Released earlier this month to much fanfare (not to mention questions about which bus ran over Alex Ovechkin’s face), Ovi O’s is a limited-edition breakfast cereal that honors the Washington Capitals’ captain and raises money for the Children’s Cancer Foundation.
Giant Food officially debuted the cereal on Sept. 17, the date of Ovechkin’s 34th birthday, and just a couple of weeks before the start of the NHL season on Oct. 2. As an omen for the upcoming season, Ovi O’s would seem to augur something sweet for the Capitals. Or something that borders on fantasy. Or maybe something retrograde and unoriginal. Ovi O’s can be interpreted in any number of ways.
Let’s start with the obvious: Ovi O’s is a clear homage to (or, less charitably, a rip-off of) Cheerios, specifically a riff on the brand’s honey-nut variation. If you’re going to copy someone, I guess it makes sense to copy the best: The Cheerios products are the top two sellers in America. No doubt Giant Food could not resist drawing a connection between Ovi and the puffy Os floating in your cereal bowl. I supposed O-Chex-kins was too much of a mouthful to sell.
There’s something so overly optimistic about Ovi O’s that it approaches fantasy. As both a marketing device and fundraising tool, Ovi O’s are swimming against the tide. Sales of breakfast cereals are down 6 percent from five years earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported this summer. What’s more, recent reports have indicated kids just aren’t into cereal anymore, due to its poor value, its poor nutrition or the fact that parents treat sugar-laden cereals as the Antichrist.
The image of young Caps fans clamoring for Ovi O’s — and obsessively reviewing the star’s “Stats & Facts” on the back of the package — seems as quaint and antiquated as a cardboard record pressed into a cereal box. This flagging relationship between cereal and young consumer may explain why Giant added a special Snapchat feature, in which users can use the app to scan the front of the box to reveal an interactive hockey game. You can control an animated Ovechkin as he slaps cereal pucks into a goal.
More than anything, though, I think Giant couldn’t resist the allure of the Wheaties myth, this symbiotic relationship between breakfast cereal and elite athlete, each looking to capitalize on the other’s assets. For generations, Wheaties has relied on Olympic champions, football stars and future Hall of Famers to sell boys and girls on the idea that their athletic greatness begins with a bowl of Wheaties in the morning. (Nevermind that, if those potential superstars were anything like me as kid, they would douse their Wheaties with enough sugar to make them taste like Frosted Flakes.) In return, these athletes would elevate their public image — or “brand” as marketers now like to call it — with their faces plastered on the famous cereal boxes.
You have to give Ovechkin credit for using his cereal-box moment to raise funds for a foundation that, as a Giant news release notes, “is committed to funding locally-based researchers, programs and facilities until every child is assured a healthy future.” Ovi’s a class act.
So how do Ovi O’s taste? Sweet. Really sweet. The side of the box says that Ovi O’s is packed with 12 grams of added sugars per 1 cup serving. For children, depending on their age and dietary needs, that could potentially cover their entire allotment of sugar for the day. This seems less a prescription for athletic success than a one-way ticket to a sugar crash. Which is one reason I dropped this joke on Twitter:
Ovi O’s are available at all 163 Giant Food stores while supplies last. Each box costs $2.69.
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