Milking It: Smart Start Toasted Oat

Smart Start Toasted Oat Kellogg's Rating: Two-and-a-half spoons out of four

Cereal description: Heavy, dark oat flakes that ripple and curl like shingles that should have been replaced a few decades earlier. They're supplemented by rolled oats, wheat, rice and God knows what else bound together in light-hued wads that resemble granular meteorites. They're as rare as interstellar projectiles, too -- but at least they're sweet, thank goodness.

Box description: If cereal boxes marketed to adults are boring by nature, those targeted to women in particular take this dullness to the next level. And so it is with Smart Start. The top of the cover features a yellow band decorated with a sunflower graphic and an empowerment rap: "Speaking of Women's Health: Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge." It's reminiscent of a Helen Reddy lyrics -- and I'm not talking about "Delta Dawn." Beneath this stripe is the Smart Start logo, with the "A" in "Smart" and every letter in "Start" other than the "A" colored red, the rest shaded black. The result spells "Smart Start"! Which it already had! Beneath these words is a "Strong Heart" graphic and a description touting "Whole-Grain Oats, Antioxidants & Low Sodium." Next comes a heart-shaped bowl of the stuff accompanied by sliced strawberries -- a longtime Kellogg's gambit that sends a probably unintended message: If you want this stuff to taste better, you'll have to tart it up. Finally, a smaller ribbon announces that "Healthy Heart Original Has a NEW NAME!," over a "Toasted Oat" text block offering a second description: "Lightly sweetened flakes and whole-grain oats and honey oat clusters." Guess even women fearful of suffering cardiacs don't salivate at the mention of "Antioxidants." The side panel opposite the nutrition information echoes the whole blood-pumper focus: It's an ad for $4 prescriptions at Walmart that should go a long way toward "Making heart health even easier!" And the back picks up the Speaking of Women's Health theme again, touting the organization's goal -- "for every woman to live a long and healthy life!" And what about us dudes? Okay if we smoke, drink and keel over at age 35?

Taste: I continue to lament the cereal industry's insistence on stripping the fun from the majority of its offerings. These days, most items aspire to health consciousness, much as Kellogg's cereals did in the early days of the company; back then, the company's products were hyped more for their medicinal properties than for their edibility. Somehow, though, the folks in the Big K test kitchen managed to give this particular variation a decent flavor. The oat clusters smack pleasantly of honey and molasses, as do the flakes, albeit to a lesser degree. In addition, the crunch is firm, snapping when chomped -- but they're not so firm that they beg for a carving knife. Although the combination isn't spectacular, it's more appealing than those brands that essentially equate healthfulness and tastelessness.

Conclusion: Even fellas won't have to fight to choke this stuff down.

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