We all love free stuff—whether it’s free chicken at Chick-fil-A or a complimentary pen at the bank. So maybe that’s why we don’t question the toy that comes in our cereal box. It turns out this plastic surprise has a surprising reason for appearing at our breakfast tables.
Why Cereal Boxes Had a Toy Inside
Kellogg’s was the first company to offer a “cereal prize,” but the company to take the prize-in-box trend the furthest was General Mills. In the 1960s, General Mills bought 37 non-food brands to create a toy division. The companies included Rainbow Crafts, creators of iconic childhood staple Play-Doh; Parker Brothers, the company that developed the legendary board game Monopoly; and many more!
They churned out the popular breakfast surprises and made some beloved childhood staples like the Easy-Bake Oven and Nerf Balls. Turns out General Mills actually used the cereal box prizes to promote the toys!
Children would beg for a box of Cookie Crisp, not for its sweet crunch but instead for the mini skateboard inside. (What to do with all that extra cereal? Make one of our best cereal bar recipes!)
But the toy-inside craze died rather quickly, and by the mid-1980s the toy division of General Mills was divested.
May the Force Be With Cereal Prizes
When the General Mills toy division was in its heyday, the company made one important decision that still shows up in cereal aisles today. In 1977, General Mills entered a licensing agreement with a new sci-fi movie. It’s one you may have heard of—Star Wars?
More than four decades after that first licensing deal, General Mills is still using Star Wars imagery on cereal boxes, and when the timing is right, putting a Star Wars prize inside those boxes.
Star Wars premiums were included in boxes as recently as 2017 when boxes of Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and other General Mills brands contained “one of six color-changing Star Wars character spoons,” to celebrate Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Next time the friendly face of R2D2 looks back at you from your breakfast box, you’ll know why!