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Furious millennial moms would rather make their own cereal than buy Kellogg’s after CEO’s ‘cereal for dinner’ comment spurs boycott

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In preparation for a boycott against cereal goliath Kellogg’s, TikToker Mandy Donley said, Let them eat flakes.

The 31-year-old home baker is milling her own corn to make homemade Corn Flakes, a Kellogg’s product dupe, and posted a TikTok of the recipe—as well as a call to action to boycott the snack food conglomerate.

https://www.tiktok.com/@rocketman_dee/video/7343290937612766506

WK Kellogg CEO Gary Pilnick said in a Feb. 21 CNBC interview that cash-strapped families should eat “cereal for breakfast” as a way to save money.

“The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure,” he said.

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While the phrase has been used in Kellogg’s marketing for years, it’s rubbed consumers the wrong way amid inflation-induced grocery cost increases—which were 5% higher in 2023 than the year before. Even as inflation rates level off, prices of food and drink basics have stayed high.

“There's this mega corporation boasting about all their profits that they've been making, and they continue to raise their prices,” Donley told Fortune. “And then they have the nerve to go and tell people, ‘Well, if you're struggling to feed your families, buy our products.’”

WK Kellogg has remained resilient in a time of decreased consumer spending, relying on cereal mainstays like Froot Loops and Corn Flakes to energize profits. The company has benefited from price increases, seeing a fourth-quarter price/mix increase of 7.5%, despite a 10% drop in volume. Top brass Pilnick makes $1 million annually as a base salary, with an additional $4 million coming from incentive compensation, according to an SEC filing. The cereal industry is generally going strong: General Mills is projected to beat earnings estimates ahead of its March 20 earnings report.

Seeing WK Kellogg reap the rewards of raising prices has incited plenty of online anger. Pilnick’s LinkedIn post following his CNBC interview was flooded with critical comments, and TikTok has begun to organize a boycott of Kellogg’s products for the second fiscal quarter starting April 1. The #boycottkelloggs tag has over 18.5 million views on the app, and the efforts have spurred the creation of letthemeatcereal.info, a website outlining the purpose and demands of the boycott, which include a 25% decrease in Kellogg’s brand prices and the removal of “harmful chemicals” from the products. The boycott includes products from both WK Kellogg and Kellanova, two independent companies that split from Kellogg Company in 2023.

WK Kellogg and Kellanova did not respond to Fortune’s requests for comment.

Donley is among several online creators taking the boycott in a novel direction, posting how-tos for homemade breakfast alternatives in support of the boycott, including Rice Crispies, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Cookie Crisp (though the latter two are produced by General Mills, not WK Kellogg).

As a mom trying to keep processed food out of her home, Donley began milling her own grains for home bakes about two years ago. It was part of a greater curiosity with the homestead movement, and an effort to “to get back to [her] roots and where [her] food comes from.” Her TikTok account, with over 38,000 followers, documents her lifestyle and recipes. For Donley, the decision to add a political bent to her videos and endorse the boycott was a natural progression. Making her food from scratch was a way to regain agency over where her food comes from.

“We as citizens and consumers have really lost control over everything,” she said. “We're just kind of subjected to whatever these big corporations want us to be subjected to for them to make a better bottom line. People just want to take their power back.”

Though word of the boycott has quickly spread online, analysts warn it may not have its intended effect.

‘Boycotts are a very blunt instrument’

While a noble action, boycotts have not always been effective in getting corporations to meet consumer demands, Tyson Browning, professor of operations management at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, told Fortune.

“Boycotts are a very blunt instrument, and when people have a grief with, say, a CEO, then choose to boycott an entire company, there's naturally a lot of collateral damage that they may or may not intend,” Browning said.

Kellogg is certainly familiar with this effect. In 2021, workers from four Kellogg’s cereal plants went on strike for three months after benefits and pay disputes were not resolved at the bargaining table. Consumers organized a Kellogg’s product boycott on the r/antiwork subreddit to support the workers. Though the boycotts may have put greater pressure on Kellogg to meet worker demands, Browning argued, the sudden drop off in sales could have pushed Kellogg to opt for a quick fix. The company laid off 1,400 of its striking workers.

While conservative boycotts of Bud Light and Target saw both falter in sales, Bud Light parent Anheuser-Busch InBev grew revenue last quarter after raising prices. Target has stumbled dramatically, but that’s likely due to people cutting back on discretionary products, of which Target provides plenty, not boycotts, Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, told Fortune.

And there’s more bad news for frustrating consumers, Saunders said: Prices aren’t coming down anytime soon. The Consumer Price Index for final demand rose 0.6% last month, an indication that inflation is still creeping up. The index for processed foods and feeds rose 0.3 percent. While prices aren’t coming down, inflation is stabilizing, meaning buyers shouldn’t expect to see drastic price hikes.

“Prices will still remain reasonably high, although I think we're not going to see prices keep going up like they have done over the past couple of years,” Saunder said. “That's sort of behind us, including for Kellogg's.”

Even as inflation levels out, there’s other factors impacting the price of food, tying Kellogg’s hands when it comes to lowering prices.

“The cost of transportation has gone up; the cost of labor has gone up," Saunders said. “Kellogg's has faced price increases for its own production, in the same way that other companies have faced price increases, and it's passed some of those increases across to consumers.”

Food companies are contending with labor shortages forcing them to increase wages—Chipotle said they will increase the price of burritos after the passage of a California law raising minimum wage to $20. Supply shortages, such as for sugar and cocoa, will force price increases for Oreos and Ritz, and grocery stores may want to nudge customers towards their own cheaper private brands by keeping name brand costs higher.

There’s still pressure for Kellogg and other grocery conglomerates to keep their prices in check, Saunders argues. Walmart and other discount retailers are aware of consumers’ sensitivity to rising costs and will want to keep their affordable reputations. But companies are paying attention to volumes and sales numbers to set prices, not online noise.

“A lot of these boycotts are not based on rationality,” Saunders said. “They're very gut-based reactions to things, and I don't think that the people asking for a boycott really want to have a debate with Kellogg's about the nuance of pricing or whether cereal is good to have for dinner.”

But despite not being the most efficient tool for consumers, there’s not much else they can do to make their voices heard, Browning said. Choosing which products to buy and avoid is still the consumer’s greater super power.

“We're always choosing what we do and don't want to buy, and I think we should definitely vote with our pocketbooks in that way,” he said.

For Donley, a home baker and mom who feels passionately about where her food comes from, a boycott still has its noble sheen: “I support anybody who's willing to stand up for what they believe in, especially when it affects the greater good.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com