Obama Killed Cap’n Crunch

Cap'n Crunch is going the way of Joe Camel.

Cap’n Crunch is going the way of Joe Camel.

MSNBC (“Cap’n Crunch sails into obscurity“):

Long derided by health experts for its high sugar content – a single serving contains 12 grams – the cereal is no longer being actively marketed by Quaker,DailyFinance reports. It appears parent company PepsiCo is forcing the good Cap’n to walk the plank.

Cap’n Crunch was once the No. 1 breakfast cereal, but pressure from the White House and health activists is having an effect on how PepsiCo and other food companies peddle their products to kids. Sales of the cereal were down 6.8 percent in 2010.

Suspicious MSNBC was hyping the political connection, I checked the Daily Finance original (“Is Cap’n Crunch Easing Quietly into Retirement?“). They’re taking the same tack:

Cap’n Horatio Magellan Crunch, who has sailed the Seven Seas for Quaker Oats since 1963, has fallen into the brand equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

The cartoon sailor is nowhere to be found on the Quaker website. Quaker’s corporate parent, PepsiCo (PEP), doesn’t go out of its way to trumpet its association with the Good Cap’n, either. He doesn’t even make an appearance in recipes for yummy treats such as Cap’n Crunch French Toast or Cap’n Crunch Ice Cream Pie.

The last press release I could find about the brand was in 2007 on a not-too-surprising survey that found that 83% percent of kids ages 8 to 13 thought it would be fun to be a pirate. For generations of children, Cap’n Crunch made eating cereal fun. According to nutritionists, this kind of food association is one of the reasons behind America’s soaring childhood obesity rates, which have doubled over the past 20 years.

Pressure from Washington

PepsiCo. and other food companies are under pressure from the White House — especially from First Lady Michelle Obama — to make their products healthier. Activists have long been irate over the marketing of sweetened cereals such as Cap’n Crunch to children. Last year, PepsiCo vowed to reduce added sugar per serving by 25% and saturated fat by 15% in its products over the next 10 years. This pressure may explain why the Cap’n is less visible than he was in years past. A company spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

“Our research shows that PepsiCo is no longer marketing Cap’n Crunch cereal directly to children. In a sense, you could say that they have retired Cap’n Crunch, and that’s a good thing,” writes Jennifer Harris, director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, in an email. “Unfortunately, children continue to view hundreds of ads per year for high-sugar cereals from General Mills, Kellogg’s and Post Foods.”


No Longer No. 1 Kids’ Brand

Cap’n Crunch generated more than $118.6 million in sales last year from supermarkets, drugstores and mass-market retailers, down 6.8% from a year earlier, according to data from Symphony Group/IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, which excludes sales from Walmart Stores (WMT), club stores and convenience stores. Overall cereal sales were $6.42 billion, down 3.25% versus 2009, the market researcher says. In 2007, PepsiCo called it “the number one kids, presweetened brand in the ready-to-eat cereals category.” That’s not the case now as private-label brands and competitors such as Cheerios are bigger sellers.

“No, [Cap’n Crunch] is not close to the top,” says Ryan Stredney, a spokesman for Symphony Group/IRI, in an email. “The whole brand line has under 2% market share of cold cereal.”

The cereal sailor is hardly the only underemployed spokesman. Ronald McDonald, too, has been sidelined by McDonald’s (MCD) as the fast-food giant tries to present a more sophisticated image to market expensive coffee drinks instead of Happy Meals, Bloomberg News recently reported.

The beloved cereal spokesman may be fading, but PepsiCo still keeps him around. The company includes Cap’n Crunch cereal on its list of brands both on its corporate website and annual report. And his image continues to appear on the cereal boxes. The company also maintains a Cap’n Crunch website, which trumpets that “It’s an excellent source of seven essential vitamins and minerals, is low in fat, and contains zero grams of trans fat per serving.”


Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries is tied for first on Rudd’s list of the least nutritional cereals marketed to children and families. Perhaps it’s time for the good Cap’n to retire from the cereal navy to avoid walking the plank.

A sign of the times, I suppose.

I ate various sugary cereals growing up, including all manner of Cap’n Crunch products that came and went (I seem to recall cinnamon and vanilla varieties; the peanut butter variety remains a very occasional indulgence), various chocolate flavored cereals that turned the milk brown, and cereals with cartoon characters like the Flintstones, Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Booberry, and others.

Somehow, I survived the experience thin and healthy. Perhaps it has something to do with another bygone tradition of youth: going outside to play.

UPDATE: The newly launched Cap’n Crunch website has “A special message from the Cap’n:  Thanks to everyone who was asking about me! I was out on the seas, but don’t worry, i’m back and not going anywhere!”

The FAQs include an interesting bit of trivia:  “The well known animator, Jay Ward created the Cap’n and his friends. Mr. Ward is also known for his other creations such as Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, and George of the Jungle.”

Top image courtesy The Captains Memos, which I wouldn’t recommend for office viewing.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    This will be a life-changing event for my best high school buddy. Cap’n Crunch is still a staple of his diet.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    I believe “Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Booberry” have just been retired too. Please don’t ask how I know.

  3. Drew says:

    Heh. The California “medicinal” marijuana crowd is now going to have to convert to Lucky Charms, or Frosted Flakes, or Cocoa Puffs or………

    Seriously, some of the low sugar supposedly healthy cereals have yet another problem: sodium. One of the best cereals: Shredded Wheat. Glad I love the stuff.

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    Count Chocula was my childhood favorite.

  5. John Burgess says:

    @PD Shaw: I believe those items appear only seasonally, at least in recent history. They show up around Halloween, but for the rest of the year, they’re just not on the shelves. Maybe they’re just getting rid of a multi-decadal oversupply in the warehouses?

    I’m apparently older than dirt. The only pre-sweetened cereal I recall from my youth was Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. All the others came in when I was passed the cold cereal for breakfast stage. Now, I eat Special K, Cheerios, and oatmeal, but mostly as dinner or a late-night snack.

  6. Oh My God!! They really are after me Lucky Charms!!

  7. wr says:

    Once the FCC ordered them to stop dropping Smedley the elephant on people, it was all downhill.

  8. JKB says:

    The whiney lament about the declining advertising support for children’s programming in 3, 2, 1….

    Hey, i know, they can introduce Anorexic Annie and her pal, Bulimic Barney as spokestoons.

  9. Tano says:

    “survey that found that 83% percent of kids ages 8 to 13 thought it would be fun to be a pirate…”.

    You think that in a hundred years or so, we will have lovable cartoon versions of terrorists, will name sports teams after them, and have kids think it would be fun to grow up to be a terrorist?

    Never quite understood this pirate thing…

  10. JD says:


    I lol’d.

  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    First Obama doesn’t do enough about piracy, now he’s doing too much. Fracking double standard.

  12. James Joyner says:

    First Obama doesn’t do enough about piracy, now he’s doing too much. Fracking double standard.


  13. PD Shaw says:

    @John Burgess, that makes sense about the monster cereals. My kids just took a liking to Count Chocula, and there was a message on the package saying it’s only available for a limited time.

  14. Tony says:

    People tend to focus on the sugar in cereals (which is fair enough), but this tends to let something else slide by under the radar, namely the fact that a lot of them (including – and in some cases especially – many low-sugar ones) are absolutely packed with salt.

    Over in the UK we get Kellog’s Corn Flakes and Frosties (which I think are Frosted Flakes in your stomping ground). Frosties are glazed and therefore have a fair bit of sugar. Corn Flakes lack the sugar but are absolutely full of salt. I’m genuinely not sure which is healthier, especially if someone is given to adding sugar to their Corn Flakes.

    The most disgraceful “cereal” I’ve seen is Cookie Crunch, which on further inspection appears to literally be miniature chocolate chip cookies. For breakfast.

  15. John Burgess says:

    @Tony: I’m catholic in my breakfasts! Cookies are fine, and so is pie. Spaghetti or pizza work, too. A ‘Full English’ is my favorite, though I prefer the variety found in Belfast. I’ve made the rational decision that I prefer a perhaps-shorter life full of delicious things to one that’s longer, but full of sawdust and ashes.

  16. TG Chicago says:

    But Cap’n Crunch isn’t a pirate is he?

    Wiki describes Jean LaFoote, the Barefoot Pirate, as the Cap’n’s nemesis.

  17. Penny H says:

    I’m getting SO tired of people blaming everyone but the parents for the problems of the child. Take some responsibility, America! You as a parent choose your child’s diet. Not the food manufacturers.

    Besides, we all grew up on Cap’n Crunch, including idiots in Washington who are complaining about it. And have you tried those “low sugar, whole grain” cereals that they’ve “fixed”? They are competely tasteless now. At least the generic brands still have some flavor to them.

  18. pcbedamned says:

    I am 41 years old and my mother buys me at least 2 boxes of Cap’n Crunch every year for Christmas. Wrapped up with nice Christmas paper and everything. Seriously…… 😀

  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    Heck with it, I’m going with BBQ ribs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…..

  20. J T says:

    What is so outrageous to me is the fact that the White House, (Obama), has NO problem forcing the U.S.Army to eat Gulf seafood which is more than likely tainted with the deadly Corexit ,that is still being sprayed in the Gulf waters! Also holding a press conference to say it’s ok for people to swim in the Gulf , and now there are horrific consequences to these poor decisions made by swimmers in the Gulf, ( young & Old )!!! PUHLEEEEEZ let’s get our priorities straight when it comes to the health of our citizens. We can choose to not eat Captain Crunch, but telling us the Gulf waters/seafood is horribly irresponsible and wrong.

  21. Alex says:

    Do you have any reason to believe that kids don’t play outside anymore, or is that just nostalgia speaking? I see kids on playgrounds all the time.

  22. Mike says:

    You being thin and healthy (two adjectives that are not necessarily related, by the way) isn’t related to going outside to play, it’s because in all likelihood your breakfast serving was smaller, AND it wasn’t followed by a sugary snack, soda, processed fried food for lunch, sugary afternoon snack, processed fried food for dinner wrapped in white bread.

    It’s not really one thing that makes kids fat, it’s the constant barrage of food and the low quality of it that has changed. IMO.

  23. R.B. says:

    Cap-N- Crunch has no more sugar than any of the other leading brands. In fact there are some with more sugar but they’re marketed as healthier…..I’m tired of the White house telling us what and how to eat……I can read my own labels and make up my own mind. Hey Barry and Michele mind your own damn business…..go play some golf at least you’ ll stay out of trouble.