Lance Archibald is a 21st century CEO with all the right credentials: Harvard Business School, of course, via BYU, where he played basketball. He worked at Snapfish and Logoworks before joining his current cutting edge transformative technology company, Homestat Farm, turning abandoned urban industrial spaces into hydroponic gardens growing organic, artisanal produce for …
Just kidding: Homestat Farms owns Maypo, the 68-year-old hot cereal, which is why I sought him out. I’ve been shoveling warm, delicious Maypo Instant Maple Oatmeal into my eager maw for over half a century.
Maypo had disappeared from shelves at my local Sunset Foods. Must be a restocking issue, I told myself. The intense, cult-like popularity of classic, comforting Maypo must make it difficult to keep in stock.
But time passed, and nourishing, nostalgic Maypo wasn’t returning. I did something completely out-of-character: I asked a manager at Sunset to stock the stuff. “If you carry it, I’ll buy it,” I promised.
So — mirabile dictu — they did. A dozen boxes appeared on the shelf. I bought one, enjoyed a bowl the way I like it, doctored with wheat germ, bran and a tablespoon of real maple syrup to enhance the maple effect.
But I can only eat so much. The rest of those boxes just sit there, reprimanding me. I feel responsible for Maypo, though I’m really not. Lance Archibald is. How did he get himself into this predicament?
“I bought this business about four and a half years ago from a gentleman in his late 60s, looking to retire,” Archibald, 44, told me. “When I looked at this business, I saw a category, the hot cereal category, that is growing, due to health trends, as people get away from cold cereal. I saw this brand, these brands — we also own Wheatena and Maltex — that have a really passionate customers base.”
We are passionate, about hot cereal anyway. But we’re also aging. Even when we were young, we needed persuading — the premise of the famous “I want my Maypo!” commercial was kids refusing to eat oatmeal. So what’s going on now with Maypo?
“We certainly face challenges for shelf space,” said Archibald, noting that Chicagoans are particularly negligent when it comes to eating our share of smooth, satisfying Maypo. “We’re not nearly as strong there as along the East Coast and New England. Our home turf is New England. I’ve been working hard to expand that. We’ve had successes. Quaker Oats controls a lot of shelf space.”
The name of the game is brand expansion. Supermarkets offer a kudzu-like spectrum of flavors of Quaker Instant: apples and cinnamon, maple and brown sugar, peanut butter and honey, pumpkin spice, since Halloween is almost a month away, not to mention protein, antioxidants, gluten free.
“They’re looking to create a billboard,” he said. “You just have one Maypo.”
If you’re lucky.
Homestat Farm has been trying to play that game, introducing “Vermont Style” Maypo, which is creamier, and Maypo with Quinoa, which is just wrong. No new commercials though.
“We can’t afford something like that; we’re a small business,” said Archibald. “From a marketing budget standpoint, they can offer more than we can. We’ve recently refreshed the brand, tried to stay true to Marky. [Maypo’s cartoon kid mascot]. We’ve improved the imagery and the package, tried to make it more modern and fresh.”
That is worrisome. The reason Maypo dug such a deep groove in my brain — besides the fact that I remember making the boxes into robots — is it was so heavily-advertised. Not just the 1950s animation, but the 1967 campaign, where sports stars like Mickey Mantle, Wilt Chamberlain and Johnny Unitas cried —literally, weeping, or pretending to — that they want their Maypo. “The delectable oatmeal that heroes cry for.”
A campaign, I would be remiss not to mention, reprised 15 years later, when the big cable companies refused to carry an upstart, 24-hour-a-day music channel called MTV. it responded by goading rock stars like Mick Jagger — who had no trouble adopting the tone of a petulant child — crying, “I want my MTV!”
Enough. We can’t preserve childhood, but most like to hold onto a relic or two. A single blue Tootsie Toy car, salvaged from time’s obliterating hand, sits on my desk. I’m hoping to keep a particular hot cereal as well, and appreciate Lance Archibald’s efforts on my behalf.