Pairing Nostalgic Cereal Design with Purposeful Flavors for OffLimits

CEO Emily Miller shares why she founded a cereal company and how she made it look and taste so good

In the upper echelons of food nostalgia, breakfast cereal often conjures colorful memories of school days and mornings with the family—often a sweet but hurried start to the day. The founder and CEO of new cereal brand OffLimits, Emily Miller, recognizes this but she doesn’t want anyone to live in the past; her two debut products feature purposeful, premium ingredients and deliver delectable flair in opposition to the artificial heritage of the category. Though the duo of flavors coincide with cartoon characters that embody their distinct spirit, these aren’t the cereals of anyone’s youth. OffLimits is a thoughtful addition to the quality cereal market and an entire world of ideas circulates through the brand.

Miller’s professional history made her the perfect candidate to imagine cereal for the future. She spent three years researching and writing Phaidon’s BREAKFAST: The Cookbook, which highlights traditional breakfast recipes from around the world. Even before that, Miller hosted a global event series that brought creative people together over breakfast—in restaurants that weren’t typically open in the morning. Through passion and information, and by partnering with Shepard Fairey’s Studio Number One on character development and Pentagram on design, Miller found a way to make OffLimits as visually memorable as it is tasty. Miller took time to explain to us how it all came together.

What came first: the flavors or the characters? Or something that linked them?

The characters and flavors were all developed in tandem but are designed to oppose each other. DASH for when you need a kick and ZOMBIE to max your relax. Cartoons don’t need to be happy all the time. I wanted characters that represented human cycles of emotion. DASH and ZOMBIE have big moods, which brings big flavor. DASH is a go-getter, but deals with anxiety because she’s held to such high standards. Her cereal is coffee and cacao and turns the milk to cold brew. ZOMBIE is an introverted artist who suffers from spurts of loneliness and depression. Their cereal needed to be chill, so we added adaptogens and soothing flavors like vanilla and pandan, which is a Southeast Asian plant often used in desserts.

We’re curious about flavor development. How did these two cereals come together?

I’ve spent my career learning and cooking the most comforting meal of the day, so the development of my own breakfast item was a labor of love. It took a year to get the color of ZOMBIE just right using only natural ingredients, and DASH’s recipe took at least 40 goes to get a balanced, quality coffee flavor. Every ingredient tells a story and these characters are here to amplify that.

Mirroring that, can you share with me the process/players behind the design?

This is not your average cereal brand because there’s nothing average about the people who created it. I came to Astrid [Stavro] and her incredible Pentagram team with a cartoon universe of cereal characters and emotions floating in my head. They extracted, organized and created the rules for this world and the characters who live there. With Shepard Fairey’s Studio Number One on the cereal character designs, we had this surreal meeting of design perspectives, which for OffLimits was an unstoppable force of pure defiance mixed with mindfulness.

Art infuses the brand. Can you talk about art activations you’ve done? And why you offer art on the site?

We’ve set up a partnership with creative agency Studio Number One, founded by Shepard Fairey and his gallery Subliminal Projects, to tap into a global network of artists and influential voices to participate in content and events surrounding art and cereal. Pre-COVID, we hosted a BREAK THE RULES themed show at Subliminal. This was intended to be our pre-launch event before we delayed due to COVID.

Our digital art gallery was created as a response to worldwide gallery closures during COVID-19. We support diversity and counterculture by encouraging creative abilities, turning doodles into dollars. We wanted a place for artists to share work based on defiant themes with a portion of the proceeds going to fund youth art initiates. The gallery will always be driven by social impact, sometimes in the form of art and sometimes limited, collaborated drops.

The ’90s was weirder than you remember

Everyone has a nostalgic reaction toward cereal. How did you work with that and how did you defy it?

Hanging in the past is comforting but boring. It’s like when Disney+ came out it was the best day ever until you watch Brink! and one episode of Lizzie McGuire and decide you’re ready to come back to reality because the ’90s was weirder than you remember. OffLimits provides that comfort but then rockets you into a whole new dimension. The cartoon dimension.

Can you tell us about the exclusive minis?

The mini boxes are as functional as the flavors. They’re our solution to on-the-go snacking. Each box has a perforated top that you tear off and pour milk right inside. The minis are currently sold at Intelligentsia coffee-bars with some exciting new announcements on the way.

How do you take your cereal?

Depends on my mood. I have a cereal-dispenser on my counter which has proven to be dangerous because every time I walk by I have to decide if I want a handful of DASH or ZOMBIE. I’ll typically eat a few handfuls dry before deciding to actually sit down and have a bowl. Then comes the oat or almond milk.

Hero image of Emily Miller by Kiki Fox, all other images by Katie Burton