Just as Count Dracula could come out only at night, General Mills now wishes its latest Count Chocula cereal box had never seen the light of day.
A newly designed box featuring a picture taken from Bela Lugosi's classic role as Dracula has drawn protests from some consumers and Jewish newspapers, which complained that a Star of David is prominently displayed on the character's chest.
The 4 million boxes with this design began appearing in supermarkets about two weeks ago. General Mills officials said they had been excited about the design because it involved a new technique in which a computer lifted and enhanced the likeness of Lugosi from the 1931 film "House of Dracula."
There was a slight problem with the computerized image: Dracula wears a six-pointed medallion that some have inferred was a Star of David, the symbol of Judaism.
Within days after the boxes appeared in stores, General Mills received a few calls complaining about the medallion, including several from Jewish newspapers.
General Mills officials immediately looked at the box and agreed that the medallion--which they had thought looked like a big piece of jewelry--could indeed represent the Star.
The Minneapolis food company immediately changed the package design to eliminate the medallion in the future boxes.
General Mills also edited television commercials--which had not yet been broadcast--to remove the medallion. However, the company decided against recalling the boxes now on the shelves because they were not a health hazard--the only time the firm recalls products.
"We are not anti-Semitic," said William Shaffer, manager of public relations for General Mills.
"Our intent was merely to use Dracula's likeness in a fresh and entertaining way."
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which had received some complaints about the box but had not contacted General Mills, Wednesday praised the company for its prompt action in correcting the problem.
"It was unfortunate, but since there was no intention (to be anti-Semitic), it is not a serious problem," said Abraham H. Foxman, league national director. "They are acting responsibly."
Foxman said the problem arose from the computer. It took a three-dimensional picture, in which the medallion looked like a large stone in a six-pointed star, and made it two-dimensional.
In the process, the massive stone was lost and the medallion became only a six-pointed star.
Despite the scrutiny General Mills officials give each new cereal-box design, the resemblance to the Star of David escaped them.
"I guess the new electronic processing technique and getting such a nice picture was so exciting that we became myopic and weren't able to perceive potential problems," Shaffer said. "You can rest assured we've sensitized everyone as to the future."