Lacrosse star Rob Pannell could be first athlete voted to be on front of Wheaties box

Workout-based voting system, athlete choice show that General Mills is seeking younger demographic

  • Lacrosse All-Star Rob Pannell is one of five athletes who could be the first publicly voted to appear on the front of the Wheaties box. So we took a quick stab at what that might look like.
Lacrosse All-Star Rob Pannell is one of five athletes who could… (Baltimore Sun )
July 02, 2014|By Jon Fogg | The Baltimore Sun

I'm old enough to remember that it was a big deal when athletes were chosen to grace the front of a Wheaties box, yet I've never eaten a flake of it.

General Mills would like to change that. The company has unveiled a promotion that, for the first time in the 90-year history of Wheaties, will allow the public to choose who's going on the iconic orange carton.

The selection of athletes and the methodology show how General Mills is skewing younger with this promotion, the Wheaties Next Challenge. Lacrosse, the fastest-growing sport at the college and high school levels, gets a nod -- Rob Pannell, a former Cornell All-American and now a star with Major League Lacrosse's New York Lizards, is one of the five athletes up for the vote. The others are motocross star Ryan Dungey, para-athlete Blake Leeper, mixed martial artist Anthony "Showtime" Pettis and U.S. women's national soccer team player Christen Press. All five already had sponsorship deals with Wheaties; in December, Pannell appeared on a billboard in New York's Times Square.

For a company that has been putting athletes on its packaging for the past 80 years, this contest is a major break from the past. So, too, is the voting method, which is a clear appeal to a younger demographic. In order to cast a ballot, you have to register with MapMyFitness through its website or mobile app.

According to Wheaties, "every workout logged will count as one vote for the selected athlete (up to two workouts of 30 minutes or more can be logged each day)."

That's a pretty rigorous procedure, especially compared to mouse-clicking contests like the MLB All-Star balloting, which this year allows fans to vote up to 35 times each.

It's also interesting considering that cereals like Wheaties aren't exactly regarded as the healthiest breakfast, according to at least one former national Personal Trainer of the Year.

Sales of Wheaties have plummeted in recent decades, with the cereal seemingly stuck between demographics. Wheaties, which in the 1960s accounted for about 6.5 percent of all U.S. cereal sold, are now somewhere around 0.5 to 1 percent of the market. And the breakfast marketplace is more crowded than ever

At the 2002 X Games, former Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg asked snowboarder Danny Kass how he felt about the chance to appear on a Wheaties box. 

His answer: "I don't think I've ever eaten Wheaties in my whole life. If I was on something like that, I'd probably want it to be like Count Chocula or something cool."

And keep in mind that was 12 years ago. 

Regardless, the Wheaties Next Challenge runs through Aug. 31, and you can look for the winner on the shelf at your local grocery store early next year.

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