If There Can Be Breakfast For Dinner, Why Not Dessert For Breakfast? The Answer is CoCo Wheats!

Marianne recently suffered through some oral surgery. I know, right? One of the instructions she got from the surgeon was to eat soft foods. One of the soft foods that came to her mind was Cream of Wheat cereal. My job, dutiful hubs that I am, was to head for the store to obtain the temporary diet supplies. I found the Cream of Wheat, but what do you think was next to it? Only one of my favorite childhood items – CoCo Wheats. As you might have guessed, I came home with two varieties of hot cereal.

I have written before about how the kitchen was not my mother’s natural habitat when I was growing up. But she did like to do nice things for we kids, and one of those was to fix us hot cereal on cold winter mornings. At different times we got oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and CoCo Wheats. I liked the first two (and still do) but the third was the one I LOVED.

During my law school years, four of us shared an apartment. One of the guys (Dave) was just as crazy about CoCo Wheats as I was, and a box was often pulled out on weekend mornings during the frigid Indiana winters. When such a morning presented itself, one of us would start walking around the apartment chanting “Co-Co-Wheats. Co-Co-Wheats” over and over until there was some buy-in from the others and a batch was whipped up for our breakfast enjoyment.

When I got married and had kids of my own, I was happy to cook up a potful for the young ‘uns. It was the kind of nice thing my mother used to do, but with a side benefit: I loved CoCo Wheats every bit as much as they did and made enough for me to join them.

I had always assumed that CoCo Wheats was simply a late-added product extension of Cream of Wheat. But a little digging proves that I was wrong about that and that the story is far more interesting than I expected it would be.

Cream of Wheat was introduced by the Diamond Milling Company of Grand Forks, SD in 1893, which was later re-named as the Cream of Wheat Company until it was bought by Nabisco in 1961. CoCo Wheats, on the other hand, was a product from a company you probably never heard of: Little Crow Foods, of Warsaw, Indiana. I grew up about 40 miles away from Warsaw and I had never heard of it myself until I started a little CoCo Wheats investigation. Little Crow, by the way, was not the company that brought us Old Crow – that was something ill-suited for children, though it could warm your insides in a different way.

1955 Postcard showing Little Crow Foods, found at digital.library.in.gov.

Little Crow had also begun as a flour mill, until it introduced a line of pancake mixes in 1919. It added CoCo Wheats to its lineup in 1930 and continued to make it until the company closed in 2012. Fortunately for we CoCo heads, the product was acquired by MOM Brands (formerly the Malt-O-Meal Company) in 2012. MOM was, in turn, acquired by Post in 2015. You probably also never heard the product’s original name: “Little Crow Wheat Cereal, Cocoa Coated.” It became CoCo Wheats in 1933.

While Cream of Wheat was heavily promoted in print ads going back to its beginnings, CoCo Wheats seems to have never received that kind of promotion. If there were early print ads for CoCo Wheats, I have yet to find them. However, the company was an early adopter of television, with a number of ads going back to at least the early 1950’s.

Another difference between those two hot wheat cereals is in their branding. Cream of Wheat’s packaging and advertising consistently featured a kindly, smiling African-American cook, an image that has only recently been relegated to the dumpster. Is it a good thing or a bad thing when a company that is so amazingly consistent in promoting an image used an image that was so socially problematic for so long? CoCo Wheats has, on the other hand, richocheted wildly from one advertising theme to another, with no apparent consistency at all. “Hey, let’s try this!” seems to have been the advertising philosophy for the cereal.

One animated campaign from the early 1960’s featured a Coo-Coo Bird voiced by the inimitable Mel Blanc (of Looney Toons fame). They later re-did it in color but ditched Mel. Oh well, at least they seem to have avoided the kinds of ads that cause we 21st Century people to bury out head in our hands as we mutter “Just what were they thinking?”

Oh well, do we really need advertising when the cereal is so good?

I also learned that these hot wheat cereals are made mostly from “farina” is a term that refers to “wheat middlings” that are ground for use in the cereal. CoCo Wheats, of course, wins the category by adding something called “pure breakfast cocoa” (according to an article at Mr. Breakfast.) Nobody explains how “breakfast cocoa” is different from regular cocoa. Do they sift out all of the cocoa morsels that are more suited for lunch, dinner or dessert? Do they only process it before 9 am? Or is it a label trick to convince skeptical mothers that chocolate cereal is a good idea and is not the same thing as a Duncan Hines cake mix? So many questions.

That article contains a number of comments that indicate that CoCo Wheats has been difficult to find in recent years. Which makes me wonder if my fave is becoming a cocoa-headed stepchild of Big Cereal. I also wonder if CoCo Wheats was more regional than national for much of its life. I guess growing up one county over from where the stuff was made had its perks. And I guess this means that I will have to buy lots of it to help keep demand up.

I can report that CoCo Wheats are just as good now as when I was 32, 22 or 12 years old. I will confess to being a traditionalist who eschews the microwave directions in favor of the old-fashioned stove-top method. Add it to boiling water, stir it for 30 seconds, then let it sit in a covered pot for a couple of minutes to thicken up and breakfast is served! A mighty satisfying breakfast, too. Isn’t it always healthier when you cook it yourself?

All good things bring imitators out of the woodwork, and it seems that somewhere along the way the Cream of Wheat people brought out a cocoa/chocolate version. Although they see a need to add almonds to theirs. I am not sure I have ever noticed that one in the stores. Thanks guys, I think I’ll stick to the original. And with another cold Indiana winter on the horizon, I have a nearly-full box of CoCo Wheats to warm my innards and let my inner child out to play.

COAL Update: You know the old phrase “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there”? That can apply to cars too. Although I “lived there” for four years.

24 thoughts on “If There Can Be Breakfast For Dinner, Why Not Dessert For Breakfast? The Answer is CoCo Wheats!

  1. CoCo Wheat sounds awesome and it is indeed better for a person than is Duncan Hines cake mix…less sugar and no raw egg. That last one can be problematic. I wonder if one could substitute chocolate milk for the water…

    I, too, am wondering if CoCo Wheat may have been regional for some portion of its lifespan. This is a product that would have definitely captured my fancy and memory had I heard of it.

    As an aside, the larger font is a welcomed enhancement. Also, I hope Marianne is recovering well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She is doing fine now. And its funny how the CoCo Wheats box is emptying much faster than the Cream of Wheat box. I guess I am learning one more benefit of growing up in northern Indiana.

      The larger font was kind of an accident – it started looking small on my monitor and I made it bigger to look more like normal. Then this morning I saw that it was larger. I thought about going back and changing it back to the old way, but your comment changed my mind.

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    • I always enjoyed those rare mornings when we were greeted with hot cereal for breakfast. The oatmeal was nice, the Cream of Wheat (or sometimes Cream of Rice) were nicer, but CoCo Wheats were the best of those good mornings.

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  2. Hmm, oral surgery is a nasty business, and dentists don’t do warranty work. Hopefully it turned out well.

    Never heard of CoCo Wheats before, but I can see the attraction. My enjoyment of cream of wheat was pretty much proportional to the amount of brown sugar I added. Haven’t had it in ages though, that and buttermilk porridge.

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  3. I’ve never heard of CoCo Wheats before just now. Maybe it was regional, or maybe my mom wasn’t as cool as yours. Could go either way.

    I love Cream of Wheat though, and I doubt I’d let any other hot cereal supplant it. Growing up, mom would always make cream of wheat when it snowed — usually I’d wake up early and shovel, and mom would have cream of wheat waiting for me when I got back into the house. To this day, I enjoy cream of wheat on snowy days.

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    • I like Cream of Wheat too. I just like CoCo Wheats better. I guess that old childhood rule is still in play – chocolate is better than not-chocolate. 🙂

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  4. I’m familiar with CoCo Wheats, although probably didn’t eat much of it. There were a lot of CoCo everything in my era, CoCo Krispies, CoCo Puffs…I had older parents, so they were not easily fooled by jacking kids up on sugar laden breakfasts. We had Cheerios, and the Chex Group, and maybe if we were lucky, Frosted Flakes; but Coco? That was a bridge too far!

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    • I don’t think this stuff is sweetened as it comes from the box, so it’s kind of like Chex – careful parents need to watch the amount of sugar being dumped into the bowl.

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  5. This brought back warm and tasty memories JP. I loved CoCo Wheats as a kid and as a big kid too. My mom, just like yours, made hot cereal for breakfast, but it was just my father and me eating it – Mom was not a fan, preferring toast. I used to make it all the time until I gave my microwave away. My neighbor’s microwave broke and I had to keep mine in the basement as I have zero counter space and I hated going down there first thing in the morning (spider fears). I’d like to get a smaller one for upstairs, then I’ll make it again. When I make it on the stovetop, it, like regular Cream of Wheat or Maypo gets lumpy. So oatmeal I can’t mess up, that’s my go-to breakfast 365 days a year and I make it ahead and put it in Zip-loc bags with raisins, nuts and wheat germ along with the oatmeal, add hot water from the tap and it’s ready to eat. CoCo Wheats was so tasty and needed no enhancements, though we used to put a few dribbles of half and half or Carnation milk on top. My mom made regular Cream of Wheat and we used to buy the small bottles of baby food to mix into the hot cereal to give it different flavors instead of putting in a little syrup. You brought back some nice memories and yes, CoCo Wheats works perfectly after oral surgery. No rough edges and gentle on the poor mouth and/or stitches, etc. I had braces on my teeth as an adult, with the metal wrapped around each tooth, not just stuck on like in later years. The orthodontist would pull the wires taut and for a day or so, soft and mushy foods were the norm, often having hot cereal for dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

      • It is yummy, for plain Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice (they’re bland). You’re right JP – carrots and peas wouldn’t cut it, but Gerber had Blueberry Buckle which was wonderful, also we had peach cobbler or plums that we mixed in. You have to try it sometime. It was a room temperature, so it didn’t cool off the hot cereal in the least.

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  6. I have heard the expression of the Oldsmobile being “your father’s car” – perhaps in ads. Now the expression is “it’s not your father’s _______________” for everything.”

    I liked your reasoning for your former law school buddy giving you a reason why you have this car: “’She would want someone to have it who would take care of it, and I thought of you’ was what he said. How do you say no to that?”

    Electrical gremlins … yes, they plagued me as well as I’ve mentioned before, to the point that I never felt safe in that ’88 Regal anymore. The temperature system not working on a cold day is irritating. I remember driving the 10 miles to school in my 1973 VW Beetle and the heat finally kicked on just before I pulled into a parking place.

    Well you had a smooth ride for your trips to see your Dad in his last year as he suffered with a brain tumor. I am sorry for your loss and that’s a tough way to go. It had to be a smooth ride if the gas cap never fell off the bumper. Poor car met its demise but its occupant lived. Whew!

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  7. I must confess I’ve never heard of it, but maybe it isn’t available in Canada….I’ll have to check. It sound good though, but no to “breakfast cocoa”. Better as a bedtime snack. I sometimes have oatmeal then. I hope Marianne has recovered. PS. I broke down and bought some Velveeta, but I don’t think it tastes as good as it did decades ago? I remember those tv ads “not your grandpa’s/father’s oldsmobile.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, she is all better now, thanks. I love the “breakfast cocoa” thing – I don’t think there really is such a thing, but that it just a made-up name.

      I agree that the Velveeta seems different – to me, it seemed softer than it used to be.

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  8. Track your comments and see what percentage of us – myself included – fall into the “never heard of it” category. Just when I thought I knew the breakfast cereal aisle from one end to the other, too. My mother was determined to keep her dishes basic (she had the concept of “whole foods” down pat before it ever became a thing) so I’m guessing she would’ve passed up CoCo Wheats had it been an option. Instead, I buy your theory about regional products. To my knowledge CoCo Wheats never made it to the West Coast.

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  9. Pingback: 2022 – Crossing The Finish Line | J. P.'s Blog

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