In the crackers-with-filling segment, General Mills, Minneapolis, has created a presence in the convenience store cracker channel with Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers, available in Cheddar Bacon and Garlic Cream Cheese flavors.

Baking & Snack sat down with Cynthia Machado to discuss the company’s entry into the segment. Originally from Ecuador, Ms. Machado has been a product R&D scientist at General Mills since 2009, working in the innovation group for salty snacks in convenience stores. As the project’s lead developer, Ms. Machado leveraged multiple ­resources for the product’s development, including training at AIB International (AIB).

Baking & Snack: What prompted General Mills to extend the Gardetto’s brand into the sandwich cracker category?

Cynthia Machado: General Mills Con-venience has a track record of delivering innovative new products that drive category growth in the convenience store channel. In fact, by leveraging the company’s portfolio of powerful brands, consumer insights and category management, General Mills Convenience’s new products have grown bar and warehouse  salty category sales $90 million since 2008. 

At the same time, crackers-with-filling is a $69 million and growing segment, in which Gardetto’s, the No. 1 warehouse salty brand, is a premium brand, especially among adults. With flavor ranking as the strongest consideration during consumer purchase, the General Mills Convenience team recognized the opportunity to leverage Gardetto’s loyal consumer following to translate into increased sales for convenience store retailers.

How did General Mills develop the initial formulas?

As the lead developer for the project, I was able to leverage multiple resources in the development of Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers. Specifically, we tapped three layers of open innovation along the way. First, I had past experience working on a sweet biscuit project with an external partner company based in California. I also took a course at AIB. Finally, we used the ­expertise of a current General Mills partner company to help refine and produce the final product.

How did General Mills select the Cheddar Bacon and Garlic Cream Cheese varieties?

In addition to our normal application of consumer feedback and flavor trends, we used the signature Gardetto’s snack mix flavor to identify the Garlic Cream Cheese flavor for Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers.

Why did the company send you to AIB, and what classes did you attend?

General Mills has an established practice of looking outside our own walls for everything from big ideas to highly technical solutions, so it was not unusual for us to seek help from an external resource to move the project along.

In this case, the best solution was for me to enroll in courses at the world-renowned AIB to get up to speed and bring what I learned back to General Mills. At AIB, I attended a four-day Cracker Production and Technology seminar, in which I expanded my knowledge of cracker formulation, ingredient functionality, processing equipment in cracker production lines and quality control, among others. The seminar included hands-on workshops that allowed attendees to apply what was learned in the classroom. In addition, I gained knowledge from the experiences of my classmates, who came from various companies.

What type of consumer research did the company do in testing the varieties of products?

General Mills has established a deep connection with our consumers. We were able to use these resources to help develop and refine Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers leveraging consumer research.

How did General Mills work with a co-packer to help scale the crackers to production?

Once the cracker dough formulation was perfected, we turned to another external partner to rapidly commercialize and manufacture the new product. A trusted co-manufacturer that General Mills had worked with on other projects in the past proved to have the right capabilities and flexibility of scale to produce Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers.

The flexibility of scale and cracker-production expertise offered by the co-manufacturer were particularly important for the production of Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers. For all projects, it is critical to find a partner whose capabilities closely match our product and process needs