Non-millennial Jessica Allen visits Toronto's new cereal bar
The business strategy capitalizes on impulses that I don’t have: the desire to see something on Instagram and go out of my way to experience and document it.
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I can’t think of a situation in which I would be compelled to order a bowl of cereal at a restaurant. I still have a three-year-old box of Cheerios that’s yet to hit the green bin.
But despite my personal distaste, cereal cafés and bars are popping up all over the world.
The idea, borrowed perhaps from frozen yogurt chains, is simple: dispense childhood favourites and esoteric brands of cereals — Madrid’s The Cereal Lovers boasts over 150 varieties — and provide toppings, like fresh fruit, dried coconut, milk and milk alternatives.
You can imagine the interiors, right? Bright, cheerful, and colourful, not unlike the image of the bowl of cereal that is begging to be shared on social media.
It’s a business strategy capitalizing on impulses that, as a non-millennial, I don’t have: the desire to see something on Instagram — like an artisanal ice cream sandwich or a Caesar garnished with a grilled shrimp the size of a Buick — and go out of my way to experience and document it.
In fact, when it comes to businesses exploiting the latest food trends, whether it be a sushi burrito or a smoothie bowl, I’ve become so contrarian that I’ll go out of my way not to experience them.
But will everyone else, who probably likes fun more than I do, bite? Although U.S. cereal sales have dropped $4 billion since 2000, the New York Times reported last February, “breakfast cereal is a powerful engine of nostalgia,” particularly for baby boomers.
So if you build a cereal bar, will the millennials come?
Maybe not. Forty per cent of millennials surveyed in 2015 by the global market research company Mintel admitted “cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it,” the New York Times said.
But at Silo 13, a “freestyle cereal bar” that recently opened in Toronto, there are no dishes to wash! And there are gluten-free options!
For $10, you can fill up a plastic bowl from a selection of dozens of cereals, including French, British and American imports (like Twix, which was discontinued here in 2005). They even have Post Cereal’s Oreo O’s, which can only be procured in South Korea.
Owner David Cai, 30, told me that he and his wife had the idea to open up Silo 13 after visiting IKEA. They saw the wall of dispensers dishing out nuts and bolts and thought it was a great model for serving something. “We both love cereal,” he said, and with a little snap, crackle, and pop, the business was born.
Silo 13 had its grand opening Victoria Day weekend. It went well, especially on the Sunday when they “got slammed.”
The following Sunday, however, the place is empty, save for me (it was research!) and Simon (I made him come!). I filled my bowl with eight cereals, not one of which looked or sounded healthy, and chose two per cent milk to top it off. The first bite was euphoric. I was taken back to the kitchen table of my childhood. Was it the Count Chocula? Or the Fruity Pebbles? I can’t be certain because every other bite tasted like wet sugar.
I don’t think Silo 13 has me in mind as a regular customer. In fact, I wonder if they have regular customers in mind full stop. “We designed the place so that it’s Instagrammable,” Cai says. “We like to say, ‘If you shoot us, tag us.’”
But what are the chances that once you have that social media post, you’ll go back for a second? Cereal may have a long shelf-life, but gimmicks don’t. So I’m not sure a cereal bar is a sustainable business model.
Take those artisinal ice cream sandwiches, for instance. A Metro story recently revealed that despite an influx of hashtag-worthy concoctions, Canadians are actually eating less ice cream.
Food has morphed from being something that sustains us to something that defines us, usually via social media. And since I forgot to Instagram my freestyle cereal bowl, I have no idea who I am.