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Milking It: Total Cranberry Crunch

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Total Cranberry Crunch General Mills Rating: Two-and-a-half spoons out of four

Cereal description: Brown wheat flakes of the sort that are typically described as "hearty" (presumably because they're supposed to prevent your aorta from exploding), supplemented by wads of oat bits typically described as "oat clusters" (because "wads of oat bits" isn't all that appetizing) and dried cranberries typically described as "dried cranberries" (because that's what they are).

Box description: The current design of the Total box looks like the cover of a magazine along the lines of Martha Stewart Living -- not a coincidence, methinks. The Total logo appears in a reddish bar across the top third of the front, with "100%" and "Nutrition" turning up in smaller side rectangles. These words are asterisked to a note that reads "100% Daily Value of 11 Vitamins & Minerals" just in case consumers might have thought the phrase meant "100% Nutrition For the Rest of Your Life" and decided to never eat again. A bowl of the stuff photographed against a pastel backdrop intended to make diners feel warm and homey is partially obscured by a white-and-blue stripe announcing that Cranberry Crunch sports "The Most Calcium and Vitamin D of Any Leading Cereal!" -- not that it should be eaten without milk. That would be wrong. The side panel opposite the nutrition information contains additional nutrition information -- par for the course on a product that lacks a cartoon mascot. The back, meanwhile, juxtaposes the calcium-and-vitamin-D line with enough small-type advertising copy to fill thirty billboards. I would have read it all, but at the last minute, I remembered that I have a life. Or would like to think I do, anyhow.

Taste: Total's wheat flakes just aren't that exciting. They're supposed to be "lightly sweetened," a phrase that translates to "not sweetened enough" -- and that's certainly the case here. As a result, they're utilitarian, and hold up well in milk, but pack all the punch of overcooked linguine. The oat clusters also fall short in the flavor department, serving mainly as the digestive-system equivalent of packing material. In contrast, the cranberries are delicious: tangy and plump. Problem is, there simply aren't enough of them. If General Mills upped their quantity to the level associated with raisin bran, this cereal would rate much more highly. As it stands, Cranberry Crunch is merely average, although every third or fourth bite is considerably better than that.

Conclusion: Is there a cranberry shortage or something? Scoop in some more!

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