Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick stirred up a bowl of controversy last week after offering struggling consumers some not-so-grrreat advice for handling rising grocery prices. In an interview with CNBC, Pilnick suggested that “cereal for dinner” is the perfect solution for anyone coping with the strain of high cost of living.

According to the most recent data from the US Department of Agriculture, “consumers spent an average of 11.3 percent of their disposable personal income (DPI) on food in 2022, a level not observed since 1991.” But in a move that has struck many as out-of-touch, Kellogg’s has seized on this statistic to promote its breakfast cereals as a dinner alternative as well.

“The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure,” Pilnickan told Squawk on the Street host Carl Quintilla. “We gotta reach the consumer where we are, so we’re advertising about cereal for dinner. If you think about the cost of cereal for a family versus what they might otherwise do, that’s going to be much more affordable.”

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When Quintilla pushed back about how the millionaire CEO’s “cereal for dinner” proposal might “land the wrong way” with customers, Pilnick shrugged off the objection.

“We don’t think so,” he replied. “In fact, it’s landing really well right now. When we look at our data, of course we would know that breakfast cereal is the number one choice for in-home consumption. We understand that for breakfast; it turns out that over 25 percent of our consumption is outside the breakfast occasion, a lot of it’s at dinner, and that occasion continues to grow.”

“Cereal for dinner is something that is probably more on trend now,” he continued, “and we would expect [it] to continue as that consumer is under pressure.”

Kellogg’s previously ran an advertising campaign to this effect in 2022, suggesting that it was perfectly normal to “give chicken the night off” and substitute Froot Loops or Corn Flakes instead.

But even as many called out the apparent hypocrisy of Kellogg’s capitalizing on struggling customers while making a $1.6 billion profit last year, others have focused in on another issue. While the consequences of inflation (as well as “shrinkflation” and “greedflation”) are harming customers’ wallets, the chemicals in popular cereal brands may be harming their bodies.

Kellogg’s CEO Tells Americans to “Eat Cereal for Dinner” to Offset High Cost of Living (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Oat-based brands like Cheerios tested positive for harmful additives. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

According to a study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology earlier this month, nearly 80 percent of Americans tested have been exposed to a chemical called chlormequat found in oat-based cereals like Cheerios and Quaker Oats. When applied to grains, chlormequat makes the plants grow straighter, making them easier to harvest. In animal testing, the additive has been linked to reduced fertility, altered fetal growth, and delayed puberty.

Results from urinalysis tests conducted between 2017 and 2023 indicate that exposure to chlormequat is on the rise, and at rates suggesting almost daily exposure.

However, Kellogg’s Special K Fruit & Yogurt was among the few kinds of cereal that did not contain detectable levels of the chemical, meaning that consumers opting for a cereal-based dinner may at least be safe with that option for the time being.

Connor Walcott is a staff writer for Follow Connor on X and look for him on VT’s “The Unusual Suspects.”

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