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Iconic cereal gets round to 70

CHEERIOS, the iconic cereal known by its distinctive yellow box, is 70 years old this year and still a force on the breakfast cereal market. One out of every eight boxes of cereal to leave the shelf in the United States carries the Cheerios name.

"They've been around since the beginning of man, right?" said Kathy Scott in Cape Coral, Florida. For her, the cereal is linked to memories of childhood Saturday morning cartoons.

"My mother was very old-fashioned, a stay-at-home mom," Scott, 50, said. "She made breakfast every morning, but on Saturday morning we were allowed to have cereal. Throw some fruit in there, sit on the floor and watch cartoons."

The tradition repeated itself with her own two children.

"Saturday morning cartoons and Cheerios," she said.

To make Cheerios, balls of dough are heated and shot out of a "puffing gun" at hundreds of kilometers an hour, according to General Mills, the Minnesota-based company that produces the cereal.

The company's waterfront plant in Buffalo has been firing them off since 1941, often cloaking the city with a distinctive toasty-with-a-sweet-finish aroma and inspiring T-shirts announcing "My city smells like Cheerios." More than 10 shapes and sizes were considered before the makers settled on little Os.

Since then, the company has introduced several new flavors, starting with Honey Nut in 1979 and last year, chocolate.

In 2009, sales of Honey Nut Cheerios surpassed the original flavor for the first time and remain top today.

But Kathleen Dohl, 30, sticks to the originals, the ones she refers to as the "old-school, yellow box, plain Jane" variety. She buys it in bulk at Sam's Club to keep her six- and three-year-olds happy.

"That's one of the first 'real people' foods that they ate," the Virginia mother said.

"They know when we're having a morning where we're running late, they're like, 'can I get a snack bag of Cheerios'?" she said, "because it's something I can't say no to. I can say no to chips. I can say no to candy. I can say no to a dozen other things, but a snack bag of Cheerios? How can you say no to that?"

"There just must be something so gently appealing about the product," said Dave Hassett, a school counselor whose Born in Buffalo site sells the Cheerios T-shirts online and at local festivals. Along with his four-year-old daughter, he said he eats a bowl daily. "I hope they stick around for 70 more years and beyond."


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