Innovative Spirit

The Patents and Trademarks Behind Lucky Charms Cereal

There’s a lot of food science that goes into those marshmallow clovers

(D. Lawrence Tarazano)

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, people think of many different things: Irish folk music, green beer, corned beef and cabbage.   

But I have something else in mind. Championed by a leprechaun, they’re magically delicious!™

If you guessed Lucky Charms™ breakfast cereal, you are correct.  

This St. Patrick’s Day, General Mills celebrates the 53rd birthday of the cereal, which debuted in 1964. Product developer John Holahan wanted to jazz up a Cheerios-type cereal with something reminiscent of Circus Peanuts, one of his guilty pleasures. The recipe debuted with bell, fish, arrowhead, clover and X-shaped oat pieces, and, of course, “marbits,” the dried marshmallow bits that first came in the form of green clovers, pink hearts, orange stars and yellow moons.

Lucky Charms leprechaun.png
The cereal's leprechaun mascot is a current registered trademark. (TM Reg. No. 3498920)

Since their release, Lucky Charms™ have evolved considerably, and their history can be traced in registered trademarks and patents. Both the phrase “they’re magically delicious” (TM Reg. No. 3518021) and the cereal’s leprechaun mascot (TM Reg. No. 3498920) are current registered trademarks. General Mills announced in 2016 that the cereal is gluten free, and long gone are the simple single-colored marshmallows of the 1960s. Thanks to a group of food scientists and engineers—and one man in particular who worked at General Mills for over 50 years, Philip Zietlow—the marbits (that is a technical term) of today’s Lucky Charms™ are an ever-changing kaleidoscope of multicolored marshmallow shapes. Covered by a number of patents, they currently come in an array of colors and include rainbows, clovers, hearts, balloons, horseshoes, shooting stars and more.

Patent No. 6,207,216 was granted to Zietlow and his colleagues on March 27, 2001 for a “Quickly Dissolving Aerated Confection and Method of Preparation.” The patent described a marbit having a portion that dissolves in cold milk or water in anywhere from 10 to about 120 seconds. (Patent No. 6,207,216)
Zietlow and others received Patent No. 6,309,686 for “Multi-Colored Aerated Confectionary Products and Process for Making” on August 20, 2002. The patent covers the process of making different colored marshmallow materials and coextruding them to make a multicolored rope that is cut into individual marbits. (Patent No. 6,309,686)
Patent No. 6,436,455 was granted to Zietlow and other inventors on August 20, 2002 for “Multi-Colored Aerated Confectionary Products.” This patent describes the multicolored marbits in which different colors dissolve at different rates in milk or water. (Patent No. 6,436,455)
Zietlow and others received Patent No. 6,761,550 for a “System for Processing an Aerated Confectionary Foam Rope” July 13, 2004. This patent covers the system by which the rope of marshmallow material is cut into the individual marbits. (Patent No. 6,761,550)

While the patents take some of the magic out of marbits, explaining instead the chemistry and engineering that make them so, Lucky Charms™ are still delicious. I suspect you’ll never look at the cereal the same way again.