Gold medal cereal-box duel

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2012 - 9:00 PM

Olympians Michael Phelps and Misty May-Treanor will adorn Wheaties boxes. Gymnast Gabby Douglas sticks a landing for Kellogg.

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Über swimmer Michael Phelps, with his 22 Olympic medals, swims back to General Mills, maker of Wheaties, whose packaging he first adorned after the 2004 Games in Athens. After 2008’s Games in Beijing, though, he was lured away by Kellogg. Gold medalist May-Treanor finished the London games as one of the most decorated Olympians in beach volleyball history.

At least Wheaties got Michael Phelps back.

The medal-heavy Phelps and legendary beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor are the 2012 Olympians who will grace Wheaties' boxes, Minnesota's homegrown cereal maker General Mills said Thursday.

But as the Olympic edition of Wheaties rolls out next month, a cereal spin-off -- Wheaties Fuel -- will be on its way out of stores, the victim of slow sales.

Wheaties has been heavily associated with sports marketing since it was created in the 1920s, and athletes have been featured on its boxes since the 1930s. Famous U.S. Olympians such as Mary Lou Retton, Bruce Jenner and Sarah Hughes all have made appearances.

Phelps debuted on a Wheaties box after his first Olympics, the 2004 games in Athens. But with the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Michigan-based Kellogg made a particularly aggressive run at Olympic marketing.

It scored an exclusive deal with Phelps -- the darling of the Beijing games -- to grace the box of its venerable Corn Flakes.

While not quite repeating his 2008 feat this year in London, Phelps still amassed four more gold medals and two silver medals. That brought his career total to 22, including 18 golds, and makes him the most-decorated Olympian in history.

Meanwhile, gold medalist May-Treanor finished the London games as one of the most decorated Olympians in beach volleyball history.

But Gabby Douglas, gold medalist in women's all-around gymnastics, was arguably the U.S. star of the London games. And rival Kellogg scooped her up earlier this month in an exclusive deal for its Corn Flakes box. Ditto for the entire U.S. gymnastics team, which won a gold in the team competition.

Jim Wilson, Wheaties marketing manager, declined to comment on Wheaties' athlete selection process. But with Phelps and May-Treanor, Wheaties got athletes who had "two of the biggest groundbreaking performances in their careers." The Olympic-themed cereal boxes will be available nationally next month.

General Mills heavily relied on famous athletes to promote Wheaties Fuel after it was created in 2009. The cereal maker tried building the brand around such stars as quarterback Peyton Manning and basketball star Kevin Garnett.

The cereal "has a lot of loyal fans," Wilson said. But it didn't catch on well enough, and will be phased out by the end of 2012.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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