Remembering Fingos, the Hybrid Cereal-Snack Disappointment of the '90s

General Mills was confident Fingos would be a cereal smash.
General Mills was confident Fingos would be a cereal smash.
Retro Stuff, YouTube

For practically as long as dry, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals have existed, people have been eating them out of the box or using them in alternative recipes like Rice Krispies Treats.

The problem was that not enough people were reaching for cereal at other hours of the day. According to research conducted by General Mills in the early 1990s, only 7 percent of those who purchased cereal ate it outside of the breakfast window. The company believed that if more consumers could be persuaded to snack on cereal throughout the day, then maybe General Mills could finally outpace the Kellogg Company as the most dominant cereal manufacturer on the market.

After years of research and development, General Mills introduced their secret weapon in 1993. It was called Fingos, a hexagon-shaped cereal that consumers were encouraged to eat with their hands.

The snack vs. cereal conundrum

Superficially, there was little about Fingos that made it any more of a snack than a cereal. The irregularly-shaped pieces—available in either a toasted honey nut or cinnamon flavor—had roughly the same nutritional and ingredient profile of typical lightly-sweetened cereals. Slightly larger than a corn flake but smaller than a potato chip, Fingos could wind up in milk just as easily as any other kind of cereal. The difference was that General Mills wanted buyers to eat it dry.

It was a “cereal made to eat with your fingers,” according to ad copy, part of a campaign that cost General Mills $34 million—making it one of the largest promotions ever for a cereal launch.

“We’re breaking the traditional bounds of advertising cereal because we’re trying to break the bounds of how people use cereal,” Barry Davis, then the marketing manager for General Mills’ Big G cereals, told The New York Times.

In pushing Fingos as a dry snack, the hope was that it could surmount a market trend of consumers skipping breakfast or opting for healthier foods like yogurt. General Mills felt that giving consumers permission to dive into the box the other 23-odd hours of the day would help offset early-morning avoidance of cereals.

invading the snack market

While breakfast may have been a problematic market, it was still a lucrative one. At the time, the dry cereal industry was worth $8 billion annually, with more than 210 cereals on shelves vying for the attention of 97 out of 100 households who purchased boxes for their pantries. If a new product could capture just 1 percent of that market share, it would still be an $80 million success story and likely enough to vault General Mills and its 29.5 market share over Kellogg, which owned 37 percent.

To increase the chances of Fingos taking off, General Mills designed a package that was wider on top to accommodate hands reaching inside. They also sold Fingos in single-serving packs in vending machines, a snack space typically reserved for potato chips and the like. The box itself featured a wide and smiling face that was animated for commercials, with voice actor Steve Mackall channeling Robin Williams as the Genie in 1992’s Aladdin.

“How wholesome am I?” the Fingos “spokes-box” asked. “Read my hips,” it said, aggressively shoving its nutritional information out at the viewer.

While Fingos was a modest 110 calories and 3 grams of fat per 1-ounce serving, General Mills opted not to market it as a healthy snack, as the market was already glutted with them. Instead, they felt the snack-cereal hybrid approach made Fingos stand out. In focus group testing, it seemed to work, too. Just 1 percent of respondents decided to pair it with milk.

Got milk?

But focus testing is one thing. The real world is another. When Fingos rolled out nationally beginning in the spring of 1993, consumers didn’t know what to make of it. If it was a snack, shouldn’t it have been located in the snack aisle? If it was a cereal, why try to compare it to chips?

Perhaps the most problematic component of Fingos was that consumers didn’t need permission to eat cereal dry and directly out of the box. That urge existed for practically every kind of cereal. Downplaying the appeal of Fingos in milk didn’t make it any more attractive as a snack.

Fingos bombed, eating its $34 million marketing budget whole and leaving only crumbs for General Mills, which had more or less abandoned the product by 1994. Fortunately, they had something else in the pipeline: Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs, a hit that still sells to this day under the shortened name of Reese's Puffs.

Fingos, incidentally, had an unfortunate translation when uttered in Hungarian. Fing means fart, lending the snack the label of farto should it ever be sold in that country.

Slap Happy: The Slap Bracelet Phenomenon of 1990

Slap Wraps bracelets swept the nation in the fall of 1990.
Slap Wraps bracelets swept the nation in the fall of 1990.
Yvonne Hemsey, Getty Images

In the fall of 1990, as elementary schools around the country were still reeling from the great Bart Simpson T-shirt ban of the previous academic year, teachers and administrators were confronted with another distracting fad. As instructors wrote on blackboards and admonished students to open books, they were frustrated by a steady percussion of steel slapping against skin. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

The noise echoed throughout homerooms and school cafeterias, playgrounds and bus trips. Millions of kids had discovered Slap Wraps, the brand name for a 9-inch piece of stainless steel covered in decorative fabric that enveloped the user's wrist with one quick motion. Part toy and part fashion statement, kids found them irresistible. Educators, meanwhile, found them intolerable. Some schools banned them, but not solely due to distraction—knock-offs bracelets had sharp edges and cheap fabric that left some students in literal stitches.

 

Slap Wraps were the invention of Stuart Anders, a Fort Prairie, Wisconsin, native who graduated from college with a degree in education in 1983. Teaching jobs were hard to come by at the time, so Anders took on substitute positions and coached sports.

Sitting down at his mother’s sewing table one day, Anders pulled out a self-rolling tape measure, which curled up with the flick of his wrist, and began fidgeting with it. He thought it would make a cool bracelet, provided someone covered the steel in fabric.

He called the company who made the tape measure, but they were no longer manufacturing it. Anders didn’t know what else to do. While he thought the idea of a snap bracelet could be successful, he didn’t have the money or other resources to commit to producing them himself. But he kept the prototype on his steering wheel.

Later, he wound up enlisting in the National Guard, where he learned to fly helicopters. After that he moved to Florida and began working for a local apparel company. The bracelet had never left his truck.

One day, Anders ran into a man named Philip Bart, who just happened to be an agent for toy designers. Anders, who couldn’t quite believe his luck, ran outside to fetch the bracelet. He clamped it around Bart’s wrist. Thwack.

Bart was sold. Now he just needed to sell someone else.

Bart approached all the big toy companies with the slap bracelet idea, but they rebuffed him. The reason? They weren't interested in investing time and money in a product that amounted to little more than a trinket that would have a low retail price. But Bart found a receptive audience in Eugene Murtha, who had just opened Main Street Toy Company in Simsbury, Connecticut, in 1988. Murtha, a former vice president of Coleco during that company’s Cabbage Patch Kid craze, immediately saw the potential in Anders's invention. He agreed to distribute Slap Wraps, paying Bart and Anders royalties.

Bart and Anders rushed to make prototype bracelets in time for 1990's American International Toy Fair in New York City. The bracelets were the talk of the trade show, and Murtha secured a 250,000-unit order from KB Toys. But there were issues: Murtha appeared ill-equipped to handle the manufacturing end, leaving Bart to start up Main Street Industries and produce the bracelets, which he would then turn around and sell to Main Street Toy Company. It was not a smooth process, as the thickness and quality of the rounded-edge steel had to be adjusted from 0.004 inches to 0.006 inches to ensure the steel wouldn’t protrude from the double-knit fabric, which meant that producing the bracelets took longer than expected. Murtha anticipated a shipment that April, but the Slap Wraps weren’t ready until the summer of 1990.

In the interim, Bart was annoyed that Murtha had permitted some of the prototypes to escape his grasp at Toy Fair, allowing for a rash of knock-offs to appear on store shelves before the Slap Wraps were even released. These versions typically used carbon steel, which rusted easily, and lower-quality fabric, which allowed the steel to become exposed and created opportunity for injury.

Those dangers weren’t understood until Slap Wraps and their Taiwan-produced counterparts began taking off in the fall. Popularized by word-of-mouth, kids scooped up the bracelets and proceeded to turn them into a school fad, slapping the neon-colored accessories against themselves all day long. The New York Times described them as “a Venetian blind with an attitude.”

The disruptiveness of the bracelets (both the noise and the fact that kids were playing while they were supposed to be listening) and the reports of injury—4-year-old Nicole Tomaso of Wallingford, Connecticut, cut her finger on one—led some schools to take action. The bracelets were banned at Colonial School and Siwanoy School in New York after a child was cut at West Orchard Elementary School in Chappaqua, New York. Lehigh Township Elementary School in Pennsylvania banned them on the grounds they were distracting. Steckel Elementary School in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, instituted a no-bracelet-slapping rule. Others asked teachers to inspect the bracelets for frayed edges. A recall of the foreign versions was implemented in Connecticut by the state’s Department of Consumer Protection. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission advised parents to inspect the bracelets for frayed edges.

The controversy bothered Murtha, who repeatedly told press that the injuries were the result of the cheap imports, not the brand-name Slap Wraps. Although Main Street Toy Company had moved 1 million of the bracelets for $2.50 each in just three months and had orders for 5 million more, it was estimated that 10 to 15 million counterfeit versions had been sold, some for as little as $.70 each.

 

As the fad began to flame out toward the end of 1990, Bart and Murtha started finger-pointing. Bart criticized Murtha for allowing the bracelets to be taken at Toy Fair, which led to the rash of knock-off products. Bart believed that had Murtha not been so careless, they could have made $25 million in sales instead of $4 million. He also claimed Murtha had gone to another manufacturer, leaving him with unsold inventory. Murtha countered that Bart had taken too long with production, missing spring delivery goals, and kept raising the price of the bracelets. Plans for slap ponytail bracelets and slap anklets fell by the wayside.

It got uglier. Bart and Anders had not received royalty payments from sales of the Slap Wraps, with both sides contending different interpretations of contracts that had been signed in 1990. Bart and Anders moved to terminate the licensing agreement. Murtha sued, and the legal dispute went to arbitration in 1991. While the arbitrator found fault with both parties, the net sum of money owed fell at the feet of Murtha, who was wrist-slapped for $751,309. Main Street Toy Company was all but insolvent, however, and no payment would be forthcoming. Bart contended he had lost $1 million in manufacturing costs and had 2.5 million Slap Wraps in a warehouse that would never sell, as kids had already moved on to the next thing.

Murtha went on to positions at Mattel and Gund and later reconciled with Anders, who had more success with inventing a tool socket holder he sold to Sears.

Different manufacturers have tackled the slap bracelet phenomenon over the years, but nagging safety problems still remain. In 2017, bracelets adorned with Troll dolls and packaged with a storybook were recalled due to a risk of laceration from exposed edges. So were bracelets made by Yumark Industries and sold at Target in 2018. For better or worse, Anders’s invention continues to leave a mark on pop culture.

11 Book Series From Your Childhood You May Not Have Realized Are Still Releasing Books

Magic tree houses and minivans are both known to transport kids to soccer games on Sundays.
Magic tree houses and minivans are both known to transport kids to soccer games on Sundays.
Random House Kids, YouTube

You may have graduated to reading character-driven family dramas and gritty, atmospheric mysteries, but there’s a good chance today’s kids are still reaching for some of the same book series you loved during your own childhood—in recent releases, however, the characters are more likely to connect to Wi-Fi than they used to be. From literal-minded housemaid Amelia Bedelia to the perennially popular girl detective Nancy Drew, here are 11 decades-old book series that are still going strong.

1. Magic Tree House

magic tree house narwhal on a sunny night
Jack and Annie may be the most well-traveled characters in children's literature.
Penguin Random House/Amazon

Mary Pope Osborne has been teaching children about history, mystery, and magic ever since the 1992 publication of Dinosaurs Before Dark, in which Annie and her older brother, Jack, first stumble upon the strange tree house that whisks them away to a different era each time they step inside. Over the course of nearly 30 years of adventures, they’ve braved about every natural disaster imaginable, crossed paths with historical heavyweights like Shakespeare and Ben Franklin, and completed captivating missions for Merlin the magician and Morgan Le Fay. In Narwhal on a Sunny Night, released earlier this year, the tree house deposits the heroes in Greenland, where they happen upon a certain hunter by the name of Leif Erikson.

2. Goosebumps

goosebumps slappyworld book
Slappy rocks a red bow tie better than most evil dummies.
Scholastic/Amazon

If you grew up during the 1990s or early 2000s, hearing the name “R.L. Stine” might just be enough to send a shiver down your spine. The prolific horror writer published his first Goosebumps book in 1992, and has since added more than 130 scary stories to the series and its various spin-offs. His personal favorites are The Haunted Mask—a 1993 tale about an 11-year-old girl who dons a cursed Halloween mask that won’t let her remove it—and anything featuring Slappy, the evil dummy at the center of Stine’s latest spin-off series, Goosebumps SlappyWorld.

3. Amelia Bedelia

amelia bedelia & friends: arise and shine
A young Amelia Bedelia knights her friend with what we hope is a cardboard sword.
HarperCollins

In a world where cliché reigns supreme and the word literal is rarely used literally, Amelia Bedelia continues to remind us that language is cause for confusion—and, more importantly, laughter. The housemaid’s earnest attempts to complete tasks literally are always equal parts hilarious and endearing, from dusting the furniture (covering it in dust) to making a chicken dinner (serving the family a meal of cracked corn). Peggy Parish began the series in 1962, and her nephew Herman has kept it going since her death in 1988. He’s currently releasing novels in a spin-off series called Amelia Bedelia & Friends, which chronicles Amelia’s misadventures as a young girl.

4. The Boxcar Children

boxcar children the power down mystery
The Alden siblings will have to solve this mystery without Googling a thing.
Albert Whitman & Co./Amazon

Without the continued prevalence of The Boxcar Children, kids these days might not even know what a boxcar actually is. Originally published in 1924, Gertrude Chandler Warner’s first novel about the four orphaned Aldens gained popularity when it was re-released in 1942, and she followed it up with another 18 stories about the children, who, thankfully, no longer lived in a boxcar. There are now more than 150 books in the series, known as The Boxcar Children Mysteries, and, although the characters have 21st-century privileges like internet access and middle school robotics teams, the books have managed to stay true to the old-timey, small-town spirit of Warner’s early editions.

5. The Berenstain Bears

the berenstain bears love is kind
Grizzly Gran reminds her crotchety crew of offspring that manners matter.
Zonderkids/Amazon

Guided by the editorial prowess of none other than Theodor Geisel, Stan and Jan Berenstain published their first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt—originally called Freddy Bear’s Spanking—in 1962. They very nearly pivoted to penguins for their second story, but Geisel advised them to stick with bears since their first one was selling so well. The sometimes heavy-handed moral lessons make the books a little less whimsical than Geisel’s own Dr. Seuss classics, but that hasn’t seemed to diminish their popularity among youngsters. Stan and Jan died in 2005 and 2012, respectively, but the Berenstain Bears series lives on with their son Mike in the writer’s seat. In August, he’ll release The Berenstain Bears: Love Is Kind, in which Grizzly Gran teaches the family how to be polite.

6. Little Critter

little critter goes to school
Little Critter's ability to hold a pencil suggests that he has opposable thumbs.
Penguin Random House

Author, illustrator, and self-identified “big kid” Mercer Mayer (he’s 76) differentiated himself from the Berenstains and other ursine writers by creating a new, unidentified creature of his own. Frizzy-furred, buck-toothed Little Critter first appeared in libraries and bookstores in 1975’s Just For You, and Mayer has steadily churned out book after book in the series ever since. The next story, due out this June, is called Little Critter Goes to School.

7. Nate the Great

nate the great and the wandering word
Nearly 50 years later and Nate the Great remains admirably committed to his deerstalker hat.
Penguin Random House

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat came up with the idea for a series about a boy detective after feeling underwhelmed by Dick and Jane and other popular books her children were finding on the shelves. She published the first novel, Nate the Great, in 1972, and continued releasing new Nate mysteries right up until her death at age 90 in March 2019. The most recent two, Nate the Great and the Missing Birthday Snake and Nate the Great and the Wandering Word, were co-written with her son, Andrew, so it’s possible he’ll take up the mantle for the next generation of Nate fans.

8. If You Give a…

happy valentine's day, mouse! book
Mouse is much more generous than he used to be.
HarperCollins/Amazon

If you gave Laura Numeroff’s Mouse a cookie in 1985, it would’ve taken your small kindness and run with it, asking for milk, napkins, and various other items until you felt like you got played. Thirty-five years and more than a dozen books later, Mouse has gained some better intentions—in Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse!, published in December 2019, he makes personalized valentines that reflect what he loves about his friends.

9. Nancy Drew

nancy drew diaries: famous mistakes
Would you listen to Nancy Drew's boyfriend's podcast?
Simon & Schuster

Publisher Edward Stratemeyer originally came up with the plucky, multi-talented teenage sleuth in the 1930s as a way to make money off young female readers who weren’t buying into The Hardy Boys series. Needless to say, it worked. Ninety years later, Nancy Drew is still a household name to multiple generations, partially because she’s been featured in so many film and television adaptations, and partially because publishers continually update the character for modern audiences. In Famous Mistakes, the 17th book in Simon & Schuster’s current Nancy Drew Diaries series, for example, Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned, interviews a comedian for his podcast “NedTalks.”

10. The Hardy Boys

hardy boys adventures: a treacherous tide
Frank and Joe Hardy shred gnarly waves in the name of shark rights.
Simon & Schuster/Amazon

Not to be outdone by their sharp-witted little sister, so to speak, Frank and Joe Hardy have kept up with 21st-century trends, too. Action in the Hardy Boys Adventures—another Simon & Schuster enterprise—includes riding ATVs, trying to clear the name of an anonymous street artist-slash-activist, and acting as extras in a zombie film. In A Treacherous Tide, hitting stores on June 23, 2020, the brothers head to the Florida Keys to help protect the shark population.

11. Spot the Dog

find spot at the stadium book
Judging by the cover, it may be less of a stadium and more of a sports multiplex.
Penguin Random House/Amazon

The publication of Eric Hill’s iconic lift-the-flap book Where’s Spot? in 1980 was the beginning of a beautiful, 40-year-long string of adorable books about a small, spotted yellow puppy with a smile that can turn any person into a dog lover. Hill, who often called himself “Spot’s Dad,” died in 2014, but Spot is still embarking on new adventures just about everywhere—you can find him at the stadium this spring and at a Halloween party in the fall.

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