Pandemic turns pleasure-starved Americans into breakfast cereal hounds

Fully stocked cereal aisle
Photo: Jeff Greenberg (Getty Images)

I think I started eating Special K for breakfast every morning around April of last year. I don’t remember why I started—up until that point, I was a pretty devoted hot breakfast person—but I think it had something to do with early pandemic food supply fears and non-perishable stockpiling. Now, between breakfast and midnight snacks, I plow through at least a box a week. Turns out I’m not the only one who picked up a pandemmo cereal habit: CNN Business reports that the cereal aisle cleared out early in the pandemic, with cereal sales jumping nearly 9% in 2020.


A 9% increase may not seem all that significant, but it’s a big deal when contrasted with 2019, when cereal sales dropped 0.6%, or 2018, when sales dropped 1.4%, according to Nielsen data. CNN notes that the cereal boom may have occurred after people like me—people accustomed to perishable breakfast ingredients like eggs—opted for shelf-stable products instead. Two other factors also reportedly drove the boom: nostalgia and health concerns.

CNN cites Ricardo Fernandez, the General Mills president of U.S. cereal, who says Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, and Reese’s Puffs all saw elevated sales in 2020 thanks to the nostalgia factor. Fernandez told CNN that customers might say, “I grew up eating it as a kid, I’m in this new moment of a pandemic and I need things that make me feel comfort.” In terms of global health concerns, General Mills also saw a boost in Cheerios sales thanks to the brand’s heart-healthy messaging, as well as Nature Valley granola and multigrain cereal Basic 4.

Whether or not companies will sustain that growth is yet to be seen, although we’ve already witnessed some cereal brands repackaging their products to suit different snacking habits—for example, Post’s Honeycomb Big Bites, designed to be eaten straight out of the bag. Either way, my Special K habit is one pandemic routine I’m sticking to post-vaccine.



We have swung the other direction in our house. Instead of turning to childhood pleasures, we’ve gone super bougie. We have charcuterie boards for dinner. Once a week we have a splurge dinner—beef short ribs, seared sea scallops, prime rib, etc. We buy the $9 jar of Rao’s pasta sauce rather than the $4 Ragu, the $19/pound imported parmesan rather than the bland generic stuff. And we have cocktail hour, or should I say cocktail hours, probably a bit too frequently. I guess we all sort of looked around and said, “Fuck it. If we’re going to be cooped up in this house together for months on end, we’re at least going to eat good food and drink good wine.”