This is one of those pieces where I’d like to remind everyone at the outset of the wisdom of the saying, "Don’t shoot the messenger."
I do think it’s best for you hear it from me, your friendly neighborhood dietitian, so let’s not beat around the bush. I have come to tell you that Tropicana has made a cereal ostensibly designed to be eaten not with milk, not with oat milk, not with potato milk, indeed not with any milk of any kind. It is made, I regret to inform you, to be consumed with orange juice. I can hear you screaming all the way from tomorrow that the best thing about cereal is drinking the cereal milk. Hush now, there there, I know, but not everyone feels that way.
I have to hand it to the marketing team. They know this is weird, and they’ve leaned right on in.
Tropicana Crunch Honey Almond Cereal is a limited-edition offering for the "cereal curious" released to honor National Orange Juice Day on May 4. It’s the first cereal made specifically for pairing with OJ, and the company claims it’s "crispy and ready to get citrusy." It comes thoughtfully packaged with one of Tropicana’s famous red-striped straws, so you can finish the cereal … juice … with class instead of lapping it from the bowl like a dehydrated Labrador.
Well, clearly there are a lot of "cereal curious" OJ-drinkers among us, because Tropicana is already out of their supply, so, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), no one else is going to be able to get their hands on a box.
It’s hard to swallow, I’ll grant you, but hear me out: It might be a sound concept. I often talk to clients who either don’t like milk or are allergic to it, and just like the box says, many times they tell me that they have tried orange juice on cereal. Most people don’t do it routinely, though. I usually hear that they tried it but didn’t like it, and are looking for another way to have a quick, no-prep breakfast that provides them with some of their daily total of whole grains and fiber. It’s a niche market, to be sure, but it does exist.
As a devotee of moderate-carb, high-fiber, balanced-plate eating, I’m thrilled to be highlighting a grain-based food. When I first heard I was getting a box, I tried to get my head around it by imagining what flavors would go best with OJ. Orange is such an assertive flavor, especially the actual juice as opposed to just extract. There’s the acidity to think of, the sweetness, the bitter low notes. What kind of cereal would work? Orange is often paired with accent flavors like other fruits, nuts, spices such as cinnamon and ginger, and even chocolate: cranberry orange nut muffins, spiced citrus teas, chocolate-candied orange peel. For the base ingredients, wheat, rye, corn and rice would all pair well, either because they are neutral, or because they have enough flavor to hold their own with a tart complement. Sturdy corn flakes with dried cranberries and nuts? Wheat and rye nuggets with ginger clusters? Maybe even something, you know, Froot Loop-y? The only thing I think might not work would be oat — the sweet and creamy notes of oatmeal just wouldn’t jibe with sour citrus.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients list!
Well, it’s not the way I would have gone, but I pride myself on keeping an open mind. Dry, it tastes exactly like the usual granola or muesli. There’s no spice, and not much honey. It’s very oat-y, with a lot of crispy bits from the rice. The wheat flakes seem to be really small and the almonds are few and far between. No surprises … yet.
Let’s pour up a bowl and try it. Not for everyone, but is it for me?
This is a dense cereal without much air space, so it doesn’t take much orange juice to rise to the top. It doesn’t look appetizing to me, but for someone who really hates the thicker mouthfeel and opaqueness of milk and plant-based milk alternatives, that might be a selling point. How does it taste? Well, if you’ve ever enjoyed a Creamsicle straight out of the ice cream truck on a hot summer’s day but wished it could be partially melted and somehow chewy and fibrous, this is the cereal for you. It’s granola with orange juice on it. The juice is very, very prominent. It’s not bad, but I can’t imagine eating a bowl of this every day. I also can’t imagine why they would say it was designed for orange juice. There’s absolutely nothing different from other cereals. It tastes a lot like Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds but with more oat. The rest of the family tried it with apple juice and milk, both of which were proclaimed superior to the orange-juiced version.
So, my advice about the best way to consume Tropicana Crunch and orange juice? Separately. I guess that’s why they included the straw.
There are a number of things I wish the company had done differently. Tropicana should have marketed this one with its apple juice, a natural pairing with such an oat-forward dish, and tried something different with their orange juice, like cinnamon flakes with raisins or coconut crunchies with freeze-dried strawberries. I am pretty happy with the nutritional content — seven grams of fiber and six grams of protein per serving makes up for some of the loss of the protein that would have been from milk. But Tropicana also missed a huge opportunity when it chose which protein powder to add; by including whey instead of soy or pea protein, it automatically cut their potential customer base in half by excluding those with milk allergies. The company also could have suggested using its calcium- and vitamin D-added juice, to try to approximate what milk-drinkers get in an average bowl.
In short, I hope the concept lives. But the execution? I’m dead.
Now that the cereal market has gone headlong into the abyss, what’s next? I hope it’s no-holds-barred. There is so much fun to be had. I’m thinking Quaker Oats Sriracha Squares, Sour Cream ‘n’ Chive Chex, Cap’n Crunch Oops! All Pepperoni.
Who’s going to tackle Cracklin’ Pesto with Freeze-Dried Anchovies? Call me, Kellogg’s. Call me.