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What does General Mills have in its innovation pipeline?

By Elaine Watson , 11-Jul-2012
Last updated on 11-Jul-2012 at 20:43 GMT

A raft of new products from whole-grain pizza crusts under the Pillsbury brand to a Cascadian Farm granola packed with ancient grains, will hit stores this summer as General Mills ramps up its new product development activities.

Many of the new products - discussed at an investor day in New York yesterday - go “above and beyond mere line extensions” and reflect General Mills’ focus on “launching bigger, more differentiated products to better address unmet consumer needs”, claimed PR manager Maerenn Jepsen.

Other innovations include a new line of Progresso cooking sauces called Recipe Starters; cheddar bacon and garlic cream cheese flavored Gardetto’s sandwich crackers (available exclusively in convenience stores); six new varieties of Seasoned Steamers frozen vegetables; and new Betty Crocker Shake -n- Pour desserts in chocolate brownie, confetti cupcake and chocolate cupcake flavors.

Unprecedented level of new product development activity from Yoplait USA

However, some of the most exciting innovations will be in the yogurts fixture, said the firm, which aims to launch 40 new products from Yoplait USA this fiscal year including Yoplait Greek 100, the only Greek yogurt endorsed by Weight Watchers with a PointsPlus value of 2 per serving, which will be available across the US by next month.

Other yogurt launches include Yoplait Simplait – a yogurt containing only six ingredients; and Yoplait Fruplait – a blend of Yoplait original and fruit, said Jepsen.

New products generated 5% of delivery volumes in General Mills US retail segment in fiscal 2012, said the Minneapolis-based firm, which recently unveiled plans to slash 850 jobs - or about 2.4% of its global workforce - as part of a ‘productivity and cost savings’ plan.  

The company, which is on a mission to generate sales of $900m from its wholly owned businesses in China by 2015, said international sales accounted for 30% of group sales today vs 10% a decade ago.

Open innovation: Tools of the trade

General Mills has a central team working on 'connected innovation' tools and processes and a group of full-time ‘innovation entrepreneurs’ based within its business divisions that are focused on the needs of their particular categories.

While posting ‘innovation briefs’ on its G-WIN website has attracted a lot of publicity, it is only one strand of General Mills’ open innovation program, senior director of connected innovation Jeff Bellairs told FoodNavigator-USA last year.

For example, there is also an "internal version of Facebook" where General Mills’ employees can collaborate with each other, and annual conferences in which staff from across all of its business units are invited to share ideas, he said.

“We also run events for key suppliers where we share what we are looking at with them… We also do town-hall meetings all over the world where we invite in start-ups, entrepreneurs, academics to engage with us.”

General Mills has also learned a great deal from sharing expertise within its own four walls, said Bellairs.

Indeed, some of the company’s most exciting new products had been developed through employing technology from one part of the business in a completely different area, he said.

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