Whether Sugar, Super or Golden, We Know It’s Still Crisp

We have periodically strolled down memory lane with a classic breakfast cereal, and it seemed like it might be time for a look at another oldie-but-goodie.

If we are talking oldies, then Puffed grain cereal certainly qualifies with “Puffed Rice” cereal having been sold by Quaker Oats as early as 1904. Brand extension is nothing new, with that company following up with “Puffed Wheat” in 1907. But even then, the C.W. Post company was long established.

Mr. C.W. Post had worked at a Michigan sanitarium owned by a fellow named Kellogg – who had introduced Corn Flakes in 1891. Post began his own company with a cereal-based coffee substitute called Postum, before introducing his own breakfast cereal in 1897 – Grape Nuts. And to be clear, there is no truth to the rumor that every single morsel of Grape Nuts was made in 1897 and crammed into a huge warehouse, the contents of which continues to stuff the boxes on your grocer’s shelves. Because it is “the perfect food.” But it is definitely true that Post started making a Corn Flakes knockoff in 1907, which it called Post Toasties.

But note that Post had never made a puffed grain cereal, much less a sweetened one. That honor goes to an industrial salesman named Jim Rex, who was dismayed watching his kids dump sugar on Puffed Wheat. He worked out a process for dipping the puffed cereal in a honey/sugar syrup and began selling it in 1939 as “Ranger Joe’s Puffed Wheat Honnies” cereal, along with a puffed rice version. Production problems (and a market limited to the Philadelphia area) ended up with Ranger Joe shutting down and the process being sold some time thereafter. There is a little confusion here, some sources say that it was sold to General Foods – GF was the company that had been acquired by Post some years earlier. But others say Nabisco bought it in 1954 and started selling the stuff under its original name.

In any case, Post got to work on copying or perfecting the product and it was introduced in 1949 under the name of “Sugar Crisp”.

1949

When we looked at Cocoa Krispies, the name stayed the same but the mascot kept changing. For today’s subject, the opposite is true. So let’s start with that famous mascot, “Sugar Bear”. Sugar Bear was not the first mascot for the cereal – which originally used three bears named Dandy, Handy and Candy. Sugar Crisp is believed to have been responsible for the first animated cartoon commercial. The bears gave us the slogan “For breakfast it’s Dandy… for snacks it’s so Handy…. or eat it like Candy.” We like to think that advertising has advanced since 1949, but you have to admit that there is a kind of truthfulness to it.

1960

By the mid ’50’s, the cereal mascots were pared down to a single cartoon bear. It was never clear if it was Dandy, Handy, or Candy who survived the reduction in force, or if all three of them were retired for a replacement. Whatever the identity of the single bear, it had little to do by the late ’50s other than sit on the cereal box and look strong. Because puffed grains of wheat coated in a sugar glaze builds muscles, you know.

1965 brought a replacement for the ever-changing anonymous bear – the famous “Sugar Bear”. Sugar Bear was a cool cat (well, a cool bear, anyway) who was voiced by well-known voice talent Gerry Matthews for the next 40 years. Sugar Bear’s delivery was supposedly patterned on either Bing Crosby or Dean Martin – I vote for Dean-O myself – as a suave, laid-back kind of guy. (Bear.) “Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp” was sung to a bazillion kids in front of their televisions on Saturday mornings.

The problem has been that it was around that time that Post started changing the name of the cereal. Sugar Crisp became “Super Sugar Crisp” in 1965 because, well, super is better?

Next came “Super Golden Crisp” in 1985. Remember the blunt but truthful ads from 1949? That was gone. Now it was all of the sugar but none of the truth (but with the addition of a couple of extra vitamins and/or minerals). I have looked at ingredient labels, and have never found evidence of gold in that thar’ cereal.

At some point they downgraded the stuff to just plain “Golden Crisp”. Don’t ask why – to save on printing costs? But they were not fooling anyone because Sugar Bear was still on the box. But it has been ever-thrifty Canadians who stuck with the original name, where the cereal is still called “Sugar Crisp.” The cereal companies must know not to fool with the Canadians. They have axes.

There was a spin-off in the early 70’s called Super Orange Crisp, that stuck little orange-flavored Cheerios in with the glazed wheat puffs. I don’t ever remember hearing of that one – frankly it doesn’t sound very good. But I guess it was a way to eliminate that glass of orange juice that made for “a complete breakfast”.

Someone did a test in the 1970s and Super Orange Crisp was found to have the highest sugar content in the cereal industry – which was saying something. The tester claimed that the stuff was 71% sugar by weight. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and we are back to the regular stuff which is just a touch over 50% now. Which is much healthier eating than Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks, which came in at 55% sugar.

Speaking of healthy, a 2021 article in Money Magazine noted that Post got sued in a class action for claiming that certain of their breakfast cereals were healthy. Including this one? Sorry, but anyone so gullible as to believe that this stuff is in the same hemisphere as healthy doesn’t deserve to receive any of that payout. And anyway, the deadline for filing a claim passed in in May of 2021. And we all know that most of the $15 million went to the lawyers. For my money, anyone with enough brass to stand in front of a judge and suggest that members of the public were tricked into believing that Sugar/Super/Golden Crisp is healthy deserves every penny they get because that was some fancy lawyerin’.

This cereal brought us one other forgotten nugget of pop culture – a band that called itself “The Sugar Bears” The SBs were a 7-member bubblegum pop group that managed to produce an album in 1971 – for the recording colossus of Big Tree Records. Unfortunately, they lacked the popularity of other ad agency-created groups (like the Partridge Family). Discogs.com actually lists the personnel, which is notable for at least two names: Mike Settle (who had been with the New Christy Minstrels, Kenny Rogers’ First Edition, and who was an accomplished song writer) and Kim Carnes, who had a huge 1981 hit with “Bette Davis Eyes”.

There are three unanswered questions about the Sugar Bears. First, is how the song “Sugar Sugar” got away from the group only to be picked up by a group from comics and a cartoon, The Archies. Also, it is not known if Dean Martin was asked to take part in the project, given his undeniable ability to sing in the voice of Sugar Bear. Finally, there is no information on whether the group approached Jack Nicklaus about name rights so that they could continue as “The Golden Bears” after the cereal changed its name. So many questions, so few answers.

Anyway, back to the cereal for one last thing – I would suggest that if they were going to change part of the name again, it would be to get rid of the “crisp” part – because have you seen how poorly this stuff stands up to milk in a cereal bowl? But then “Golden Soggies” would be sub-optimal. Personally, I have solved that problem by eating it dry out of a coffee cup. Because served that way for breakfast it’s dandy. And for snacking it’s handy, because it tastes just like candy. I’ll bet there’s a slogan in there somewhere.

COAL Update – Marry the girl, marry the car. I did pretty well on both counts.

31 thoughts on “Whether Sugar, Super or Golden, We Know It’s Still Crisp

  1. I liked this cereal as a kid, but after a while figured out that it burned quickly and left me hungry well before lunch.

    I’ve had the Super Orange Crisp. It was interesting enough for me to ask Mom to buy it maybe three times. But the orange flavor in the Os just didn’t blend well with the honey-wheat flavor. If I remember right, Super Orange Crisp lasted a year, maybe two.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am kind of amazed that I did not remember the Super Orange Crisp – even now I cannot remember ever having heard of it. Maybe it came out a few years past my peak susceptibility to Saturday morning advertising.

      I always liked Sugar Crisp and its ilk better dry than with milk on it. If you pour on the milk, you had to be prepared to wolf it down quickly before all of the “crisp” went away.

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  2. Always interesting to hear how the cereals were created. I agree, they are not crisp. I think it was Honey Smacks that I liked with the frog on the packaging. We sure had a lot of sugary cereals when we were kids. My mom ONLY bought Cheerios and Corn Flakes, less sugar and that meant four kids wouldn’t eat one box in a single sitting. LOL

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  3. Although I was well aware of Sugar Crisp due to the highly effective advertising, this is another one I’ve only had a couple of times. As I recall it was eye wateringly sweet, and they stuck together in clumps.

    Mom did buy big bags of plain puffed wheat, once my brother fumbled the bag when pouring, buried his bowl and half the table in puffed wheat. My mother was apoplectic, but I went to get my little 110 camera and took a photo of him in his pajamas looking sheepish next to a mountain of cereal. Good times…

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    • Haha, I’ll bet that’s a great picture! At least with a cereal like puffed wheat, a hungry kid could probably clean up the spillage by eating it – there was always a lot of air and not a lot of wheat there.

      And yes on the sweetness – whenever they advertise a breakfast cereal as a substitute for candy, that’s a pretty good hint. I will confess that I got my inspiration on this by buying a low-priced bagged version of this stuff. It is a better snack than it is a breakfast.

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  4. The Grape-Nuts packaging caught my eye. “Fully Cooked…Pre-Digested‽‽‽” How does that work? Oh well.

    Sugar Bear was one of my favorite Saturday Morning characters. I thought most of the commercials were just short cartoons made for my viewing pleasure. I still eat these and Cocoa Krispies and Honeycomb on a regular basis.

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  5. I can’t remember the context, but just a couple of weeks ago Jen expressed the opinion that the Sugar Bear seemed a little creepy. Now I wonder what she thinks about Dean Martin?

    Even after a whole series of mergers and buyouts, Post & Kellogg still have factories a few blocks apart from each other in Battle Creek.

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    • That is kind of amazing that the cereal industry is still there after all of these decades.

      And now that you mention it, I can understand how Sugar Bear would come across as a little creepy.

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  6. I vaguely remember Sugar Crisp, the commercials and Sugar Bear. BTW, I don’t own an axe, but there is a peculiar new sport here now, competitive axe throwing, where groups of people go to a venue and throw axes at targets. I don’t get it myself, but it’s popular. Maybe they pretend the target is their boss? The car post was charming, but poor Marianne in the rainstorm – I can’t imagine having to exit through a window to save your children. My care got flooded once when a watermain broke on the street I was parked on, but I managed to drive out of it without too much damage, although it is not an experience I would care to repeat. I’m partial to my Honda, and will probably replace it, unless I go with a Toyoto hybrid.

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    • I have heard of bars where axe-throwing is a thing. Axe throwing and alcohol don’t sound like the best combination to me, but what do I know?

      Marianne’s window exit was understandable, but with the luxury of hindsight and un-rushed thought, there was already water coming into the interior of the car at that point, and she might as well have just opened the door. But instinct to not ruin the car ran strong.

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  7. It must have been fun to work at the ad agency in 1949–come up with this musical ditty, the animation, the voices . . . and it all sounds so good! I heard Thurl Ravenscroft in there–how many 100s of commercials did he do?

    Of course, the product is over-sweetened junk. I buy unsweetened, plain wheat puffs. I then add a little table sugar for taste, and pour in a little half & half. Try eating that for a while and then switch to Sugar Crisp. T-O-O S-W-E-E-E-E-E-E-T!

    Possibly worse was a cereal called Sugar Jets–look up their commercials on YouTube; they’re hilarious! One ad has the audacity to compare Sugar Jets to Mom’s healthy meat and vegetables! “They make you FEEL GOOD! So JET-UP with SUGAR JETS! They make you feel JET-PRO-PELLED!” Kind of like cocaine. Just what Mom needs–a bunch a sugared-up kids running all over the house!

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  8. Ha ha – I remember that last commercial with “Sugar Bear” and it was funny the way he walked, kind of a swagger and with that smooth voice. I didn’t realize at the time his voice was supposed to be similar to Bing Crosby or Dean Martin; I only remember seeing the commercial. My parents used to watch their specials and I’d vote Dean-O too, as the much more suave and sophisticated voice for Sugar Bear. This cereal sure would give kids a sugar high to the nth degree – even if they skipped the milk saturated with sugar. I’m with you – where were health experts back then? Pretty sure I never ate this cereal, but I’ve had plain puffed wheat which tastes about as good as eating Styrofoam packing peanuts.

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  9. My Regal, was an ’88 and I was upset when I had to part with it. After 21 years, it was definitely a member of the family, so I share Marianne’s pain over letting it go. Like the Accord, my car was also in a hailstorm and because it was Ruby Red (the official GM color, though it looked more maroon iridescent), all the little dimples showed up more as it was a dark car. Luckily, I was only pelted for 30 seconds in some very weird weather (long before climate change I might add). I was driving from home to the allergist office to get my allergy shots, a two-mile drive. I left the house and the sun was shining, a beautiful Summer evening. One mile later, the sky opened up and it began to hail. I worried as I heard the pings on my car that was always tucked away in the garage – I never drove it to work as I took the bus to Downtown Detroit and only went out in good weather. As it had a Landau roof, only part of the roof was damaged and the hood, but the hail was not large enough to make an insurance claim. But I knew those tiny dents were there and the sun shed some light on the dents as well.

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    • Wow, if the dents were visible, the insurance should have paid for the repairs no matter how small they were. That’s a shame. Although there are lots of ways that a new paint job can be fouled up.

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      • I took the Regal to the mechanic I’ve been going to since about 2000 and they said it was not that bad, nor noticeable, just to me.
        I begged to differ – it was horrible and the car never had a scratch on it up until then. I am old enough to remember how people would joke about the Earl Scheib whole car paint job for $19.95 years ago.

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  10. We were a Sugar Smacks household but that doesn’t mean I don’t remember Sugar Bear from the Saturday morning TV advertising and cartoons. My mother, while super healthy with her kitchen recipes, was surprisingly liberal with our breakfast cereal choices, letting us pick the boxes when we shopped. Maybe it was the “fortified with 8 essential vitamins” that sold her. But she wised up as we got older and our cereal choices became decidedly less sugary.

    My favorite bit in the colorful history of this product’s advertising is right there at the beginning, when they claim it’s “better than gold”. Talk about a thoroughly random comparison; cereal vs. a precious metal. You’d think they’d compare it to a healthy food instead. Oh, that’s right, it IS a healthy food.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being a Sugar Smacks household is an interesting concept – my family was brand-loyal on many things, but one sugar-glazed wheat puff cereal was pretty much like another in our house, so I saw the two brands as perfect substitutes. Look for the one on sale!

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