GOSHEN, IN—Calling his actions "sensible" and "how it's going to be from now on," Glen Showalter, a Goshen-area father of three, defended his unpopular decision to purchase bargain-brand breakfast cereals Monday.
"They're far cheaper than the name brands, and you can't tell me there's any difference in the taste," said Showalter, 41, holding a bag of Apple Zaps, a budget-priced Apple Jacks knockoff. "I can't think of a single reason to justify spending $2 more for the exact same product."
Showalter made the controversial decision at approximately 2 p.m. Sunday while grocery-shopping at Sav-A-Lot Foods on College Road. Noticing a cluster of cereals in plastic bags on the bottom shelf of the cereal aisle, Showalter was surprised to discover that they were significantly less expensive than their boxed counterparts.
"I couldn't believe I'd been shopping for groceries all those years and never noticed the bargain versions until then," Showalter said. "To think of all the money we could have saved. Actually, I don't want to—it's too painful."
Excited by the discovery, Showalter loaded his shopping cart with bags of bargain cereal, including Cocoa-Roos, Frosted Mini Spooners, Golden Puffs, Marshmallow Mateys, and Honey Buzzers. Though he possessed coupons for Cap'n Crunch, Cheerios, and other longtime Showalter-household staples, he chose not to purchase them.
According to Showalter, the trouble started virtually the moment he arrived home with the groceries.
"The kids love Fruity Pebbles, so I certainly didn't think they'd object to me bringing home a big bag of Fruity Dyno-Bites," Showalter said. "But as soon as [10-year-old son] Mark saw the bag, he just went nuts. He said the Dyno-Bites were embarrassing and 'totally lame.' I'm sorry, but I don't see what's so lame about being a smart shopper."
"Besides," Showalter continued, "they've all got cartoons on the package, just like regular cereals, so it's not like they're any less fun. Just look at the Frosted Flakers bag. It's got a big walrus wearing sunglasses and surfing. Now, tell me that's not as good as having Tony The Tiger."
Within minutes of Showalter's arrival home from the supermarket, word of his purchase had spread through the house. Daughter Stephanie, 13, and son Soren, 9, raced to the kitchen to register their protest.
"'Tootie-Fruities'? Ewww," said Soren, sticking out his tongue and making gagging noises at one of the bags. "They should call them 'Doody-Fruities,' because that's what they probably taste like. I want my Froot Loops back."
"I just hope none of my friends come over and see these bags," Stephanie said. "It makes us look like we're on welfare or something."
Showalter, who called his children "brand snobs," explained to them that the bagged cereals' no-frills packaging and lack of national advertising enables their manufacturers to pass the savings along to the customer.
"I told them Cocoa-Roos are no different from Cocoa Puffs," Showalter said. "The only difference is that bird on the box. What these kids don't understand is that when you buy Cocoa Puffs, you're mostly paying for that bird."
Showalter also reminded the children that when they become breadwinners themselves, they can buy all the overpriced cereal they want.
Showalter said he "kind of expected the kids not to understand." The biggest surprise, he said, came when his wife Cheryl spoke out against the purchase.
"I honestly didn't see why it was necessary," Cheryl said. "I could understand maybe one bag, just to try it, but why buy so many untested brands of cereal? And in the end, I don't think we really saved all that much money. It was double-coupon day at Sav-A-Lot, and if he'd just used the coupons I'd given him, he would've spent, total, maybe $2 more than he did for the cheap stuff. I think we can survive that."
Added Cheryl: "I'm not even sure if that bagged stuff is fresh."
According to Hillary Bleier, editor of the trade publication Supermarket Industry News, the Showalter family is not likely to continue purchasing the bargain cereals over the long haul.
"Of the nine million Americans who buy knockoff cereals each year, fewer than 40 percent purchase the items a second time, and only 8 percent make a permanent switch," Bleier said. "Upon discovering them, consumers tend to buy them in abundance, but their eagerness quickly wanes as they become disenchanted with the utilitarian packaging and what they perceive as inferior taste—even though these cereals are often manufactured by the same companies that make the commercial brands."
"Eventually," Bleier said, "they forget their flirtation with frugality and return to their old, Trix-buying ways."
In a telling sign that the cereals may experience a similar fate at the Showalter household, the bags were not unpacked and placed in the pantry where traditional cereal boxes go. Instead, they remain untouched on the kitchen counter, some still in the Sav-A-Lot grocery bags.
Unfazed by his family's lack of support, Showalter reiterated his commitment to buying the bargain versions.
"If people in this family still want to be suckered into the great Kellogg's-Post-General Mills swindle, they can go out and buy the stuff themselves," Showalter said. "I'm getting the bagged stuff from now on."
"I can't believe they're all so closed-minded, even Cheryl," he continued. "Well, I'll eat every single one of those bags if I have to, even the sugared stuff I don't particularly care for. Or, better yet, I'll just pour the stuff into old boxes. Who'll know the difference? Oh, man, I just remembered: I took out the trash, so we don't have the old boxes anymore. Maybe I'll buy a couple boxes of the expensive cereal, dump it out, and replace it with the bargain stuff. Wait, that wouldn't make any sense. Look, I'm not changing my mind about this, okay?"