Whether you prefer cinnamon-y squares, crunchy chocolatey puffs, or fruity circles, cereal is an iconic and incredibly popular food. Over 80% of Americans consumed cereal in 2023, and on average, we each eat 160 crunchy, soggy, sloppily delicious bowlfuls every year. The breakfast cereal industry is a lucrative business ruled by three big companies — Post, General Mills, and Kellogg’s. The big three have dominated the multibillion-dollar cereal market relatively unchallenged for decades, even as legacy brands in other categories have faced increasing competition from trendy alternatives.

Why has Big Cereal (how I will be referring to the 3 major brands for the remainder of this article) resisted competition? Many economists consider the cereal industry a highly concentrated oligopoly, meaning a few big companies control the majority of sales. This can reduce innovation and makes it very difficult for new brands to break into the market.

Despite the challenge, trendy new cereal startups targeting Gen-Z and millennials are on the rise, looking to provide some healthy competition for the big brands. These Alt Cereal brands are not associated with any of the big three cereal companies, selling themselves as healthier, cooler, “better” alternatives to the big brands.

So, what makes these Alt Cereals “better” than Big Cereal, and what’s in store for the future of this iconic breakfast food? I investigated four major factors in the cereal market — branding, taste, health, and cost — to find out.


Alt Cereal’s sleek, rainbow-hued packaging and innovative marketing is squarely aimed at Gen Z and millennials.

Alt Cereal brands tend to lean into modern graphic design trends with amorphous shapes, character illustrations, and vivid colors, said brand consultant Ashwinn Krishnaswamy (@shwinnabegobrand). Krishnaswamy makes videos on TikTok about marketing and branding. “Some [alt cereal] brands look more magazine-cover than cereal box,” he added, “which is not in and of itself a bad thing.”

Photo via OffLimits

One brand new to the scene, OffLimits, is definitely thinking outside the cereal branding box. It may be the most beautifully-designed, intricately branded cereal ever in the history of cereal. CEO Emily Elyse Miller went to art school, and it shows. “Cereal carries culture unlike any other item in the grocery store,” she told Spoon in an email. After decades without change, OffLimits aims to “rethink cereal culture for future generations.” OffLimits debuted the first female cereal mascot in 2020, works with artists on beautiful box designs, and sells edible glitter, socks, and spray paint. Its online toy store is like a cool grown-up version of the cereal box toys my brother and I used to fight over. Ah, simpler times.

OffLimits isn’t the only Alt Cereal with uber cool, modernized branding. Magic Spoon’s packaging and designs are inspired by childhood cereals with a “grown up psychedelic twist.”

The colorful boxes feature funky mascots and their animal sidekicks, including a strong woman lifting an elephant (peanut butter) and a diver astride an octopus (blueberry muffin). They also make actual “Magic Spoons,” which are apparently the world's first spoons designed specifically for cereal.

Alt Cereal’s cool magazine-cover boxes are especially appealing to Gen-Z and millennials when compared to Big Cereal’s approach of targeting kids with child-approved brands like Trolls, Peeps, and Hot Wheels, and catering to Gen X and Boomers with boring, mascot-less boxes of Cracklin’ Oat Bran and Fiber One.

Big Cereal packaging may look somewhat ‘dated’ because older brands have built familiarity with consumers, and don't generally make drastic changes to their packaging, Krishnaswamy said. “If you think of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Fruit Loops, you'll see presentations of the cereal in bowls or spoons with milk, putting the product 'in context' and making it look appealing,” he added, “whereas some of the newer brands have more abstract ways of representing the product.” Basically, Alt Cereals are free to think outside the box (or bowl) when it comes to branding and design.


Big Cereal products like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Captain Crunch are widely revered for their classic flavors. So how does Alt Cereal compete?

Some Alt Cereal brands aim to recreate the nostalgic flavors of Big Cereal in a “healthier” format. Catalina Crunch’s cinnamon toast flavor is clearly modeled off of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, although one Thingtesting reviewer advised not to expect “Cinnamon Toast Crunch levels of pleasure.”

Three Wishes sells itself as a “delicious, but healthier” version of conventional cereal, according to CEO Margaret Wishingrad. Flavors like fruity, frosted, and cocoa allude to classic childhood faves. The highly experienced tasters at Cereal Killer Podcast (they’ve ranked almost 1000 cereals!) are generally harsh on “healthier” cereals, but gave Three Wishes' frosted flavor an impressive 3.5 bowls out of 5, calling it “not horrendous” and “the best healthier cereal I’ve had.”

Photo via Seven Sundays

Other brands bring new tastes to the cereal aisle. Seven Sundays sunflower and oat protein cereals and nut studded mueslis are unlike any big cereal products — but they might be better. I loved Seven Sundays richly wholesome sunflower cereal, and the Cereal Killer Podcast awarded their Strawberry Banana Nut flavor a whopping 4.5 bowls out of 5.

OffLimits offers funky flavors, edible cereal glitter, and innovative collabs with popular Gen-Z brands. That includes working with Salt & Straw to churn pandan cereal into vegan ice cream and brewing up coffee flavored cereal (which turns your cereal milk into cold brew!) with Chamberlain Coffee.

Photo via OffLimits

Instagram user @toptiercereal, who has ranked almost 200 cereals on their Instagram page, rated the Dash Coffee cereal a 93 out of 100, and praised OffLimits for their “mastery of unique flavors.”


Many Alt Cereals are promoted as healthier, better-for-you alternatives to the big brands. But “healthy” and “better for you” are difficult to define, especially in the post-diet culture wasteland that is our society. Nearly every product claims to be “healthy” in some way or another. The enigmatic nature of “health” is reflected in the Alt Cereal market.

Seven Sundays sticks to high-quality whole ingredients like tart cherry powder and honey. Magic Spoon contains about 13 grams of protein per serving and zero sugar. Three Wishes products are gluten and grain-free, plant-based, peanut and soy-free, and kosher. Whatever your diet, there's surely an Alt Cereal brand to suit your needs. 


Moriah House

Cereal has historically been a relatively cheap food, but Alt Cereal brands aren't exactly budget-friendly options. At my local Target, a 7-ounce box of Magic Spoon rings up at $10, more than double the price of a 10.8-ounce box of Honey Nut Cheerios. Even the girl math isn’t adding up here.

A certain well-off, health-conscious subset of the population will happily shell out $10 for a cool new cereal. But will the hungry masses pick it up in the breakfast aisle at Publix? Not in this economy, said Krishnaswamy. “The $8 to $10 box of cereal will only find success in upscale markets and metro areas: NY, LA — think Erewhon and Foxtrot market types,” he said. “You can build a $50 to $100 million business hitting those markets, but you will not get to the size of Cinnamon Toast Crunch at that price point.” For context, General Mills net sales of cereal in 2022 fell just shy of $3 billion.

Future of Cereal

Photo Via Offlimits

As a cereal lover, I'm here for the cool new flavors, cereal glitter, and magical spoons. But could Alt Cereal really make a lasting impact in a market dominated by legacy brands? “Yes,” said Krishnaswamy, “if they can get to a lower price point.” When it comes to check-out, he emphasized, “we just want something that tastes good at a good price.” As usual, it’s all about the money. Blame capitalism.

However, younger consumers are seemingly more likely to invest in products they love. According to the Food Marketing Institute’s 2023 Grocery Shopping Trend Report, 52% of millennials and 42% of Gen Z are willing to buy the highest quality items regardless of price, in contrast to 22% of baby boomers.

Younger consumers are increasingly disenchanted with large faceless corporations. They’re open to paying a little more to support brands that align with their values, taste delicious, and hey, cool packaging certainly never hurt anyone. This might be bad news for big legacy brands, but it allows smaller, innovative brands to thrive, and that’s good news for consumers. As for cereal, the future is looking cereal-ously diverse, bright, and delicious.