General Mills (US)

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General Mills is one of the world's leading food companies, although its principal focus is still on North America where it is a fierce rival to Kellogg in the breakfast cereal and snacks sector as well as a leader in yogurt and other chilled dairy products. Until comparatively recently General Mills operated in other territories primarily through joint ventures. However this changed to some extent in late 2000 with the acquisition of Diageo's Pillsbury division, including its operating subsidiaries in Europe and Asia. That purchase doubled the company's size and added famed brands such as Green Giant, Pillsbury and Haagen-Dazs to a portfolio which already included such well-known products as Cheerios, Betty Crocker and Gold Medal flour. General Mills' international footprint developed further in 2011 with the purchase of a 50% stake in the global Yoplait yogurt franchise. It already had rights to that brand in the US.

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Brands

Cereal Partners Chex
Haagen-Dazs Bisquick
Cheerios  Betty Crocker 
Yoplait Total
Wheaties Cereal Adventure
Pillsbury Gardettos
Chex Mix Small Planet
Bugles Muir Glen
Cascadian Farms Sunrise Cereal
Frescarini Old El Paso
Green Giant Progresso Soups
Yoplait Jus-Rol
Nature Valley Knack und Back 

Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Dec 2016: General Mills wrapped up its US creative review, choosing three boutique shops to support lead agencies 72andSunny and Redscout on specific creative projects. The trio are indies Erich & Kallman in San Francisco and Joan Creative in New York and Publicis-controlled Hispanic shop The Community, a part of what is now SapientRazorfish. There was no role for incumbent McCann; co-incumbent Saatchi & Saatchi didn't defend the review but a cross-group team from parent Publicis was also jilted. Completion of the review was accompanied by structural changes at General Mills, including the departure of CMO Ann Simonds - her successor has yet to be named - and a rejig of geographical operating units.

Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Nov 2016: Hard-pressed MDC Partners scored a significant victory with the capture of creative lead across the substantial General Mills brand portfolio. The business will be led by 72andSunny, working alongside the group's branding & strategy unit Redscout. Those agencies will replace long-time incumbents Saatchi & Saatchi and McCann. However there may still be a role for other agencies: General Mills now plans to assemble of roster of additional agencies to handle assignments on a project-by-project basis.

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Jun 2016: Ads of the Week "The Affair". More soap opera insanity from McCann New York for General Mills' Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. We loved "Season One" of mock drama The Tiny & The Tasty, in which a cast of dolls played out for laughs the traditional hopes and betrayals of daytime soap characters. Season Two ramps up the star power, with special appearances by Luke Perry's thumb and especially... Tiny Hamster, the series' new arch villain. Confused? You won't be after watching this episode...

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Jun 2016: General Mills reported further declines in revenues as a result of currencies and the sale of Green Giant in the US. Topline slipped 6% to $16.6bn in the year to May. Earnings soared by 39% to just under $1.7bn - the prior year was impacted by impairments and restructuring associated with Green Giant - but the final figure is still below past highs. In a Q&A session with investors, newly appointed group COO Jeff Harmening - now heir apparent to CEO Ken Powell - acknowledged that while cereals are doing well the company is still experiencing a hard time in the US yogurt sector, and said its marketing and innovation in this area had "under performed our expectations".

Adbrands Weekly Update 15th Oct 2015: In another big mediapalooza realignment, General Mills followed up its earlier transfer of US media to Mindshare, but taking the same action for its international operations in Europe, Australasia, and some other countries. The biggest loser is UM, which handled most major European markets and Australia. Mindshare will take on most of the business, but with support from other GroupM agencies in cases of local client conflict.


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Background

Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Cadwallader Washburn founded the Minneapolis Milling Company in 1866, building a huge mill at St Anthony Falls to produce fine flour. A second mill followed in 1874, and the company pioneered new technology which allowed flour to be ground finer and whiter than any competitors. Washburn took on a partner, John Crosby, in 1877. Three years later the Washburn Crosby Company entered its products in the first International Millers' Exhibition. The company scooped the gold, silver and bronze medals, allowing it to claim that it produced the world's best flours. As a result, Washburn Crosby began to market its products under the Gold Medal brandname.

The company was acquired by James Stroud Bell in 1888, and he began an aggressive marketing campaign which established Washburn Crosby as North America's leading flour manufacturer. His son, James Ford Bell, took over the business in 1920, and began developing a series of other brands. One consumer promotion for Gold Medal flour in 1921 led to a flood of letters from customers. In order to respond to this correspondence, the company invented the character of Betty Crocker to reply on the company's behalf. The name Crocker was chosen in honour of one of the company's retiring directors, William G Crocker; Betty because its sounded war, and friendly. Female employees were invited to submit sample signatures for the fictional Betty Crocker, and the winner is still used today. Betty soon took on a life of her own, lending her name to cooking schools and coupon promotions across the range of company products. (The first "portrait" of Betty appeared on packaging from the 1930s and has been updated more than eight times since to reflect the changing looks of the times). 

Also in the early 1920s, the company began developing a form of fried bran flake. These were launched in 1924 as Wheaties Whole Wheat Flakes. Always quick to exploit new marketing opportunities, Washburn Crosby acquired a small radio station the same year, and this became the platform for a new marketing vehicle. Betty Crocker took to the airwaves in 1925 as the hostess of a radio cooking show, eventually syndicated nationally from 1927. A year later, as the Depression began to take its toll on US companies, Bell engineered a mammoth merger of Washburn Crosby with more than 20 other regional millers, and renamed the resulting company General Mills. 

A string of new products were introduced in the years that followed. Bisquick ready-to-bake mixes arrived in 1931; Kix was the company's first puffed cereal in 1937, followed four years later by Cheerioats, at the time America's first oat-based, ready-to-eat cereal. This brand name led to a court battle with Quaker, who claimed ownership of the word Oats in a brand name. In 1946, the name was finally shortened to Cheerios. By this time, the company's first cereal product Wheaties had successfully launched the career of a man who went on to become president of the United States. Ronald "Dutch" Reagan was originally one of several radio announcers for Wheaties-sponsored baseball matches on the radio. In 1937, the company organised a promotion which encouraged listeners to vote for their favourite Wheaties announcer. Reagan took first place, winning the prize of a Hollywood screen test which started his movie career.

In the 1940s, the company extended the Betty Crocker name to a range of cake mixes. Several new cereals were introduced during the following decade including pre-sweetened Jets (1953), followed by Trix in 1954. Instant mashed potatoes, later called Potato Buds, were launched in 1959. As its collection of packaged brands grew during the 1960s, General Mills focused its attentions away from commodity-based industry, closing or selling many of its regional flour mills. The push into consumer goods also led to massive diversification. Towards the end of the decade, General Mills became the world's biggest toys business with the purchase of Kenner toys and Parker Brothers games (now part of Hasbro). Other acquisitions included Monet jewellery, Izod clothing and Eddie Bauer apparel. The company also diversified into retailing and the hospitality business (through what is now Darden Restaurants), and ventured into frozen food with the purchase of Gorton's in 1973. It acquired US rights to the Yoplait yogurt brand in 1977.

By 1985, General Mills was spreading itself dangerously thin. That year it began a series of disposals, selling non-core assets, or spinning them off to shareholders. At the same time it began to look to the international market for the first time. In 1989, the group formed the Cereal Partners joint venture with Nestle to market both companies' breakfast brands, initially in Europe. A similar arrangement, Snack Ventures Europe, was struck with PepsiCo in 1992 to market both companies' snack foods in mainland Europe. International Dessert Partners was formed with Bestfoods in 1994 to target the Latin American market (but was dissolved in 1999).

In 1994, a contamination scare forced the company to destroy $150m worth of cereals. The group recouped some of its losses by selling Gorton's to Unilever and spinning off its Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains as Darden Restaurants Inc. In 1997, the group bolstered its product line with the purchase of Chex from Ralston Purina for $570m. Other purchases in the late 1990s included snack brand Gardetto's and ready-made meal lines Lloyd's Barbecue and Farmhouse Foods. Following the market trend, the group went organic in 2000, with the purchase of Small Planet, and its subsidiary brands Muir Glen and Cascadian Farms. 

But the biggest purchase by far was the capture of Diageo's Pillsbury unit for $10.5bn in shares and debt. Ironically, the two companies shared a very similar origin. Charles Pillsbury built a flour mill close to Washburn Crosby in the late 19th century, and the two businesses were close rivals. After that they grew increasingly far apart, although they remained competitors in the baking mix sector. Under the terms of the deal, Diageo took a 33% stake in the merged General Mills-Pillsbury company, but sold off its shares in several tranches over the following few years.

As part of the Pillsbury deal General Mills also took over the company's stake in Ice Cream Partners USA, a joint venture with Nestle, formed to 1999 to distribute Haagen-Dazs and Nestle ice creams in North America. However, the change of ownership gave Nestle rights to buy control of Ice Cream Partners. In December 2001 the Swiss company paid $641m for General Mills' 50% share. In early 2002 the group confirmed plans to introduce as many as 100 new product line extensions and new brands over the following 12 months. See full profile for current activities


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