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Friday, August 28, 2015

Is Cereal a Rip-off?

Is Cereal a Rip-Off?

Today, I will look at the value of a box of cereal.  How much food are you getting?  Corn Pops are very simple, so it is easy to figure out how much corn is in a box of Corn Pops.  Is cereal a rip-off, or a good deal?

 How Much Corn Is in This Box of Cereal?
How Much Corn Is in This Box of Cereal?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Corn Pops Really Are Popped!

I made an interesting discovery yesterday while eating breakfast cereal with my kids.  I did a little research, which involved reading the back of a Kellogg's Corn Pops box.  Did you know Corn Pops are actually "popped" corn?  I always thought that corn pops was made from corn flour and shaped through extrusion or something like that.

If you look closely at the corn pops, it make sense that they are puffed up corn kernels.  The back of the box says the corn kernels are cracked in half and then "popped".  Then some sugar is added, of course.

Corn Pops are "popped" corn!
Corn Pops are "popped" corn!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Eating something that is literally a whole grain seems pretty healthy, and the fact that Corn Pops are sweetened using sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup seems like a good thing.

How Much Corn Is In A Box of Corn Pops?

Since I am a Penny Pincher, an obvious question comes to mind:  Are Corn Pops a good deal?  People often complain about the high cost of cereal.  Since Corn Pops are simply made from corn, it will be pretty easy to check the cost for the main ingredient in this cereal

It Is Easy to See That Corn Pops Are Puffed Up Corn
It Is Easy to See That Corn Pops Are Puffed Up Corn
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

You can get a 12.5 oz box of Corn Pops for $2.33:  Corn Pops Cereal, 12.5 Ounce

Being from Iowa, I know that corn is selling for about $4 per bushel.  So how big is a bushel?  A bushel is 2150.42 cubic inches or 35.24 liters.  That is a lot of corn for only $4!

My 12.5 oz box of Corn Pops measures 7 7/8 inches wide by 12 3/16 inches high by 2 5/16 inches deep.  This works out to a volume of  221.95 cubic inches.  I'll be generous and assume that the entire volume of the box is filled with Corn Pops, even thought there is some packing inefficiency.

So even before considering that the Corn Pops cereal is puffed up, the cost of corn to fill a box of cereal would be $4 x (221.95 / 2150.42) = 41.3 cents.

I would estimate the the Corn Pops are increased in volume by at least a factor of 2 after they are "popped".  Since less corn is required, this would bring the cost of the corn to make a $2.33 box of Corn Pops down to only 20 cents!

Based on this, it is clear that cereal has a pretty significant mark-up.  I understand that processing the corn and sugar into cereal, packaging it, and transporting it costs money and this cost is reflected in the price.  But a mark-up of about 10x does seem pretty steep.

On the other hand, paying $2.33 for a relatively healthy box of cereal seems like a pretty good deal compared with other food that you could buy.  So is cereal a rip-off?  I'm going to strike a compromise:  I'll keep buying Corn Pops, but I'll complain about how expensive they are!


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