General Mills has improved the health profile of 73% of its U.S. retail sales volume since 2005, with more than 20% improvement in fiscal 2013 alone.
The improvements—which included increasing protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and reducing limiters such as calories, sodium, sugar and fat—touched all platforms, including baking, cereal, dairy, meals and snacks.
Fiscal 2013 marks the ninth year that General Mills has tracked and quantified health improvements using Health Metric, a corporate initiative overseen by the firm’s Health and Wellness Council and the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition. Since 2005, the company has added or reformulated more than 750 products to reduce calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar or sodium by 10% or more; increase vitamins, minerals and fiber by 10% or more; and include at least a half-serving of whole grain, fruit, vegetables or low or nonfat dairy.
General Mills chief health and wellness officer Maha Tahiri said it's about a 50:50 split between new products and reformulations, noting that health is a key component of the firm's business strategy. "Health is a core growth strategy for General Mills and better-for-you products continue to be good for business," Tahiri told FoodNavigator-USA.
Much of the progress over the past nine years has come from sodium reduction, as the company aims to reduce sodium by an average of 20% across its top 10 categories by 2015. This effort represents about 40 percent of the company's U.S. retail portfolio, including snacks, soups and side dishes.
Sodium and calorie reduction, whole grains big in 2013
In fiscal 2013, sodium and calorie reduction, along with increases in whole grain were among the main health improvements General Mills achieved, with each category reporting 10% or better improvement.
The company reduced sodium by 10% in several shelf stable Green Giant vegetable products, Suddenly Salads and Helper dinners. Additionally, General Mills reduced the calories in Yoplait Light to 90 and introduced a new lower-calorie dairy option—Yoplait Greek 100, with 100 calories and a Weight Watchers PointsPlus value of two points per serving. "Year-one retail sales for Yoplait Greek 100 reached $150 million, making it the single largest new-product launch for Yoplait USA in 20 years," Tahiri noted.
The company also made progress in incorporating at least a half serving of whole grains across its portfolio.
New product launches in the snacks category also contributed to Health Metric progress in fiscal 2013, with rollouts such as Fiber One protein bars (in three flavors, with 20% daily value of fiber and 10% DV of protein); Fiber One 90 Calorie Brownies (in four flavors, with 20% DV protein); and Larabar Alternative Protein bars with pea protein (in four flavors, with 10 g protein).
Tahiri added that the company will continue to focus on making incremental changes to its product lines, with increased emphasis on incorporating essential nutrients and whole grains.
"In addition to decreasing limiters, we continue to place emphasis on increasing the delivery of nutrients of need like calcium and vitamin D and ingredients like whole grains, since we know nine out to 10 American are not getting enough whole grains in their diet," she said. "It will always be a balance. And, our approach will continue to be a series of small, incremental changes since we know consumers are focused on health, yet do not want to compromise the great taste they’ve come to expect from General Mills."