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Trix-gate: New analysis examines cereal box controversy

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The much buzzed-about exploratory journalism site FiveThirtyEight on Friday bit into the Trix-gate controversy: Do the popular kids cereal "spokes-characters" like the Trix Rabbit gaze downward into the eyes of children?

Researchers from the Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab said they had wanted to learn more about exactly why kids fall for certain cereal brands, and their study released earlier this month found in part that cereals targeted at children — usually the sugary kind — are placed lower on grocery shelves where the wee ones can more easily see them.

They also say the cartoon characters on boxes targeted at kids are drawn so that their eyes are looking 9.6 degrees down at their target audience.

General Mills chewed over the study and spit out a sharply worded response. In a company blog post, Tom Forsythe, the Minnesota-based cereal maker's vice president of Global Communications, did not sugar coat his opinion of the Cornell research, calling it "absurd" and spooning up a few crispy barbs.

He said the company has used a variety of boxes that show the Trix Rabbit looking in different directions. And Forsythe notes:

"He does look down on occasion, but do you notice what he seems to be looking at? That’s right – AT THE BOWL OF CEREAL PICTURED ON THE BOX. Because he loves Trix. I think that's been well established."

But that was not the final word. FiveThirtyEight today examines Forsythe's examination, and finds that Forsythe's point above is a fair one, but also takes him to task on some of his other arguments. It notes that FiveThirtyEight's own research also showed lots of cereals do, in fact, have downward-gazing characters.

Why is this even a debate, you ask? Cereal is a high-stakes business, accounting for 16 percent of General Mills' $17.7 billion in sales in fiscal year 2013, a Motley Fool post noted (it also noted that, in the end, kids don't do the buying, whether Rabbits are looking at them or not – parents make the grocery store purchases).

Will there be more dishing on this controversy? Stay tuned, kids.

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