The Real Reason They Don't Put Toys In Cereal Boxes Anymore

You gotta hand it to the cereal companies — back in the day, they really knew how to market their product to kids. Not only was sugar main ingredient of every kid's cereal, but most of the cereals had cartoon mascots prompting children to make (insert your favorite childhood cereal here) part of their "balanced and complete breakfast." If that wasn't enough to win the kiddos over, cereal companies had one final marketing tactic that almost never failed — the cereal box toy.

If you were fortunate enough to grow up in the heyday of Saturday morning cartoons, you probably remember digging in the cereal box until you were up to your elbow in Lucky Charms, all in the desperate search to find whatever toy was at the bottom. It was never a particularly high-quality toy, but it was still a toy. These days, though, cereal toys are mostly a thing of the past. 

So what happened to cereal box toys? Fruity Pepples, Sugar Crisp, and Count Chocula are still around, but cereal toys are few and far between these days.

Some toys were choking hazards

There likely isn't one exact reason, but there are several possibilities why your favorite childhood cereal no longer regularly includes prizes like pogs, decoder pens, or whistles. Part of the blame could be that those cereal toys were declared a choking hazard. In 1988, Kellogg's recalled millions of flutes and toy binoculars because it was found that the toys could break into small pieces that a kid might choke on while eating Corn Pops or Cocoa Krispies (via Associated Press). There was only one report of a kid actually choking — without sustaining serious injury — but the incident still put brands on notice. 

From that point on, cereal companies began putting their toys between the box and plastic cereal bag, rather than directly in the cereal (via My Recipies). 

Kids just aren't as into toys as they used to be

Cereal box toys were still incredibly common in the '90s and even well into the '00s, but there's been a serious shift in how kids play in the last 10 years or so. Today's kids are more likely to ask for a tablet than a traditional toy, and cereal brands have taken notice (via Huffington Post). 

Food 52 reached out to Kellogg's to ask why most cereals no longer have toys, and while they didn't give a clear-cut answer, they said their marketing department made the decision after conducting "in-depth research." Instead, boxes now offer an access code that can be redeemed for online rewards or contests. For example, at one point, Fruit Loops boxes invited kids to win movie tickets. 

Cereal box toys may not be commonplace these days, but they're not completely gone. General Mills seems to be trying to revive cereal box toys with new promotions (via General Mills). In 2014, boxes of Cocoa Puffs included Mega Bloks cars, and in 2015, there were Star Wars toys in boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.