The cereal's backstory is stranger than you'd think

By Abby Walthausen
Updated May 17, 2018
Credit: Photo by Bloomberg/Getty Images

Special K Red Berries is a cereal with a name that raises more questions than it answers. It's rice and wheat flakes with freeze-dried strawberries. Why are they called red berries? Why wouldn’t strawberries be red? Just because they are freeze-dried, must they be renamed? What other test-tube mystery berries are hiding in the box? Is there ketamine in there too? These are all valid questions: The cereal does share a name with a club drug, and it’s only qualifying description sounds like it comes from a person too high to remember the word for strawberry. But before we get too deep parsing branding misfires, let’s take a look at the true roots of this confusing name.

The original Special K was the culmination of a lifelong goal of W.K. Kellogg to create a soylent-style all-purpose food replacement. It was to be his uber cornflakes but the final recipe, with enough protein, vitamins, and minerals to survive by, was not complete until 1955, four years after Kellogg’s death. So when the miracle food was introduced, it was named in his honor, like a grandchild and heir.

The “red berries” came much later, developed in 1999, but with an unexpected foreign provenance: France. Not only did the original French version of Red Berries actually contain a variety of berries—raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries—but the name made more sense in the French language where it is common practice to lump together berries with phrases like baies rouges (red berries) and fruits des bois (forest fruits). When the cereal finally hit the American market, it was quickly discovered that Americans did not appreciate the ménage à trois, so the formula was changed to include only strawberries. Somehow, the misleading Frenchism stuck, thus the name Red Berries that we enjoy and puzzle over today (still admittedly less of a koan than Special K Forest Fruits might have been).

But if you are a skeptic who believes that a namesake cereal, cultivated in Continental Europe, is no fancier that its weird name, consider another strand of Special K Red Berries’ aristocratic lineage. Baron von Redberry, a 1972 General Mills cereal featuring marshmallows perfumed like fruit punch, is sure to be a long lost ancestor just waiting to lend some gravitas to our favorite dieter’s delight. That’s Baroness von Special K Red Berries to you!