WAYZATA, MINN. — E. Robert Kinney, a former president and chief executive officer at General Mills, Inc., died May 2. He was 96 years old.

Mr. Kinney’s career in the food business began when he started North Atlantic Packing Co., a crab canning business that was later sold to The Gorton Corp.

He joined General Mills in September 1968, after the company acquired The Gorton Corp., of which he was president. He subsequently was responsible for the company’s consumer food operations, was elected a member of the board and executive vice-president in 1969, and became chief financial officer in 1970. He was named president and chief operating officer in 1973, and became president and c.e.o. in 1976. He retired in 1981.

General Mills said sales under Mr. Kinney’s leadership grew to $5 billion from $1 billion, and the number of employees grew to 71,000 from 26,000.

“Bob Kinney was a transformational leader for General Mills who had a tremendous impact on our company,” said Ken Powell, chairman and c.e.o. of General Mills. “Not only was he successful in business, but also, more importantly, he was both respected and loved by colleagues and peers.”