Few things are as painless to prepare as cereal. Making it requires little more than pouring something (a cereal of your choice) into a bowl and then pouring something else (a milk of your choice) into the same bowl. Eating it requires little more than a spoon and your mouth. The food, which Americans still buy $10 billion of annually, has thrived over the decades, at least in part because of this very quality: Its convenience.
And yet, for today's youths, cereal isn't easy enough. Recently the New York Times published a story about the breakfast favorite, and the most disconcerting part was this: "Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it."
The industry, the piece explained, is struggling: Sales have tumbled by almost 30 percent over the past 15 years, and the future remains uncertain.
The reasons are largely what one would expect: Many people are eating breakfast away from home, choosing breakfast sandwiches and yogurt instead of more traditional morning staples. Many others, meanwhile, too busy to pay attention to their stomachs, aren't eating breakfast at all.
But there is something else that should be even more frightening to cereal makers — and, really, to anyone who has a stake in this country's future: A large contingent of millennials is uninterested in breakfast cereal because eating it means using a bowl, and bowls don't clean themselves (or get tossed in the garbage). Bowls, kids these days groan, have to be cleaned.
Cereal isn't the only food suffering from a national trend toward laziness. Coffee has suffered a similar fate. Despite talk of a third wave of coffee drinkers, who value quality above all else, and bask in artisanal rather than effortless methods of preparation, Americans still covet convenience above all else.
"Convenience is the one thing that's really changing trends these days," Howard Telford, an industry analyst at market research firm Euromonitor, said last year.
Less than 10 percent of the coffee beans Americans buy are fresh whole beans. And ground coffee isn't just outpacing whole bean coffee, it's increasing its lead, every year.
The rise of coffee pods, which come ground and produce a cup of brown caffeinated water with the push of a button, is further evidence of the country's desire for convenience. Sales of coffee pods grew by 138,324 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to data from Euromonitor.