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How cereal startup Magic Spoon milks nostalgia to sweeten its direct pitch to grown-ups

A year after launching its high protein, low carb, nostalgia-flavored cereal, the brand is still booming.

How cereal startup Magic Spoon milks nostalgia to sweeten its direct pitch to grown-ups
[Photo: courtesy of Magic Spoon]

When it comes to shopping in a pandemic, turns out the two things people crave are comfort and convenience.

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It’s why Amazon sales are projected to see a year-over-year sales jump of nearly 22% in the first quarter. It’s why it feels like everyone with an Instagram account has been baking sourdough bread at home.

And it’s why a year after launching its direct-to-consumer, guilt-free “kids” cereal for grown-ups, Magic Spoon’s business is booming.

“We’ve seen a meaningful uptick in demand from new customers just discovering us or finally giving us a try,” says cofounder Gabi Lewis. “It’s also existing customers, who maybe ate a bowl in the morning before work but now that they’re at home, are eating another bowl in the afternoon for a snack, so consumption has gone up.”

Last April, Lewis and his cofounder Greg Sewitz first launched Magic Spoon to tap into millennials’ nostalgia for the kiddie cereals of their youth while staying true to their commitment to eat healthy as adults. They took flavors that mimicked such classics as Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles, and Frosted Flakes—and delivered it in a high-protein, low-carb, and no-sugar cereal. Combined with a packaging and product design that was highly Instagrammable, Magic Spoon’s popularity took off immediately, and it hasn’t slowed down.

“Obviously, we had a very strong hypothesis that there would be a desire and need for a cereal that tastes like classic sugary cereals but didn’t contain all the junk ingredients, but we had no idea how much demand there would be, and the last year has blown past our most aggressive projections and expectations,” says Lewis. “It’s also been amazing to see how it’s resonated with not only who we originally thought of as the target consumer—the health-conscious millennial like myself and my cofounder Greg, who grew up eating cereal everyday and then stopped because it was terrible for them—but actually it’s resonated with parents, children, families, even older individuals who just wanted more protein in their diets.”

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Tic-tac-sO delicious.⁠

A post shared by Magic Spoon (@magicspooncereal) on

Over the past year, Magic Spoon has continued to tinker with everything from packaging to product to its marketing approach. In just the past few weeks, it’s introduced a slightly reformulated recipe with less stevia, so there’s less of an aftertaste. There’s also new packaging that highlights its zero sugar over the previous callouts of high protein and low carbs. Lewis says that insight came from seeing the response to social posts and ads. “We test all this stuff, so when we’re posting on social media or running an ad, we’re testing certain attributes, and the reactions with different sentiments,” says Lewis. “It might be an image with text about high protein, and another post with the same image talking about zero sugar or low carbs, and zero sugar kept bubbling up to the top.”

With popularity comes competition, and Magic Spoon is no longer the only brand pitching a direct-to-consumer, guilt-free junk cereal. At the end of March, HighKey snacks introduced a new line of cereals. Led by former General Mills exec Joe Ens, HighKey’s lineup is available in what it calls “three nostalgic flavors” (Cinnamon, Frosted, and Cocoa), and says its protein cereal “aims to bring consumers back to their childhood.”

Sound familiar?

Lewis says he welcomes the competition as it further normalizes the idea of high-protein, low-carb cereal that still has fun with flavor. In terms of the cereal market overall, he thinks Magic Spoon isn’t taking market share away from traditional cereal, but rather adding to it by bringing new customers back to the category. “Many of our customers weren’t eating cereal before we came along,” he says. “Maybe they did years ago, then stopped and instead started eating Greek yogurt or smoothies or oatmeal, or any number of healthy breakfast alternatives. So I think a lot of our growth has come from other categories, bringing them back to cereal, and I think it’s helping to build the cereal category as a whole.”

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A note to our community. ❤️

A post shared by Magic Spoon (@magicspooncereal) on

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Just as many of us have become more accustomed to videoconferencing than we ever imagined, Lewis sees a similar shift in consumer behavior around buying groceries online. “Obviously there’s been this uptick because of people stuck at home and stocking up, and we’re under no illusion of that lasting forever,” he says. “But there are people buying food online right now who just didn’t before all this. I don’t think all that is just going to go away, and a good portion of those people will continue to do it once this is all over.”

Despite its early success, don’t expect Magic Spoon to start expanding into other snacks. “We’re working on a bunch of new flavors,” says Lewis. “But other than that, we’re just focused on making great cereal.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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