the research firm of Arthur G. Little to create an extra-crunchy cereal. The only requirements were that it contain oats in the cereal and “Crunch” in the name.

A research scientist named Pam Little came up with a flavoring that was reminiscent of something her New England grandmother had made – butter and brown sugar over rice. The flavoring was contained in an oil that was sprayed on the corn and oat cereal before its final baking – which was new tech in breakfast cereal. The technical end of the project was a success, combining a solid, durable crunch, a unique flavor and something Little called “want moreishness”. I think that may be a polite way of saying “habit forming”.

It seems that the cereal’s marketing plan may have pre-dated the cereal itself. Quaker went to Jay Ward, the creator of the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. Ward agreed to create the character for a crunchy cereal on the condition that he would have complete creative control with no meddling by the sponsor/manufacturer. The creative people came up with the character of Horatio Crunch, Captain of the S.S. Guppy,. They even supplied a complete biography that was eventually used as a press release and a few ancillary characters. Then Ward hired Daws Butler, the voice of Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear, to provide the Cap’n’s personality.

When the cereal debuted in September of 1963, a series of commercials aired – a series that ate something like 80% of the advertising budget. It all worked because Cap’n Crunch soon hit the Number 2 sales spot in its category, behind Tony the Tiger’s Frosted Flakes. Which everyone knows turns 9 kinds of soggy after a couple of minutes in the typical milk bath.

There have been some nit-pickers who have argued that our crunch-loving sea farer is not actually a Captain because there are too few bars on his uniform. They say that he is, at most, a Commander in rank. Which would have made a pretty good cereal name too. But then again, nothing says that Horatio is part of the United States Navy, and Quaker has said that a man in charge of his ship is definitely a Captain. Or Cap’n, a late change attributed to the voice talent June Foray (think Rocket J. Squirrel) who, as the pigtailed Brunhilde, ad-libbed the line during some rehearsals. Ward liked the way the term suggested fondness and informality, and it stuck.

Cap’n Crunch may have also created the first cereal spin-offs when Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries debuted in 1967, followed by Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch in 1969. I remember that last one well. The company finally found a way to get itself to the top of my cereal choices around 1970 when it advertised a toy car as a prize inside each box. There were three cars, and to get each one I would have to consume a full box of all three varieties of Cap’n Crunch. The regular one went fine. I have forgotten what the car was. The Crunchberry variety was less pleasant, but I powered through. And I have forgotten what the car was. But the car I really wanted – a Dodge Charger Daytona – was in the Peanut Butter cereal. I hated the stuff, but gagged it all down because that was the Mom rule. If you picked out a box of cereal it was on you to finish it before you got another box. After the herculean accomplishment I went to assemble my red Charger Daytona and – – – snapped the axle during assembly. Another box of cereal would have solved the problem, but the cost was too high.

But back to my recent Cap’n Crunch Binge. It was mostly everything I remembered, both good and bad. It did indeed stay crunchy in milk. Marianne and I had both remembered that trait common in industrial abrasives that would challenge the roof of our mouths as we crunched our way through many a bowl in our youths. The maker seems to have slightly toned down the harsh texture we recalled. We also agreed that the individual pieces are smaller now than they used to be, but then we are larger than we were in our grade school years, so maybe it is just perception.

I did my good turn and the Cap’n Crunch is now out of the house. Unlike with my old go-tos, I do not have an urge to buy more of the Cap’n. I guess I have developed a resistance to that pesky want morieshness. I will try to appriciate that resistance, and maybe attempt to replicate it on some other treats that I crave more than I should. Or not.

Media Credits:

Vintage Cap’n Crunch Box from 1963 at legendsrevealed.com

Photo of 1965 Cap’n Cruch Comic from comicrealm.com

Early Box of Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter cereal from Mrbreakfast.com

Commercials from the YouTube pages as displayed

Further Reading:

Mashed – The Untold Story of Cap’n Crunch

Cartoon Research – The Origin of Cap’n Crunch

26 thoughts on “Crunch Time! – Wherein the Author is Cap’n of His Fate

  1. You hit the nail on the head at the end, I love the Cap’n, but haven’t eaten it in years because it tears up the top of my palate, AND, is so hard, it can cause problems, including pain, with my 67 year old poor quality teeth. Last time I ate it, I actually had to go to the dentist, something got “loose”. No mas por favor!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alas, it appears that the Cap’n, like Trix, is for kids. An interesting factoid I came across is that kids are not eating it as much today either. Children of millennials appear to get very little in the way of the kinds of sugary cereals we boomers grew up on.

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    • I see a viral Tik Tok moment in our future – The Crunch Berry Challenge. Eat the cereal for every meal for a week. I say we let Quaker know where to send the checks when this becomes the newest craze. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. “Stays crunchy, even in milk.” Behold the power of advertising – I still remember that phrase to this day (also the characters behind the cereal). I’m with you J.P. the Cap’n remains in my childhood, even though I’d be tempted to eat a bowl if a box was on the table. I guess we’ve “grown up”, huh? But I do confess to eating Lucky Charms a few times in the last decade. Those never get old and they’re not as crunchy.

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      • “I donโ€™t think I ever tried it”

        I don’t think any baby boomer’s life can be complete without having consumed at least one box of Cap’n Crunch. You are still young – go for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I will give it some thought….is it part of the Mediterranean diet? My mother only bought “normal” cereals like Corn Flakes, Shredded Wheat and Cheerios, etc. although my favorite was Alpha-Bits, which was fairly crunchy as I recall. I see from a google search that it was discontinued in 2006. Standards had relaxed when my younger brother came along, and he indulged in all the sugary ones advertising on Saturday morning cartoons. But by then I had graduated to peanut butter toast – more protein if you had late lunch period at school. I still find cereal doesn’t quite keep you going all morning, even the healthy oatmeal, as it’s mostly carbs.

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  3. We did not get sugary cereals much as kids, which was probably just as well. I was ADHD enough as it was, a daily dose of these cereals would have probably made me psychotic.

    I think I’ve only had Cap’n Crunch once in my life. A high school friend’s parents had a 30′ sailboat, and we spent a couple of days on it one summer. My friend brought a box of Cap’n Crunch, I recall that it tasted like peanut butter and I didn’t much like it.

    I took a piece and stuck it on a fish hook and dropped it over the side. I immediately hauled in a tiny perch, but had no luck thereafter. It probably abraded the roof of the fish’s mouth and he told the others to stay away from it.

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    • Cap’n Crunch eaten at sea – I love it! I don’t suppose the boat was called The Guppy?

      Yes, you must have gotten the peanut butter variety – yuck! The poor fish.

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  4. I smiled at this. I grew up in a family of four kids. Like your wife’s story, my mother did not buy sweet cereals, because we four kids would eat it in one day. LOL Instead we got Cheerios and Cornflakes. To this day, I do love Cheerios and Cornflakes. I do like some of the sweet cereals from childhood, but as you say… not worth it for our teeth, body, etc. By the way, I went to by a box of cereal yesterday, here in Chicago — a box of Cheerios was $6.49. They only had Family size, not small size. I was in sticker shock.

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    • When our kids were young, my bargain-loving spouse had a 10 cents an ounce rule. If the cereal could be had for that price, it could make it into the cart. It was pretty easy for anything on sale then. Price increases since then have made that target pretty hard to hit, but on a really big sale or promo it can still be done. Cereal at full retail was never really cheap and is amazingly expensive now.

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  5. I’m one of those odd people who doesn’t like sweets, so I’ve never actually eaten Cap’n Crunch. As a kid, I would willingly choose Cheerios or Shredded Wheat… seeing that dull start to my life, I guess it’s little wonder that I ended up owning two dull, silver minivans.

    Regardless, this was a great post; I never would have imagined there was so much of interest behind Cap’n Crunch.

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    • You would probably not have shared my early disappointment on learning that Grape Nuts did not actually taste like grapes. I cannot disagree – it is a pretty straight line from a childhood full of shredded wheat to a pair of silver minivans in the driveway. So what kind of accounting do you do? ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. I ate Sugar Crisp as a kid. My brother ate Frosted Flakes. Later I dabbled with Sugar Pops but I always added sugar to whatever cereal I ate even though that seemed to already be the main ingredient.

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  7. This is the 2nd time Cap’n Crunch has come up in the last 3 days. Another appearance before I shop next week, and I think a box is going in the cart. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved the Cap’n and always waited for the commercials, especially the ones with John LaFoot, ze barefooted pirate. I also hated the peanut butter crunch. I love peanut butter and I love Cap’n Crunch but the two together…icky.

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    • So true – there is a synergy to peanut butter and chocolate (as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups people used to hammer home) but I’ll bet the inventor’s grandmother never dropped a dollop of PB atop her buttered brown sugared rice.

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  9. I never had Cap’n Crunch as a kid, but I did as an adult after seeing the commercials. My mom was all about hot Quaker Oats or Cream of Wheat for breakfast, but Cheerios were allowed for breakfast on a hot Summer’s Day. Cheerios are not exciting and taste a little like the box they come in. We only had the plain Cheerios back then – they come in tons of flavors now. I like your line about crunchy cereal: “that trait common in industrial abrasives that would challenge the roof of our mouths as we crunched our way through many a bowl in our youths.” Ha ha – ouch for the soft palate like eating Grape Nuts nuggets. I liked the crunchy part of the original Cap’n Crunch, though I found the milk way too sugary sweet to finish up so treated it as a snack instead. I never tried the Crunchberries but I did like the Peanut Butter Crunch and had it as a snack, sans milk, as an adult.

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    • Your mention of Cheereos is interesting – I had never before thought of the fact that the most popular cold oat cereal was not made by Quaker Oats. We had Cheereos fairly regularly, but a good sprinkle of sugar was a must. And you had to eat it quickly or it would get really soggy. We fed them dry to the kids when they were little, but one of my youngsters seems to have been the only person in the history of the world who hates Cheereos.

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      • They’re not a cereal I’d be clamoring for, heart healthy or not. I used to like the Quaker Oat Squares – lots of crunch and didn’t get soggy. I buy cold cereal rarely now – it costs a small fortune these days!

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  10. Dad always told he heโ€™d met the voice of Capโ€™n Crunch, but with further information that was lost to six-year-old me. I imagine he met Daws Butler, who despite his illustrative career, is now more important to me as the man who voiced Yogi Bear in some robot skits developed for Showbiz Pizza.

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    • You remind me that I have not seen (or heard) Yogi Bear in decades, but his voice comes back to me the moment you mentioned the name. I would never have guessed the Showbiz connection.

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