a group of donuts on a wooden table

It’s often said that there are two kinds of people in this world — those who enjoy the taste of Cheerios, and those who have properly-functioning taste buds. It’s a source of constant bewilderment to this author that plain Cheerios are the best selling cereal in America with over $300 million in annual sales when clearly its taste is deficient.

Even many Cheerios enthusiasts can’t coherently explain why they like Cheerios, including this Cheerios lover who resorted to asking Yahoo Answers for help articulating why she likes the cereal (edited for grammar): 

Why do Cheerios taste good and why does air not? Cheerios don’t taste like anything, and neither does air. So why do Cheerios taste yummy and air doesn’t? 

That’s a good question, Momosaur13. There is a lively debate online about whether Cheerios taste good, but it suffers from a lack of quantitative evidence. So, is there any data out there that could show that Cheerios taste bad, or at least reveal that people prefer not to eat them if they have alternatives?

You could run a test. Give people a bunch of a cereals to choose from, and see how often they choose the box of plain Cheerios versus alternative cereals. It turns out, that’s what we’ve inadvertently been doing thousands of times for the last year in the Priceonomics office kitchen.

We provide several cereals, and restock them when they run out. Somewhere along the line, someone added plain Cheerios to the mix, so people have had the choice of eating Cheerios every day for a while now. 

All our cereal ordering history for the last year was available through our grocery delivery service, Instacart. Through this history we can see which cereals were getting gobbled up such that we’d need to repurchase more, and which weren’t. Are people actually eating the Cheerios we have around the office or will they always choose something else? We’re only modestly sized team, so the sample size is limited, but you already get the idea that this is more of a “silly analysis” than science. 

Here is the ranking of how many cereal boxes have been consumed in our office this year, by type of cereal:

chart, bar chart

Over the course of the year, Honey Bunches of Oats has emerged as the clear favorite, followed by Golden Grahams and Kellogg’s Special K with Red Berries. Those are some delicious cereals!

Cheerios, however, places dead last. In fact, it’s the only cereal we’ve ever purchased where we have yet to consume a full box. It turns out, we always have Cheerios in the office because we purchased a box on July 23, 2013, and no one has finished it 9 months later. 

Only 20% of the Cheerios in this box is left. But that is mainly because when we forget to order more cereal, the forsaken Cheerios box will be the only option, leaving Priceonomics employees the unenviable choice of eating Cheerios, or altogether skipping breakfast. If another cereal is available, pretty much no Priceonomics employee will choose to eat Cheerios.

a can of food and a box on a shelf

The box of Cheerios in the Priceonomics office that seems to last forever.

The Kashi Go Lean cereal box lasted a long time too, but we finally stomached it down when we figured out that it mixed well with Nutella chocolate spread. You might chastise us for preferring more sugary cereals, but if you’re being health conscious, you probably shouldn’t eat factory-produced, processed foods for breakfast anyways, right? 

So there you have it. If people are given the choice to eat any cereal they want, they’ll eat anything but Cheerios. We’ve run this test for hundreds of days and thousands of bowls of cereal, and pretty much no one ever picks the box of Cheerios. We consider this to be definitive proof that we think Cheerios taste gross.

This has been another installment of “you can use statistics to show anything, especially your weird biases against random things.”

This post was written by Rohin Dhar. His wife is a big Cheerios fan so there might be some difficult conversations at home tonight. Follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.