General Mills changes with consumers' tastes
GOLDEN VALLEY -- General Mills is a large company with a big problem. It's a food-processing powerhouse at a time when more and more consumers are shunning processed food in favor of fresh and local. It's a flour-milling legend whose cake mixes a...
GOLDEN VALLEY -- General Mills is a large company with a big problem.
It's a food-processing powerhouse at a time when more and more consumers are shunning processed food in favor of fresh and local.
It's a flour-milling legend whose cake mixes and crescent rolls dominated their era, but now whose grain-based items fade as consumers turn against simple carbs and gluten.
It's a taste-maker that turned yogurt into a U.S. mainstay and created kid favorites like Lucky Charms and Fruit Roll-Ups, but loaded them with sugar and artificial colors. Now, people seek healthier options.
So today, after finding itself on the wrong side of some powerful consumer trends, Golden Valley-based General Mills is scrambling to rework its pantry and rechart its future.
"Around the world, we see and understand that food preferences are changing," CEO Ken Powell told analysts in February. "People want natural foods with simpler ingredients. They are avoiding things like gluten, simple carbohydrates, artificial ingredients. They want more protein, more fiber, more whole grain, more natural and organic products."
People didn't used to get those things from General Mills, maker of Hamburger Helper, Totino's Pizza and Honey Nut Cheerios. But they will going forward, Powell promised, as the company tries to woo new generations of health-minded consumers -- while it fights to keep profits strong.
"If you look at those big traditional grocery companies, they're all dealing with the same thing," says Mike Boland, director of the Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota. "Kellogg's, General Mills, Heinz, Campbell Soup, Kraft, anybody's who's producing foods prepared at home, they're all talking about how to get back on the right side of things."
A new wrinkle surfaced Wednesday, when Kraft Foods and H.J. Heinz announced a multibillion dollar merger. The deal fueled Wall Street chatter about a possible new round of food-company marriages.
It also was a reminder that if old-line foodmakers don't retool themselves for the future, somebody else may do it for them.