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Forget the cheer. General Mills wants consumers to ring in the millennium with Cheerios.

Citing a "once in a lifetime opportunity," the cereal marketer in September will introduce a limited-time Cheerios line called Millenios. The product, a brown sugar, whole grain and oat blend, adds tiny numeral 2s to the familiar O-shaped cereal, enabling consumers to spell out the millennial year.

"It's an in-and-out product," said Cheerios VP Mark Addicks. It will be on store shelves until January 2000, and "it won't be back until 1,000 years after that," he joked.


It's clear Big G hopes to have some fun with the line, one of the first of an expected flood of "millennial" foods.

"We've got a great millennial program" for the cereal, said Mr. Addicks, who wouldn't discuss specifics.

One expected promotion will involve using the futuristic-looking metallic package to create a time capsule for kids. "Once in a lifetime" also is expected to be the major marketing theme, with that theme printed prominently on the box.

The program kicks off in August.

General Mills wouldn't identify the agency, but Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, is the Cheerios shop.

The 58-year-old Cheerios brand is going into the next century as America's leading cereal. The flagship yellow-box brand -- excluding line extensions -- finished last year with $319.6 million in sales, according to Information Resources Inc., up 8.9%. That represents the fastest growth rate among the top 20 brands.

The second-fastest growth came from Honey Nut Cheerios, the category's third-best seller, with $204.5 million in sales, up 7.7%. The No. 2 slot is held by Kellogg Co.'s Frosted Flakes.

Other Cheerios lines haven't fared as well, though. Frosted Cheerios sales fell 25% last year, to $55.5 million, and Multi-Grain Cheerios was down 4.7% to $51.6 million, IRI said.

While most marketers so far have been branding existing products as the "official" product of the millennium, Millenios is one of the few completely new products so far.

M&M/Mars tagged its namesake candies with that designation last year; Korbel Champagne Cellars, claiming status as the official champagne, is running a "Millennium Practice Party Tour" promotion. Miller Brewing Co. has coined the

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