General Mills joins organic grain initiative

by Eric Schroeder
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With the addition of Annie’s in 2014, General Mills is the fourth-largest U.S. natural and organic food producer.

MINNEAPOLIS — Earlier this year General Mills, Inc. unveiled its goal to build a $1 billion natural and organic business by fiscal 2020. To secure a pipeline of natural and organic ingredients and help reach that goal, the Minneapolis-based company is investing $50,000 to support the Canada-based Prairie Organic Grain Initiative (POGI).

“We’re excited to join the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative,” said Beth Robertson-Martin, senior manager of natural and organic sourcing at General Mills. “We believe this program represents a significant opportunity for General Mills to further build our capabilities and pave the way for General Mills to become an industry leader in natural and organic.”

The POGI is a $2.2 million, four-year program targeted at achieving growth, resiliency and stability in the prairie organic sector. The initiative will focus on increasing both the quantity and quality of organic field crops while building stronger market relationships. The POGI will be housed by Organic Alberta, a non-profit umbrella organization that serves all certified organic and transitioning entities, but it is a partnership across the entire prairie organic sector, including the Provincial organic associations.

According to General Mills, the organic food market has grown rapidly, which has made sourcing certified organic ingredients increasingly difficult. POGI’s primary focus is to address the shortage of organic grain growers by initiating several programs that will entice conventional growers to make the transition to organic farming.

“Recognizing our expansion in natural and organic will require a more robust pipeline of natural and organic growers, we are focused on doubling the amount of organic farming acreage in North America by 2020,” Ms. Robertson-Martin said. “POGI is one way we’re ensuring the long-term sustainable supply of these ingredients.”

Since 2000, General Mills has grown its natural and organic business with the acquisitions of brands such as Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, Larabar, Food Should Taste Good, Immaculate Baking, Liberté and Mountain High. With the addition of Annie’s in 2014, General Mills is the fourth-largest U.S. natural and organic food producer and among the top five organic ingredient purchasers in the North American packaged foods sector.

“We have been building our capabilities for sourcing, manufacturing, and marketing natural and organic brands since we acquired Small Planet Foods in 2000,” Jeff Harmening, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of U.S. Retail, said during a Feb. 17 conference call at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference. “With the addition of Larabar and Food Should Taste Good snacks, Mountain High and Liberté yogurts, Immaculate Baking products, and now Annie’s, we have built a $600 million portfolio that is poised for continued growth.

Since 2000, General Mills has grown its natural and organic business with the acquisitions of brands like Larabar.

“Annie’s gives us real scale in the natural channel. We are now the second-largest food manufacturer serving these retailers. Our brands play in categories that generate nearly two-thirds of their measured food sales, and we hold the No. 1 position in eight different categories.

“We see great upside for these brands. We will leverage the combined capability of Annie’s and our heritage businesses to grow distribution, expand into new categories, and deliver new growth. Add it all up and our goal is to build a $1 billion natural and organic business by fiscal 2020.”

In addition to General Mills, the POGI has received funding from provincial organic trade associations as well as several other food companies, including Kind, Nature’s Path and Dave’s Killer Bread. Additionally, the Canadian federal government announced in May that it was allocating $1.2 million to help fund the group.

“We work closely with Canadian organic farmers to source ingredients like the oats included in our flagship product Flax Plus Pumpkin Granola or our new Qi’a Superfood Oatmeal,” said Arran Stephens, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Nature’s Path Foods. “We believe in always leaving earth better than we found it, and thanks to organic growers, we see the promise of a bright organic future, for this generation and the ones to come.”
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