They're Not Great, They're A Ripoff!
October 1996's Debate

    There are times when you simply want to regress to those times when you were a kid and everything in the world was simple. You didn't have to work for a large metropolitan newspaper, anything on TV was entertaining and you could eat whatever crappy food you wanted because you weren't sweating the load over weather or not you would fit in your pants. Well listen to me brother . . . it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

Read on . . . you'll see.

When I walked into the Professors office, I was innundated by the sheer scope of the chaos that had taken place. All over the office it was spread. It was in every possible crevice and cranny there was in Aarron's sanctum of strife. Bits and pieces of what had exploded in the office were all over Aarron, his wife and Vince. In one corner there was a multicolered mass of something that looked like that scene in Aliens where the colonists were wrapped in that stuff and that thing exploded from that chicks chest. The only thing I could do was ask.

"What in the hell is all of this cereal doing here, is Vince trying to complete his My Little Pony miniatures collection?"

"I completed that months ago."

Aarron dusted the wholesome oats and delicious puffs of wheat off of his jacket and went to his desk. "On the contrary Benson, this is a scientific experiment."

"Yeah, we don't even have milk."

As I stared around at the mass of shredded cardboard and foil-like inner wrappers, I wondered if Aarron had finally gone insaine. Dare I ask?

"What kind of experiment?"

"To see if there is any foundation for the cereal war."

He had flipped.

I tried to leave, honestly, but my shoes kept getting stuck in all of the sugary breakfast products that had made the Professors beautiful carpet dissapear. The best I could do was to make it to the chair. You know the chair I'm talking about . . . the La-Z-Boy Atomolounger. It was surprisingly free of cereal which I attribute to its inherent good manufacturing. After all, this chair was designed to keep itself free of obstructions so to allow the occupant total comfort. Oh yeah.

Seeing as I was stuck (literaly), I decided to humor Aarron and his little friends. "Okay Professor, what exactly do you mean by cereal wars. What happened, did captain Crunch mutiny and attack the Honeycomb Hideout?"

"Funny Benson, you're two up on pop culture references already. Haven't you been watching the commercials on TV?"

"I try not to. They make my head ache and I don't easily fall prey to marketing gimmiks."

"What about that Salad Shooter?"

"Vince, that was an essential addition to my kitchen. What self-respecting bachelor wouldn't have a piece of machinery that fires vegetables great distances."

"And the Popiels Pocket Fisherman?"

"Dammit Vince, you leave Ron Popiel out of this!"

"Uh . . . never mind Benson, just watch." The Professor then turned on the VCR and the commercials began to roll.

The first was from Kelloggs with Tony the Tiger Tony The Friggen Tigerslashing the shit out of prices. It tried to give off a sense of skuldugery but all in all it was simply stupid. It made me want to buy otmeal right then (which probably would have made Mister Kellogg happy). Next was Post, trying to come off with that Saturn owners family style of commercial. Neutral, nothing spectacular, just like their cereal. Of course, I own a Saturn so I guess that says something about me. Lastly was Quaker Oats . . . this one surprised me. They were using the price thing as had Kelloggs, touting their brand name rip-off cereals. They did make it quite clear that their stuff was cheaper than Kelloggs, and that any good parent would save the money and fool their kids with the fake stuff. What do they think, kids are stupid? Hey, they may not be able to locate their own country on a golbe but they can tell the difference between Froot Loops and Fruity Ohh's.

"So there is a price war going on. Big deal."

Graves was shaking his head. "Benson, you are a colossal idiot! It's a fake war. It's artificially created, just like the whole trade thing between the U.S. and Japan. Look deeper. These guys have started this thing because the Federal government threatened to come in and regulate these price gouging bastards. The had to knock it off."

Vince suddenly came to life, bits of oats and puffed rice falling from him like some demented food storm. "Come on Aarron, the government is in the pocket of these corporate assholes. There is no way they would force the cereal companies to do this. They wouldn't get reelected."

"Face it Vince, it has happened. Your jaded mind is unable to accept that there are times when the government we elected actually does something for the benifit of the voters, not Conglomco or whoever is pulling their strings. You can thank Representative Charles Schumer for putting the heat on these criminals."

The Professor slapped a newspaper down onto the table. "You know those Post cereal commercials, the ones that try and make you think that they actually give a shit about you and your family. Well suddenly, they were able to cut prices by nearly 20 percent! Did the price of rice, corn and wheat suddenly drop? You want to know how they can do this and not have their shareholders demanding their execution?"

"Sure Aarron, we'll humor you."

The Professor tossed a pack of cigarettes at me. "Because they are a division of Kraft Foods which is owned by the damn Philip Morris corporation. They also own Nabisco so be sure there is no nicotine in your Better Chedders. They can afford this. They just announced quarterly earnings of 3.2 billion dollars . . . 2.1 of that came from those damn coffin nails you smoke Benson. 54 billion cigarettes in the U.S. alone! Over three times that much overseas. Even if they ban smoking in America, which they never will, they can keep killing the Chinese."

"And Kelloggs? What is so wrong with staying competative? One side lowers their prices, for whatever reason, and another side must either lower or lose market share. That's what you get in a capitalist society."

"When Post lowered their prices, General Mills followed suit and they were in really good position because they aquired Ralcorp, a division of Ralston-Purina, the guys who make Chex. The pressure of people getting tired of high cereal prices forced them to do this. The problem is that Ralcorp was one of the two mass marketers of private label cereals which means competition is being removed from the market."

Vince interjected. "Nobody ate that knockoff crap anyway Aarron, even if they are a dollar cheaper that the name brands."

"Wrong Vince. Last year, growth of sales of private-label cereal was 8% while the name brands was only three. Now with the sell-off, GM not only has a larger market share, but has killed off a major threat to their ability to hike prices. Again, our Democratic pal from New York, the Honorable Charles Schumer sees the problem here and this time has asked the FTC to take a look at this deal."

"And only now did the high and mighty Kelloggs corporation even care about this. Six times in the past three years did these "caring food providers" raise their prices. The outcome was that a 19-ounce box of Rice Krispies now costs about $4.20. Not only that, but they were cutting back on coupons at the same time. The result was increased advertising, spending 119.1 million . . . but no price drop. Now they have to lower their prices. Post has cash to throw around and is creepping up on Kelloggs market dominance. They either lower their prices to match their rivals, or keep prices high and lose market share. Their plan has nothing to do with our welfare . . . it has to do with their damn bottom line."

"The most annoying part of this so-called war is that the prices really haven't gone down much. Even though they dropped the base price of their cereal, they also cut back on coupons and promotions, both of which have had a great impact on reducing the price consumers pay for friggen Oat Bran. Before the "price cuts", a person who clipped coupons could get a 3 dollar box of cereal for $2.25. Under the new, "lower price" system, the cutback in promotions and the lack of coupons result in the consumer paying $2.67, the baseline 11% price decrease. This is 42 cents more! An increase of 19% over the $2.25 the consumer used to pay. Man that is what I call cooking the books."

Quaker Guy"What about Quaker Oats?"

"Don't mess with God's otmeal Vince."

"Just remember, Like Hard Harry once said, eat your cereal with a fork.


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