Grain snacks a boon for General Mills

by Eric Schroeder
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MINNEAPOLIS — Snacking is a trend — a positive trend — said Ken Powell, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills, Inc.

In remarks to analysts during a June 25 conference call to discuss fiscal 2014 financial results, Mr. Powell spoke highly of the company’s snacks businesses, especially grain snacks, where retail sales have grown by 50% since fiscal 2010. He said General Mills now holds a 41% share of the category (up from 29% in fiscal 2010) due to the company’s leveraging of highly differentiated innovation. The company has no plans of slowing down as it heads into fiscal 2015, either.

“In 2015, we are expanding our successful Fiber One franchise with streusel bars, a great tasting snack that delivers whole grain, real fruit and 20% of your daily value of fiber, all with just 150 calories,” Mr. Powell said. “We are targeting Hispanic households with the launch of Nature Valley fruteria bars featuring whole grain and visible pieces of fruit in very appealing flavors, including strawberry apple and mango strawberry. And we are introducing great tasting extensions of proven franchises like coconut almond Nature Valley protein bars and blueberry Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares.”

General Mills’ natural and organic snack brands also enjoyed solid results in fiscal 2014, with Larabar retail sales increasing by more than 30%, Mr. Powell said. More innovation is in store for the brand during fiscal 2015.

“We are now launching two new chocolate varieties of Larabar ALT protein bars and for the first time, we are extending the Larabar brand beyond nutrition bars with the launch of Larabar Renola,” he said. “Renola is granola reinvented, a simple grain and gluten-free mix of nuts, fruits, seeds and spices. The three varieties — cinnamon nut, cocoa coconut and berry — can be consumed as a snack, a topping or as a cereal with milk.”

The Food Should Taste Good brand will see innovation in the form of Pita Puffs, a crisp snack that combines a pita chip in puffed form, and a new line of gluten-free brown rice crackers in flavors such as sea salt, peppercorn blend and tomato basil.

On the sweeter snacks side, General Mills in the first quarter of fiscal 2015 is launching Fiber One cookies nationally. The cookies have 120 calories and 20% of the recommended daily value of fiber.

“Clearly, snacking is a trend, a positive trend,” Mr. Powell said. “… We are very focused on the snacking trend, and it is not just the snacks in our snack businesses. We see yogurt becoming more and more of a snack food and in fact, one of the reasons for the resurgence of our core Yoplait businesses is that we are seeing more snack usage and we are actually talking about the product and its snack versatility in advertising.”

He continued, “I think that there is a snacking play. I think that … consumer definitions of well-being or health are changing, and so we need to be very in tune to that, and we have talked about the protein trend not just in yogurt, but across a number of categories and how that is playing out and how we are looking to capitalize on that. And we have talked about how consumers are looking to avoid some different things and some things that maybe weren’t on their radar several years ago with gluten being exhibit 1.

“We are in changing times and we are a marketing company, so our job is to understand the change and capitalize on it, find opportunity there.”
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