Kudos to the General Mills corporate blog, which has a fascinating look back at the company’s role in the 1987 Twins World Series (and a timely retrospective as well given that the Twins are honoring the 30-year anniversary of that team this weekend at Target Field).
General Mills, of course, is the Minnesota-based company that produced the iconic Wheaties cereal box with jubilant Twins players celebrating on the front.
*It was the first time an entire sports team was on a Wheaties box. Until then, if there was a sports connection, a single athlete was featured. That dated back to 1934, when Lou Gehrig appeared on the box.
*Production on the boxes started early, and the image that appears on the box is actually the Twins celebrating clinching the American League Championship Series. “Sports enthusiasts know, but the Average Joe wouldn’t know the difference,” David Murphy, who was General Mills’ vice president of Marketing Services in 1987, said of the decision to use that image instead of one from the World Series.
*The main factor, though, was the need for speed. Special Wheaties boxes normally took months to produce, but General Mills wanted to capitalize on the potential World Series buzz. That urgent pace, though, created some logistical issues.
“We produced 5,000 packages and printed them in advance of the World Series — so we had packages that said World Champions before we were, which Major League Baseball was very concerned about. Therefore they had representatives watching the chain of packages to make sure none got out in the public,” Murphy said. “They were sitting highly protected in Cedar Rapids during the World Series. The night we won the seventh game, Cedar Rapids was ready to take the packages and start packing Wheaties in the 5,000 boxes. … They started packing at 11 at night, and as they printed more they sent them. They were in grocery stores the very next day.”
*If the Twins had ended up losing the World Series?
“The biggest issue I remember was how hypersensitive we all were and particularly Major League Baseball was about packages getting out in advance or if we didn’t win because they were already printed. If all the sudden there’s a package out there claiming we’re the world champions and they weren’t, that probably would have been worth something. … Literally, had we not won the World Series, those packages were going to be destroyed that night.”
*But the Twins won, of course. Word leaked out that the boxes were on their way to grocery stores, and fans lined up to get them the next day. Murphy said he heard some of the initial cases of boxes “mysteriously disappeared” and never even made it into the stores. But by the time it was done, General Mills had produced 1.6 million boxes of Wheaties celebrating the Twins’ first World Series title. Wheaties had a market share for a couple weeks of 25 percent, Murphy said — at a time when 1 or 1.5 percent was considered good or standard.