When you hear the name “Product 19,” you’ll either flash on an experimental invention from some corporate R&D department, or, if you’re one of its fans, you might think of the health cereal, rare in the aisles of American supermarkets yet loved all the same.
But in November of 2016, Kellogg’s announced that it had officially discontinued the cereal. While most people these days seemed to barely know of its existence, Product 19 died—a slow, oaty, fade to black, leaving devoted fans desperate.
“PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t discontinue this cereal,” one fan wrote on Kellogg’s community boards a few months ago. “I LOVE LOVE LOVE this cereal!”
What was Product 19, though? For nearly 50 years, it was simply an answer to a business problem, first released in 1967 as Kellogg’s answer to General Mills’ Total, which had hit the market six years prior. As the current slogan still contends, Total aimed to provide 100% of the daily amounts of nutrients like vitamin E, calcium, iron, and more. Kellogg’s needed something to compete with this healthy new blockbuster, so they began attempting to develop a vitamin cereal of their own, eventually settling on Product 19.
The name, immediately, was a bit curious, and its origins, perhaps fittingly, remain apocryphal. According to one story, it was so named because the end product was the 19th iteration of the cereal they were developing. Others say it was simply the 19th product Kellogg’s developed that year. Either way, Product 19 stuck, a workmanlike name that echoed what the cereal promised to do: provide a base of nutrition, nothing more or less.
The cereal was made up of flakes made from a combination of lightly sweetened corn, wheat, oats, and rice, and promoted itself as providing the full daily amounts of “Multivitamins and Iron.” On the more modern boxes, this would be specified as, “Vitamin E, Folic Acid, Iron, and Zinc.” The original box was so covered in charts and blocks of text, it truly looked more like some experimental substance than a breakfast cereal.
Product 19 sold itself as a cereal for health-minded adults and older people, barking about how the cereal would make you feel young again. According to MrBreakfast.com, the cereal’s original slogan was, “Instant Nutrition - New cereal food created especially for working mothers, otherwise busy mothers and everybody in a hurry.” However the focus of their marketing quickly shifted. In the early 1970s, Product 19 used former Heisman trophy winner, Tom “Old 98” Harmon, then in his 50s, as its spokesman in a series of television commercials. He presented the cereal as a part of the wellness routine he used to stay active. At the same time, Total was rolling out its now iconic commercials featuring a comparison of how many bowls of a competing cereal it would take to get the same vitamins.
And whether it was due to marketing or flavor, Product 19 never gained the household name recognition of competitors like Total, or even Special K, but the cereal did manage to hold on to a devoted fan base. Updating its brand throughout the years to sell itself to younger consumers (the most modern package featured the image of someone doing yoga), the cereal maintained a presence on store shelves through the 2000s, sticking with its simple red and white motif and industrial name. But as sales of Product 19 began to slump, it began slowly disappearing from stores. In a thread from 2014 on Kellogg’s official product forums, a Product 19 fanatic pleaded that the cereal not be taken from shelves, but an official rep responded that Product 19 had gone into limited distribution.
Facebook groups like “Bring Back Kellogg’s Product 19” began popping up around the same time, with people posting images of the final remaining boxes of the cereal they found on store shelves. Then it stopped.
Without much action on social media in the two years since Product 19 went into decline, Kellogg’s released a statement officially declaring that Product 19 had been discontinued. The statement reads in part, “We are sorry to announce that Kellogg’s Product 19 cereal has been discontinued. Unfortunately, sales of this cereal were not strong enough to support continued production, so we had to make the difficult decision to discontinue it.”
Despite a nearly 50 year history as an underdog of the healthy cereal market, Product 19 has gone the way of so many other beloved breakfasts, passing into the Great Lunchtime. But to its diehard fans, no substitution will ever taste the same.
Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
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