General Mills : advertising & marketing profile

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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. The biggest change in recent years to General Mills' portfolio was its purchase of Blue Buffalo in 2018, heralding a first move into the petfood market.

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Nature Valley Chex
Yoplait 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
Jus-Rol Knack und Back 

Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 27th Jun 2019: A disappointing final quarter, especially in North America in cereal, yogurt and snacks, depressed performance from General Mills for the year to 2019. However some of those declines were offset by a strong contribution from petfood division Blue Buffalo, reporting its first full year since acquisition in 2018. Group revenues were $16.9bn, with net earnings of $1.75bn, but pet food alone contributed revenues of $1.4bn, providing all the overall group's year-on-year growth.

Adbrands Social Media 7th Mar 2019: "Prom Dress / DMV". Here's a great, unexpectedly edgy, very funny campaign from indie shop Erich & Kallman for General Mills' Reese's Puffs cereal. Though the majority of its marketing has always been squeaky clean family friendly, Big G has never been afraid of shaking things up from time to time. Remember how they upset the applecart a few years ago with some of the first packaged goods ads in America (for Cheerios) to feature same sex and interracial couples? And there's often been a darker sense of humour lurking behind the bright smiles. Now, these ads aren't going to start any revolutions, but top marks for acknowledging not only the angst-filled frustrations hiding behind teenage rites of passage, but also the fact that a fast sugar fix tops even a desire for independence or an end to the patriarchy.

Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Jun 2018: There is further consolidation underway among US-based food manufacturers. Kraft Heinz is reported to be actively interested in pursuing a bid for Campbell Soup Company, which is currently undergoing a review of its activities. General Mills could be another likely suitor for Campbell, but also another potential target for Kraft Heinz. The company reported flat performance for the year to May. Net sales were virtually unchanged, up less than 1% to $15.7bn, largely as a result of the addition of Blue Buffalo pet foods in the final quarter. Attributable earnings jumped by 29% to $2.1bn, but only as a result of a huge reduction in tax charges resulting from the new Tax Act. Pretax earnings slipped by another 6%. The main pressure is still on the group's struggling yogurt business, where US revenues plunged by 12% in the year.

Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Mar 2018: Still struggling with weak conditions in its core food business, General Mills is opening up a new battlefront in pet products. The group announced the acquisition of Blue Buffalo, owner of the Blue pet food brand, for around $8.0bn. That represents a generous multiple of Blue Buffalo's sales, which were just under $1.3bn last year. However the business is on a growth streak at the moment. Revenues have more than doubled since 2013, growing by double-digit percentages every year. Blue specialises in the "natural wholesome" segment, with a range of foods and treats for dogs and cats made without grain or other such fillers. It is the #5 manufacturer in US petfoods overall after Nestle Purina, Mars, JM Smucker/Big Heart and Colgate-Palmolive's Hill's.

Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Jun 2017: General Mills reported lacklustre performance for its most recent financial year, ended in May. Revenues slipped for the third consecutive year, down 6% on a reported basis to $15.6bn, or by 4% organic excluding the impact of exchange rates and the sale of Green Giant in North America. The weakest organic performance came from North American retail operations, especially the group's hard-pressed Yoplait business, which suffered a double-digit decline in the final quarter. However, careful management of costs helped to mitigate the worst of the impact on bottom line, with attributable net earnings for the year down by only 2% to almost $1.7bn.

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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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