x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sainsbury's the cereal killers

Cereal in a cardboard box could be on its way out as manufacturers look to more environmentally sensible packaging.

Even little boxes like these might become a thing of the past.
Even little boxes like these might become a thing of the past.

Fancy a nice refreshing bowl of crispy cornflakes for breakfast? Or how about a bowl of corn dust? Well that's what you might have to settle for if cereal producers worldwide follow the lead of a British supermarket chain. Last week, Sainsbury's announced that it would be doing away with its cardboard cereal boxes and replacing them with recyclable plastic bags, rather like the packets that potato crisps come in.

The move comes in a bid to cut down on unnecessary packaging and therefore save our planet from environmental meltdown. And it's thought that breakfast cereal big hitters like Kellogg's are considering doing the same. But can a cardboard cereal box really be deemed unnecessary? Of all the preposterous packaging on our supermarket shelves, surely the cereal box is one of the most practical and justified. For over a century it has protected such delicate cereals as Sugar Puffs, Rice Krispies and Weetabix from a severe pounding on the way home from the supermarket by other, more robust groceries such as bottles of pop, family-sized tins of baked beans and giant watermelons. It has flat surfaces and a hardy base that can be positioned securely on the breakfast table, so even when faced with the desperate clutching hands of hungry kids in the morning, it still stands firm. It exists so that its contents can remain in their intended state - it keeps the "O"s in our Cheerios. But there's much more to the cereal box than that.

Let's go back to the children. Not everybody has them, but everybody used to be one. And I'll bet some of your earliest memories of breakfast time will involve a box of cereal. But it's not necessarily what was in the boxes that caught our imagination, it was what was on them that really had us enthralled. Cartoon characters, games, puzzles, mazes, jokes - you name it. Is Tony the Tiger really going to look half as "grrreat" peering out at you from a bag of Frosties? No, he isn't - he's going to look all crumpled. And when the cereal is finished, are you really going to be able to make space ships, robot parts, dollhouse furniture, bookmarks or miniature snooker tables out of a glorified crisp packet?

Nevertheless, the people at Sainsbury's still think that packets are the way forward for our breakfast cereals. They might point out that muesli has been available in durable plastic bags for quite a while now. But muesli isn't cornflakes. Muesli is already dust, with a few bits of dried fruit thrown in, so it doesn't really matter whether it gets pummelled into oblivion or not. And what's with blurring the line between cereal bags and crisp packets? Do you really want to get up early on a work day, stumble downstairs all bleary-eyed and half awake, and unwittingly help yourself to a nice milky bowl of Nacho Cheese Doritos? I'll wager that you don't.

The news that cereal boxes are to be scrapped wouldn't be anywhere near as galling were it not for the fact that supermarkets are now also selling milk in plastic bags. Milk! I defy anybody to store an opened bag of milk upright in their fridge without it spilling all over the place. As inappropriate packaging goes, putting milk in plastic bags is a daft as putting orange juice in tea bags. What's that you say? You have to place the milk in a jug once you've got it home? Well why not cut out the bags altogether and dispense the milk directly into your own airtight jug in the supermarket? Or better still, let herds of cows roam freely in our supermarket aisles and we'll milk our own - it'll certainly make for more interesting shopping trips. Really, whatever happened to reusable milk bottles?

In a bid to save the cardboard cereal box from extinction, I aim to draw attention to what is perhaps the single most ridiculous article of food packaging that it has ever been the folly of mankind to produce. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you? the individually plastic-wrapped banana. It's as if post-industrial society has turned the urban populace into such cosseted little munchkins that the thought of tearing a single banana from a bunch and taking it home without a nice plastic wrapper will give us post-traumatic stress disorder. But there is in fact a biodegradable and money-saving alternative to this ludicrous waste of plastic. It's surprisingly durable, easily opened and brightly coloured, so it's easy to pick out on the shelf. It's called a banana skin. In comparison the cardboard cereal box seems like a work of genius.