Kellogg's CEO Pilloried for Pushing 'Cereal for Dinner'

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

More than that, it’s a warning and wakeup call for the people who make a comfortable living calling other people “consumers.”

I refer to the tale of WK Kellogg CEO Gary Pilnick, who was probably enjoying  a better-than-average day, having killed with a presentation to  the CAGNY (Consumers Analyst Group of New York) at a conference in Boca Raton last week.

Then Pilnick stepped outside into the bright sunshine to do an interview with CNBC.

He was talking to Carl Quintanilla, the amiable host of “Squawk on the Street.” Pilnick seemed practiced at this, relaxed and fluent.

They were discussing a topic that’s been in the news a lot lately. Despite an otherwise healthy economy, prices for groceries and restaurants have soared almost 25% since 2020, causing Americans real pain at checkout.



And once prices go up, (ingredients and transportation costs are up, too) they tend to get sticky and rarely come down.

Pilnick offered his standard speech for a marketing crowd, mentioning that “The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure.”

People having trouble feeding their children probably wouldn’t see it as a “destination” when they are “under pressure.” For them, it’s a daily grind, only getting worse.

But he plunged ahead, adding, “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.”

He talked about non-breakfast times, such as “dinner occasions” and “snacking occasions.”

Then he mentioned the “Cereal for Dinner” pitch that Kellogg has been serving to zero blowback since 2022.

In the TV spot, a suburban family is shown happily responding to an animated Tony the Tiger standing in their dining room (as one does.) leading them in a cheer. “When I say cereal, you say dinner!”   In return, they shout “Dinner!”

Then Mom tells an animated chicken who happens to be perched on the kitchen counter to beat it, and they all celebrate the sheer cereality of the moment. The tagline is “Give chicken the night off,” which in the right context has some zip.

Now it might be fun to eat cereal, at about $7 a box, for dinner or late-night snacking occasionally when you feel like it--if you’re rich.

But obviously, it’s not advisable for the family evening meal, even if it’s put in “rotation,” as the company mentions.  It’s no news that sugared cereal is hardly substantial as a stomach filler. And despite all the chemically added vitamins and minerals, it’s not healthy or sustainable. You could buy a chicken and vegetables for the price of a $7 box of Frosted Flakes with milk and fruit.

Tuning into some-tone deafness, CNBC host Quintanilla could see where this was going and tried to help his interviewee out.

He asked Pilnick if encouraging cereal for dinner could “land the wrong way.”

But Pilnick didn’t pick up on it. “In fact, it’s landing really well right now,” he insisted, going deeper. “Cereal for dinner is something that is probably more on trend now, and we would expect to continue,” he said.

On trend? Oy. Is “Hunger Games “on trend,” too?

But boy did this CEO’s remarks, which he thought were unremarkable, start blowing up.

Talk about bad timing and wrong context.

Somewhat hypocritically, The New York Post took time off from its normal work of dehumanizing migrants and homeless people to make fun of Pilnick’s remarks on its front page. 

Lots of postings on X made Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake,” or in this case, corn flakes, jokes.  Corporate greed came up a lot, as did Pilnick’s annual salary, which is $1 million with additional compensation adding up to $4 million.

These days that’s probably customary for a corporate exec who has spent years climbing the ranks. But it just highlights the screaming economic disparity between the earnings of a CEO and a hardworking person who’s been reduced to holding low-paying jobs in the gig economy.

WK Kellogg’s stock price was down slightly, the last time I checked.

But this failure indeed calls for crisis management.

Maybe Tony the Tiger needs to deliver this great “dinner food” for free for a while to food banks, shelters, and schools all over the country. 

As a “snacking occasion,” of course.


8 comments about "Kellogg's CEO Pilloried for Pushing 'Cereal for Dinner'".
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  1. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, February 28, 2024 at 8:54 a.m.

    Having traveled 39 weeks/year for 6 years when I was at FCB, I can vouch for Special K cereal as being the perfect dinner. No milk (I don't like milk), no nothing, straight out of the box. In a pinch it certainly beats having a greasy burger and greasier fries. For the luxury version, I used to go down to a store, buy some yoghurt, mix the cereal in and that was dinner AND dessert. Nothing wrong with the cereal as dinner theory.

  2. Barbara Lippert from replied, February 28, 2024 at 9:47 a.m.

    Thanks, Marcelo. I get it. But don't you prove that people who are not under economic "pressure"  have fun having cereal for dinner? 

  3. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, February 28, 2024 at 9:56 a.m.

    In a cynical way, yes, but, consider that buying some awful burger with fries is easily $10/person and fries are liky Kryptonite for your body... but if you buy yoghurt, it's like $3.95 for a large container, which easily feeds 4 when matched with something like Special K, which sells for around $7/box which also easily feeds 4. Now, I'm no expert, but if I had to compare eating Special K for dinner vs. something cheap like Mac & Cheese, I'd probably choose the cereal.

    However, let's not fall into the so-typical-today of "all or nothing". I wouldn't recommend yoghurt and Special K for dinner every night, but once in a while? I don't see the problem at all.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 28, 2024 at 10:53 a.m.

    They are probably responding to a reduction in breakfast  eating that may be hurting their creeal business---or it may be that as more and more households dont have children this, too, is causing a problem---so it's not as silly an idea as it seems. As I recall, some years ago there was a push to have people drink orange juice at lunch or dinner for the same reason.

  5. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC replied, February 28, 2024 at 12:54 p.m.

    Coming from Spain, where our breakfast typically is a croissant or two with either espresso or cafe-con-leche, yes, you are most probably right on the breakfast appreciation.

  6. Barbara Lippert from, February 28, 2024 at 1:42 p.m.

    Thanks, Ed. As a marketing move, I agree that having cereal for dinner is a smart move for Kellogg's, not silly.
    But I was reporting on the backlash to what Pilnick said on CNBC, where he quite clearly wasn't getting the memo outside of a marketing bubble that people are having trouble putting food on the table. So he needed to pivot, to understand that sometimes your standard pitch that makes sense to your usual audience comes off as Marie Antoinettish to the larger world and on social media. 

  7. Jim Thompson from Temple University, March 1, 2024 at 3:17 p.m.

    Barbara, I am confused by your last reply. Your interpretation of, “The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure.”, was that he did not understand that some people are struggling with finances?

  8. Barbara Lippert from, March 1, 2024 at 3:20 p.m.

    I was responding to his interviewer asking him directly that his language there had the possibility of not landing correctly, and he didn't see that. 

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