Cereal Lovers Betrayed by Cascadian Farm? [Inside the Label]

Are you a loyal fan of a specific cereal brand? Is it the flavor? The nutritional value you once took the time to look up? The only thing your kids will eat? Well here’s some bad news. Manufacturers can, and often do, change product formulations, and you don’t even know about it. Sometimes the changes are not necessarily in the consumers best interest.

Thanks to Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog for pointing out a falling out between loyal customers and Cascadian Farms, an organic food manufacturer that was acquired by General Mills in 1999. (To be precise, it was actually acquired by Small Planet Foods earlier in the 1990′s. General Mills acquired Small Planet in 1999)

The issue at hand – Cascadian Farm Purely O’s Cereal and a recent reformulation that TRIPLED the sugar count without notifying consumers. The company’s website is abuzz with rants by (ex)-loyal customers:

As a mother of three, and devoted Cascadian Farm consumer, I can’t imagine why more sugar was added to previously excellent product. We consumed about 2,3 boxes of Purely O’s per week until my children all the sudden told med how they tasted differently. Naively, I thought it would be marked on the box if any changes of the products had taken place…then I noticed the increased sugar content. This made us lose faith in your entire brand.

OR

How you can call this cereal “Purely O’s” is beyond me. SUGAR!!??? Really???? CORN?? Really?? Why do we need another corn based,sugary cereal in the grocery aisles? And it is very sneaky to not announce a change on the box.

What you need to know:

In the past, Purely O’s had a front of pack label claiming “No added sugar”. This label disappeared a while ago. Then in October, the company changed its product formulation, without informing consumers.

To be fair, the increase in sugar is from 1 gram to 3 gram, which still leaves these O’s a better choice than virtually all other sweetened cereals.

The company lowered the sodium content from 280 to 200mg, which is commendable, but still too high for a breakfast cereal.

Other changes include removing whole grain barley flour and instead using corn meal. To compensate for the fiber loss, they’ve added oat fiber. The total fiber count hasn’t changed and is 3 grams per serving, the minimum you should be getting from a breakfast cereal.

So why hide the change? It’s not like people won’t notice – the ingredient list and nutrition panel are on the box, for crying out loud. Why the need for all this sneakiness? Didn’t General Mills know it would lose its loyal base of Cascadian Farms fans? Most likely, a focus group showed that the loss of a few loyal fans would be compensated for by an influx of new consumers for whom 3 grams of sugar is a 60-70% reduction.

We’ve updated the CerealScan database to reflect these changes. Cascadian Farm Purely O’s is still a top scorer, but for a group of (no longer) loyal customers, that doesn’t matter anymore.

What to do at the supermarket:

When buying a breakfast cereal, look for low sugar (6 or less grams. 3 grams is considered very low), high fiber (3 or more grams), and less than 150mg sodium per serving. Obviously, artificial colors are a big No No. These factors are much more important factors for your heath than whether the cereal is organic or not.

And just to reiterate, despite the changes, Purely O’s are still a better choice than most other cereals out there.

New! Choose a better breakfast with CerealScan™ by Fooducate (it’s Free!)

Get Fooducated

  • annie

    sorry, i do not agree withe the concept of breakfast cereals.. there are a quick and simplistic way to afford cheap energy. children sent off to school with nothing but a bowl of cereal under their belt are being shortchanged.. eggs, bacon, sausage.. REAL food for breakfast, not a quick fix.

  • Monica

    proves that “organic” doesn’t always equal “healthy”.

  • Bill Forsyth, III

    My eagle-eye wife caught the ingredient change on the purely-O’s box (now three forms of sugar instead of none!) Which is pretty impressive on my wife’s part since NOTHING else on the box changed except the copyright date (and the ingredient list). We bought (past tense) purely-O’s for our (now 4 year old) son as we were trying to bring him up not so dependent on sugar. We returned the the offending boxes, even the opened one in hopes to impress upon the retailer as to the offensiveness of Cascadian Farm’s hypocrisy. We started lurking at grocery stores all over the county and buying every box we could find with the 2008 copyright. Tragically our stash has now come to an end, we’ve open the last box of of real purely O’s. Anybody have any suggestions or know of a stash of the real stuff? I’d be great if I could find a supplier in Akron, OH area, but I’d be willing to buy a case of it if you could prove that it’s sugar free.

    If anybody finds original recipe purely-O’s, or an adequate alternative, please email me at cereal@nomademail.com

    Thanks,
    Bill

  • Kate

    I am so disappointed in Cascadian Farms or, as I’ve heard, now General Mills
    I have emailed them to voice my own concern and got a response that ended with this:
    “In keeping with our satisfaction guarantee, we would like to send you an adjustment for your purchase and it will be mailed to the address you have provided. Please allow 10-14 business days to arrive.
    We appreciate your loyalty to General Mills and hope you continue to choose our products.
    Sincerely,
    Imee B. Roberts
    Consumer Services”
    Guess what I got? Coupons for Cascadian Farms products! ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? Why would I waste my time????
    BTW, here are the replacements I’ve found and my daughter LOVES them: 1) Natures Path Kamut Puffs (Kamut is the ONLY ingredient) 2) Natures Path Rice Puffs (Rice is The ONLY ingredient) and 3) Barbara’s Bakery Breakfast O’s (contain corn)
    ALL OF THESE ARE ORGANIC!!!!! The Breakfast O’s are the only actual “O’s” but my daughter has not seemed to mind as long as they are crunchy and yummy!

  • Joe

    I really enjoyed the old Purely O’s. The new ones are awful. Can I really trust this company if they try to get away with substituting inferior products for ones of value? I will no longer look at the brand the same way, and will be more apt to avoid it.

  • Jane Melanson

    I have been a Cascadian Farm fan for many years. Last week I purchased a cereal that I have purchased many times before and found it to be rancid. It was an eye opener for me as my first thought was to email the company to let them know there was a problem. It was a feeling of loyalty. Then I realized that Cascadian Farm was General Mills and truly a rancid box of cereal doesn’t really matter to them. It matter to me though. The cereal was multi grain squares. I ate it twice becaue I really didn’t believe it could be so terrible. The second meal confirmed that it was. …and so I am disappointed.

  • John Pawlowski

    I also agree that the shift in formulation was abrupt and not publicly announced. The change caught many loyal users unaware. However, I think it is important to look at the bigger picture, here. In my humble opinion, General Mills is reformulating the cereal to be more palatable to the massive majority of unhealthy Americans in this country in an attempt to make a healthy (granted, no longer “healthiest”) breakfast option more attainable. It is unfortunate that the loyal consumers who bought this cereal for the original reasons are now suffering through this change. However, I believe that General Mills is actually taking the moral high ground by allowing the mass market a chance to experience a solid, healthy morning option that has most likely turned off many in the past.

    • Russeufaula

      I think rather than say fruit and nut granola it’s  like pork and beans(tiny tiny bit of pork with a large can of beans).  Cascadian Farm better go back to growing stuff and leave the cereal end of it Sun Belt. My box was very stale after only a week.  It is not worth the almost four dollars I paid for it. They must have been running low on fruit and nuts when this was packaged.  No fruit -no nuts.
      Is Gen Mills ashamed of this product by not putting their name brand on it?
      George Russ

  • Dave

    Aside from the increase in sugar, the major difference with this cereal before and after the reformulation is that it *tastes* quite a bit cheaper and less wholesome. Not sure if this is the cornmeal, the fillers, or what, but it just doesn’t taste good anymore.

    The other side of this is that the “organic” label depends on trust. Third party auditors make that designation for the USDA, and a huge fraction of those auditors are on probation because they weren’t actually doing their jobs and non-organic ingredients were getting in from overseas suppliers (in some cases, the ingredients didn’t even meet basic, non-organic safety standards). Given this, you have to *trust* that the organic label means something, and I frankly don’t trust that “organic” has any particular meaning as far as General Mills is concerned.

  • Anne Noise

    “So why hide the change? It’s not like people won’t notice – the ingredient list and nutrition panel are on the box, for crying out loud. Why the need for all this sneakiness?”

    Presumably, isn’t the change reflected on the box? Why is it considered sneaky to change a product when the exact contents are listed, and the change is minor?

  • L.T.A. Ford

    We’re looking for an alternative to “Purely” O’s now. And yes, it no longer tastes like an oat cereal, at least not as it used to.

  • Karyn

    Call small planet foods who owns cascadian farms under general mills at 1-800-624-4123 & ask them to bring the original cereal back. maybe they will bring back another version. I did. It can’t hurt.
    My kids were eating the cereal & said this tastes like honey is on it & I looked at the side of the box & said oh no! There are only a few “clean” cereals out there that taste good & now our healthy cheerios are gone. I will have to try the ones listed above in the blog.

  • V4Vendetta

    annie :
    sorry, i do not agree withe the concept of breakfast cereals.. there are a quick and simplistic way to afford cheap energy. children sent off to school with nothing but a bowl of cereal under their belt are being shortchanged.. eggs, bacon, sausage.. REAL food for breakfast, not a quick fix.

    Eggs, bacon, sausage???? That is A LOT worse than cereal! I know you are joking, but just in case you aren’t, here is why they are bad: Cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, salmonella, not to mention flesh, hair, tendons, blood vessels of animals all ground up – oooohhh, yummy! And talk about artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, nitrates and a bunch of other additives.
    Here’s what’s good for breakfast: pancakes made – from scratch, not a box – with spelt and whole wheat flour, fresh fruit, a hot cup of chai tea with soy milk and organic sugar, and for protein, soy yogurt or scrambled tofu. Try recipes from “Vegan with a Vengeance”, by author Isa Chandra Moscowitz.

    • urbangranola

      Eggs and bacon are actually MUCH, much better for you than cereal. Do some homework. The book “Fat” explains and debunks myths about fat. Bacon has the best fat content around, similar to olive oil. And as for eggs… eggs are amazing for you. Our USDA food guidelines and all the cholesterol propaganda pitched to us by food lobbyists and our economic market driven food/agriculture business would have us believe what your saying. Please check out some better food eating guidelines at Michael Pollan’s website and The Weston Price Foundation. My life was saved when I learned this, and I have health like I’ve never seen in myself. I don’t eat one scrap ofcereal, and I eat eggs EVERYDAY and my cholesterol went down!

      • http://raisingpeanut.blogspot.com/ Andrea Z

        Well said!

    • . .

      i would never feed my children bacon, sausage, cereal.

      • http://raisingpeanut.blogspot.com/ Andrea Z

        There are MANY healthy choices for sausage — and bacon too for that matter.

  • V4Vendetta

    John Pawlowski :
    I also agree that the shift in formulation was abrupt and not publicly announced. The change caught many loyal users unaware. However, I think it is important to look at the bigger picture, here. In my humble opinion, General Mills is reformulating the cereal to be more palatable to the massive majority of unhealthy Americans in this country in an attempt to make a healthy (granted, no longer “healthiest”) breakfast option more attainable. It is unfortunate that the loyal consumers who bought this cereal for the original reasons are now suffering through this change. However, I believe that General Mills is actually taking the moral high ground by allowing the mass market a chance to experience a solid, healthy morning option that has most likely turned off many in the past.

    “Moral high ground”? Give me a break! There is no morality in a corporation! If you think so, you are VERY naive.

    • http://raisingpeanut.blogspot.com/ Andrea Z

      You sound so self-righteous. Maybe it’s time to stop reading books about healthy nutrition and start reading books about healthy communication. I own a business and I believe I am moral. Please be aware about who you are including when making blanket statements.

  • Melissa

    @Jane Melanson
    I had the same experience. The cereal tasted so horrible that I though the milk was spoiled, but then I bought new milk and realized it was the cereal. It tastes like poison. I am very disappointed because I thought that this was a great cereal before and now I am afraid to ever buy it again.

  • Emily Kistler

    Just a question if anyone knows. We eat Cascadian Farm cinnamon crunch, and the box says sugar organic. Just wondering exactly what that means. I am now just learning about the General Mills owning of this cereal. I didnt know if it was organic sugar cane with the water taken out or if its organic sugar with chemical proporties.

  • Kenneth Goodrich

    I’ve used Cascadian Farm products for decades–even after I learned that it is now Cascadian Farm in name only after being purchased by General Mills which contnues to claim “since 1972″ on labels. But when I discovered that the picture on the front of a purchased box of granola, was a sleazy example of GM disceptive packaging, loyalty to all Cascadian Farm products ceased. A full color picture, covering nearly half the box,of a cereal bowl filled with granola sprinkled with blueberries was the main reason for my splurge. Organic blueberries, fresh or dried as in cereals, are hard to find. But there really are no blueberries in the box,as the hopefully myopic and/or naive buyer is supposed to figure out from the micoscopic “serving suggestion” at the box’s bottom. General Mills may have bought the name but not my trust and consumer loyalty. Even committed organic foodies and label readers can be deceived.ONCE!

  • Anita Smith

    @annie
    Eggs, bacon, and sausage are a route to fat and tired children. Feeding your kids that fatty junk is as bad as sugary cereal.

    • urbangranola

      I REPEAT. Eggs and bacon are actually MUCH, much better for you than cereal. Do some homework. The book “Fat” explains and debunks myths about fat. Bacon has the best fat content around, similar to olive oil. And as for eggs… eggs are amazing for you. Our USDA food guidelines and all the cholesterol propaganda pitched to us by food lobbyists and our economic market driven food/agriculture business would have us believe what your saying. Please check out some better food eating guidelines at Michael Pollan’s website and The Weston Price Foundation. My life was saved when I learned this, and I have health like I’ve never seen in myself. I don’t eat one scrap ofcereal, and I eat eggs EVERYDAY and my cholesterol went down!

      • Bootqueen

        Hello
        Where did you find the book “fat”?  I eat fat all the time and I’m with you.  I’ve never been in better health.

      • http://raisingpeanut.blogspot.com/ Andrea Z

        Well, urbangranola, you have my support. :)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SOTGM63WIAWLOXLBF5QAZE2N3A Isayra

      Eggs are great but the bacon and sausage can be good for children if there are no neurotoxins in it. Today it is near impossible to find that at the grocery store.

      • Rob

        Buy from a local farmer that you know uses the best process for elliminating these toxins.

  • Anita Smith

    annie :
    sorry, i do not agree withe the concept of breakfast cereals.. there are a quick and simplistic way to afford cheap energy. children sent off to school with nothing but a bowl of cereal under their belt are being shortchanged.. eggs, bacon, sausage.. REAL food for breakfast, not a quick fix.

    Eggs, bacon, and sausage are a route to fat and tired children. Feeding your kids that fatty junk is as bad as sugary cereal.

    • http://raisingpeanut.blogspot.com/ Andrea Z

      There are healthy options in that category. I make sure my little guy has a serving of protein before starting school in the morning. He’s not eating cereal for breakfast. I provide cereal as a snack, but not the meal to fortify him for the day. We really have to be careful about making blanket statements when leaving comments. Also, if you’d like someone to hear you, really hear you, then find a way to communicate without being offensive and insulting.

  • steve

    It’s really only 2 gms of sugar added from 1 gm. The cereal tastes pretty much the same. Cereal is never all THAT healthy, don’t fuss over it.

  • shopper

    Note that although it’s a good point that the new Purely O’s have less sugar than many of the sweet, candy-like cereals in the mainstream cereal aisle, that is not necessarily what we should be comparing them to. How about comparing them to their obvious competitor, Cheerios? Isn’t that a more relevant comparison? The old, toasty, sophisticated, delicious Purely O’s had exactly the same amount of sugar as Cheerios. But the new ones have THREE TIMES as much as Cheerios.

  • Tom M.

    The only truly organic, fruit-juice sweetened cereal out there (with no sugars and evaporated cane juices) is Barbara’s Organic O’s. You can easily buy them at Amazon or at Barbara’s home page…I found this cereal after being thoroughly misled by Cascadian Farm’s deceptive practices..my son didn’t even like the new cereal, he said they’re yucky.

  • . .

    I don’t eat cereals anymore but it’s no big deal changing from 1g to 3g. There are $6 cereals with artificial colors, flavors, nitrates nitrites. I was so upset when i read labels i quit eating this crap. I didn’t grow up on this kind of food, don’t need dairy milk. It’s all processed crap.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jbellantuono1 Joseph Bellantuono

      I agree 100%

  • April

    I am an experienced and well educated healthcare professional that may have a SURPRISE for some of you about “low sugar” or “no sugar added” cereals. Many of them including “cheerios”(by General Mills) and Kellogg’s corn flakes, which based on my research and conclusions may quite possibly be 2 unhealthy foods to eat. Check the GLYCEMIC INDEX of these 2 cereals! Eating foods high in the GLYCEMIC INDEX can cause a person to gain FAT weight which can be harmful to the heart and circulation over time, in addition to being as bad and maybe worse, than eating a small amout of sugar.
    Don’t worry as much about the sugar content if it is relatively low, check the GLYCEMIC INDEX AND LOAD of a food and remember that “low sugar” or no sugar added, does not mean that the food is not a glycemic problem.

  • Cate

    Hi – I like your blog but can’t get rid of the annoying bar to FB, tweet or whatever. I’ll read often if I can remove that…any tips?
    Thanks,
    Cate

  • Linda

    I bought cascading farms Organic cinnamon crunch…
    Starch and sugar! I just don’t trust any cereal even if it says Organic. Maltodextrin, dextrose and mixed tocopherols! That’s just some of the ingredients. Buyers beware….

  • apat

    I came to this site because I was searching for the Cascadian Farms website to check to see whether there was a possible recall of the Cascadian Farms Multi Grain Squares. I have been having some severe gastrointestinal issues, and I suspect the cereal. At first I thought it was the milk. I did notice at one point that the cereal was suddenly very pale looking…not the toasty tan color that it had been. Then after a few boxes of that, the color in the newer boxes were back to the same color…except now, they have some very dark spots in the squares that almost look like mold sometimes when they are wet with milk. Now I think I’ve narrowed it down to the fact that I’m getting indigestion after my morning cereal..that I’ve trusted for years and didn’t suspect that all my issues could be coming from it…and that it could be causing ALL my issues! Has anyone heard of any problems with the cereal?