Skip to comments.The Untold History of Cap'n Crunch
Posted on 02/20/2021 11:08:16 AM PST by SamAdams76
Breakfast doesn't always get a lot of attention. When parents are trying to get their kids ready for school and need something quick to put in their stomachs, cereal is often the go-to. With dozens of cold cereals aimed at kids, there's plenty of variety to choose from and among the most iconic of breakfast cereals is Cap'n Crunch.
The bright red box with the mustached mascot in a captain's uniform has been promising a sugary and crunchy cereal that won't get soggy in milk for over 50 years. Cap'n Crunch is one of those cereals that these days, is likely to be eaten by grandparents just as much as it is by the grandkids.
Over the years, the original golden corn and oat cereal has experimented with numerous flavors from peanut butter the popular Crunch Berries. It's even been incorporated into Taco Bell's menu. No, we're not joking.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the cereal, though. The Cap'n has encountered rough waters from both nutritionists and sagging sales. Even still, Cap'n Crunch remains a breakfast staple in the cereal bowls of countless fans.
Creating a breakfast cereal that stands out from the pack isn't the easiest thing to do and according to Pamela Low, it's got to have what she calls "want-more-ishness."
Considering that 80 percent of adults snack on cereal outside of breakfast, Cap'n Crunch certainly has "want-more-ishness" going for it. Low had a huge role in bringing Cap'n Crunch to life and "developed the flavoring" that coats the corn and oat cereal. Low worked as a flavorist for the Arthur D. Little research firm in Massachusetts when the firm was commissioned by Quaker Oats for their new cereal.
Low drew upon her grandmother Luella Low's recipe as inspiration for Cap'n Crunch's flavor. "She used to serve rice with a butter-and-brown sugar sauce that she made," her brother said (via Los Angeles Times). It's that key flavoring of the butter and brown sugar that has kept it in grocery carts ever since.
The funny thing about Low's connection to Cap'n Crunch is that she wasn't even a cereal fan. And as for any criticisms about Cap'n Crunch being too sugary, Low said "I pooh-pooh that. Give the kids plain cereal and see how much sugar they put on it." Fair enough.
If it wasn't already apparent by the name, Cap'n Crunch's whole selling point is that it doesn't get soggy. Okay, yes, it will eventually get soggy, but it's at least supposed to stay crunchy a little longer than other kid cereals. The Cap'n does sail through a sea of milk on his ship the S.S. Guppy — so avoiding sogginess is sorta his thing.
In the 1960s, Quaker Oats conducted a survey and asked kids what kinds of foods they liked. The takeaway was that kids under 10 highly preferred foods that were crunchy over ones that were soggy (via Mr. Breakfast).
Quaker Oats turned to a marketing company that had success with Tide at the time and the team delivered a character with the cereal's trademark "crunch" right in the name. In order to ensure Cap'n Crunch didn't sink, Quaker Oats reportedly poured 80 percent of their advertising budget into promoting this mascot who was born on Crunch Island.
To really drive the point home that Cap'n Crunch was the solution to soggy cereal, the Cap'n had the tagline "I stay crunchy, even in milk." It might not have exactly been supremely clever, but it was straight to the point and that's exactly what Quaker Oats wanted.
The Cap'n of Cap'n Crunch was created with an entire world and backstory around him, and Quaker Oats knew that he had to connect with the kiddos. Obviously, the best strategy would be a cartoon. Saturday morning cartoons may now sadly be a thing of the past, but back in the day, every kid lived for several hours of cartoon-watching with sugary cereal-noshing.
Cap'n Crunch was unlike its other cereal predecessors in that a new cereal had never been launched specifically on the name of its mascot. To bring the Cap'n to life, Quaker Oats hired Jay Ward, the guy who was credited with co-creating the hugely popular 1960s cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle (via Cartoon Research).
Ward and his team set about to create a series of animated Cap'n Crunch commercials that looked similar to the style of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons (via Mr. Breakfast). The commercials had the Cap'n embarking on various adventures, all while driving home the point that the cereal "never uncrunches, not even in milk."
In addition to the recognizable animation style, Ward also recruited voice actor Daws Butler of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound fame to provide the Cap'n voice.
The Cap'n might look like he's all fun and games on the box, but make no mistake, he has his enemies and no, we're not talking about nutritionists here. The Cap'n has seen his fair share of dangerous waters during his adventures in the Milk Sea and his number one nemesis is Jean LaFoote.
Jean LaFoote might not be all that familiar to today's Cap'n Crunch fans, but he actually was a regular character in Jay Ward's old animated commercials for the cereal (Advertising Week 360). Based on real-life swashbuckler Jean Lafitte, Jean LaFoote was known as the barefoot pirate whose primary objective was to capture the Cap'n and force him to tell the secret of "what makes Cap'n Crunch cereal so crunchy."
The Cap'n never did relinquish the secret of the cereal's crunch to Jean LaFoote, but that only allowed Quaker Oats to capitalize on the character even more. The pirate eventually got his own spin-off cereal, Cinnamon Crunch in the 1970s — with a pirate kit inside!
The fate of Jean LaFoote seems to be largely unknown, because other then the odd eBay collectible, he's all but faded into the murky abyss (via Today).
Any successful kid's breakfast cereal is going to have its share of spin-offs and Cap'n Crunch is no different. The good Cap'n has seen his share of kooky flavor variations over the years and by far the most popular has to be the oldest — the introduction of Crunch Berries.
Crunch Berries only came along a few years after Cap'n Crunch itself and were added to the cereal in 1967 (via Advertising Week 360). One of the brand's earliest commercials highlighted the strawberry flavor of crunch berries (via YouTube). Again, pirate Jean LaFoote demanded to know exactly what a Crunch Berry was and later commercials featured the introduction of a friendly creature known as the Crunch Berry Beast (via YouTube).
Peanut butter Cap'n Crunch followed two years later and since then, the brand has had dozens of spin-off Cap'n Crunch flavors from Cap'n Crunch Oops! All Berries to Cap'n Crunch Choco Donuts and Cinnamon Roll Crunch (via Ranker).
Two of the more recent Cap'n Crunch flavors debuted in 2019 with the patriotic Red, White & Blue Crunch, and undoubtedly super sugary Cotton Candy Crunch (via Yahoo). Perhaps somebody should tell the Cap'n that he's gone overboard with the crunch flavors.
Despite what advertising might have told us, Cap'n Crunch was never really part of a "complete and balanced breakfast." As delicious as the cereal is, it's loaded with sugar and always has been.
The Cap'n found himself potentially walking the plank in 2011 after child obesity experts began to take a closer look at the marketing of sugary foods to children (via Vox). While Cap'n Crunch wasn't directly singled out, kid's breakfast cereals, along with sodas and yogurt, found themselves under pressure to change (via Time).
PepsiCo (Quaker Oats' parent company) had already begun to scale back the Cap'n's visibility, which led to a lot of speculation that the Cap'n could be destined for sleeping with the fishes (via Gakwer).
While the Cap'n had briefly been pulled from the Quaker Oats website, he did return with a new Twitter account proclaiming "I'm hearing the rumors. I would never retire. I love being a captain too much!"
Despite his refusal to go down, the cereal was still called out by numerous publications for its less-than-healthy nutrition
Obviously we can't write about Cap'n Crunch without addressing a serious issue... is he really a captain?
Cap'n Horatio Magellan Crunch — yes, that's his name — came under heavy scrutiny in 2013, when the news picked up on a viral image of the Cap'n's stripes compared with a navy captain (via Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Pretty soon the Cap'n was being called "a liar and a fraud" for sporting his naval uniform without actually holding a captain's rank (via Food Beast).
As ABC News pointed out, the Cap'n only has three gold stripes on his sleeve, which would make him a commander and thus one rank under an actual captain who would have four stripes. Oh, the deception!
The whole thing was elevated to another level of silliness when the Navy actually weighed in on the matter, (via The Consumerist). "Cap'n Crunch appears to be wearing the rank of a U.S. Navy commander," US Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty, said."Oddly, our personnel records do not show a 'Cap'n Crunch' who currently serves or has served in the Navy."
The Cap'n addressed the controversy on Twitter saying, "I captain the S.S. Guppy with my crew, which makes me an official Cap'n" and Quaker backed him up adding, "We don't feel [the fourth stripe is] necessary." Who knew a cereal mascot could cause such drama?
Cap'n Crunch might not be an official Navy captain, but the internet does probably owe the cereal an apology for calling the Cap'n a complete charlatan. Never mind the fact that there's a petition to officially promote Cap'n Crunch to the rank of Admiral — the cereal doesn't need it.
Cap'n Horatio Magellan Crunch actually does have some legitimate US Navy history that we'd be willing to bet a fair share of his critics have no idea about. First off, Daws Butler, the voice actor of those Cap'n Crunch commercials from the '60s and '70s, served in the US Navy during World War II. That alone should give the Cap'n a little more clout (via Naval Historical Foundation).
The real standout case for the cereal mascot's military connection, though, is that the character appeared in a number of US Navy cruise books (sort of like a high school yearbook for Navy ships) in the '70s and '80s. The reason why isn't exactly known, but sure enough, illustrations of the Cap'n appear on the pages of the USS Lang (FF 1060) — 1975, USS Nicholson (DD 982) — 1980-1981, and others.
Does this mean we should all be saluting the Cap'n next time we pour a bowl of the cereal?
One of the stranger things in the history of Cap'n Crunch is the cereal's connection to a federal crime carried out by one of the United State's most famous hackers. Cereal box toys may now be a thing of the past, but they used to be commonplace and a guy named John Draper used one to commit a legendary crime.
An incredibly smart man when it came to electronics, Draper had been enlisted in the Air Force in the 1960s as a radar technician when he took up an interest in the workings of telephone switchboards (via Mental Floss). He eventually discovered that he could use a toy whistle he had gotten in a box of Cap'n Crunch to hack into AT&T's phone lines because the whistle had a perfect pitch that aligned with the phone company's 2600Hz frequency. This essentially allowed Draper or anybody with a Crunch whistle to use it to make free phone calls.
Draper would become somewhat of a counterculture celebrity after being profiled in Esquire. Unfortunately, this notoriety also came with charges of toll fraud and jail time in California.
Do you ever walk down the cereal aisle and for some odd reason feel like you're being watched? No? Well, your kid probably does... because they are! *Dun, dun, dun*
That's right, Cap'n Crunch — and just about every other kid's cereal mascot — has his eyes fixated on children in the grocery store. A study conducted by Cornell University Food and Brand Lab researchers found that mascots on children's cereal have their eyes at a downward 9.6-degree angle and are often on the lower shelves (via LA Weekly). This means they're looking directly at children — likely in an effort to get kids interested in the product.
Cereals marketed to adults often don't even have a mascot or person on the box, and if they do, they're normally just gazing straight ahead or at a .43 degree upward angle.
While one of the study's researchers summed up the findings as "some cool things happening in grocery stores" something tells us a lot of parents would probably see things a little differently.
The Cap'n was hardly the only mascot singled out (86 cereal characters were evaluated) but the direction of his gaze on every box of the sugary stuff is pretty obvious.
If you were to ask younger folks about Cap'n Crunch, they might just brush the Cap'n off as an old sea dog from breakfast's past.
Whereas breakfast cereals like Cap'n Crunch were once on a breakfast staple for every kid in America, that's hardly the case anymore. As the Clarion-Ledger pointed out in 2018, cereals like Cap'n Crunch weathered stormy seas like Pop Tarts and frozen waffles just fine, but are struggling against the smoothies and breakfast bars of millennials and their offspring. A New York Times survey found that 40 percent of millennials view cereal as an "inconvenient choice" when it came to breakfast. That means fewer and fewer people are starting their days off with the old Cap'N.
"When I talk to baby boomers, more people tell me that Cap'N Crunch is their all-time favorite cereal more than any other," cereal historian Marty Gitlin told Today. "Nothing else even comes close."
Quaker Oats has been aware of this struggle at least as far back as 1998 when it launched a $15 million marketing campaign directed at adults amid Cap'n Crunch's sales decline (via AdWeek).
While Cap'n Crunch may be struggling, it's by no means alone. General Mills and Kellogg's are also in that lifeboat. "You've got a lot of CEOs that are at their wits' end trying to figure out growth," a food company chief told The Wall Street Journal in 2018.
Just because Cap'n Crunch might not be considered all the rage when it comes to breakfast with today's youth, that doesn't mean the brand isn't trying to right its ship. We already mentioned the Cap'n has joined social media with Twitter, but he's also entered the world of web series.
In 2016, the brand partnered with Funny or Die to create a six-episode fictional web series that played on the concept of morning shows (via A. List) Dubbed The Earliest Show, Quaker's marketing director, Jessica Spaulding, said it was about "creating meaningful connections with our consumers that cater to their very interests, humor, and aspirations." Whatever that means.
The branded content was actually not half bad and The Earliest Show was hosted by Ben Schwartz of Parks and Recreation fame and featured an array of celebrity guests such as Jake Johnson, Thomas Middleditch, Jane Levy, and oddly enough, basketball legend Reggie Miller.
While Cap'n Crunch was hardly the dominant topic in the web series, the show did work it into the occasional cooking segment or goofy infomercial. Spaulding said the goal was for the "brand integration to feel natural to the humor of the show."
Pouring beer in your Cap'n Crunch seems like something you'd see in a college party movie. Yeah, it sounds pretty gross, but you don't know if you don't try it, right? Well, something way more appetizing has come along in the form of Cap'n Crunch-flavored beer.
The beer geniuses at Massachusetts's Somerville Brewing Company decided that the worlds of Cap'n Crunch and craft beer should unite, and in 2017, they released a beer called Saturday Morning.
According to Tasting Table, the beer is a Belgian-style ale that's infused with Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries. "Cap'n Crunch is made with oat, wheat and corn, and, like most breakfast cereals, it's a showcase for sugar," Somerville's brewmaster, Jeff Leiter, said. "We felt the malt sweetness of a tripel would provide an ideal canvas." Leiter described the taste as having the Belgian beer smoothness, but with a fruity finish from the cereal.
Drinking it in your pajamas while watching old episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't scientifically proven to enhance the taste, but it can't hurt.
I love it!
Not good for ya
It’ll rot your teeth out!
I thought he was a slave boat captain.
All I remember from them was the roof of my mouth stalagmites and my breath smelling like a puppys.
Just wait a few months. Quaker Oats will be forced to replace him with some obscure 18th Century African-American world explorer.
I prefer frosted cocaine corn flakes.
Mmmm. Box of diabetes.
And what in the heck are in those Crunch Berries?
I have no teeth, so no worries
Give the kids what they want. Birthday cake for breakfast! They want crunch, throw in some lollipops.
I’ll stick to oatmeal.
Sugar is poison.
Oh, and pancakes with bacon or sausage.
I thought my parents hated us at the time, but they loved my brothers and sisters deeply.
How many preservatives do they put in this stuff?! Start the bowl as a child, and finish it as a middle-aged adult!
Everything will rot your teeth out if you don’t brush them.
LOL. I was so addicted to these things as a kid I even used them as a topping on ice cream.
“Out of all the cereals, Cap’n Crunch is the most time intensive. If you eat it too soon after you pour the milk on, it will rip the roof of your mouth to shreds. You wait too long, and the captain will put a coating of film on your teeth that a wire brush can’t get rid of.”
Lactose intolerant? Why not put Coca-Cola on breakfast cereal.
“I thought my parents hated us at the time, but they loved my brothers and sisters deeply.”
They only hated you?
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