General Mills’ global bakery platform - One Global Baked Goods - stretched across its three business pillars – US retail, international business and convenience and food service. Generating annual sales of $4bn, brands under the business included Pillsbury, Betty Crocker and Yoki.
Staci Seibold, VP of One Global Baked Goods at General Mills, said there were many global headwinds facing the baking sector.
“We have the global economic slowdown, political turmoil, commodity volatility which we don’t see ending, and regulatory pressures,” she told attendees at the AACCI’s 2014 annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.
However, amid these headwinds were business opportunities, from the growing middle classes in Latin America and Mexico to dietary restriction opportunities presented by the world’s Muslim population, she said - “it’s not all doom and gloom”.
Each country has differences
Seibold said as bakery companies worked to generate growth amid such opportunities, blending global ideas with local actions was critical.
“We’re looking to think global, but act local. How we show up in each country might have differences that are important for consumers in the country,” she said.
For example, Pillsbury cake mixes in India were suitable for vegetarians and designed to be cooked in a pressure cooker.
General Mills had a global council to share strategies and challenges that then filtered through to developers in the country, she explained.
“What we’re looking for on global trends is synergy and scale – what are the global problems we can solve and then spread out to our regions? But it’s very important to have feet on the ground and understand the local markets in terms of health and nutrition as well as regulation – local market influence is important to know.”
Compelling consumer problems
Staci Seibold, VP of One Global Baked Goods, General Mills: "Often insights are not from their words; it’s from watching.”
On a global scale, Seibold said, there were a number of consumer problems that the bakery sector had to address.
General Mills had identified four core “compelling consumer problems” relevant to today’s consumer – the desire for harder-working carbohydrates; the need for simplicity; more choice in free-from foods; and calories that were worth it.
“The key to success against those consumer-compelling problems is to design consumer-relevant new products and never rest with your existing core business; constantly reinvent that core business,” she said.
Asked how General Mills identified consumer relevant problems, she said it was a combination of listening to and watching consumers. “Often insights are not from their words; it’s from watching.”
Carb concern and free-from worries
Volumes of carb-rich foods had fallen 5%, for example, versus protein-rich foods that were up 7%, she said. Citing Mintel data, she said 41% of consumers thought lowering carbohydrates consumption was important.
“On the face of that increasing consumer concern, it’s important we increase the relevancy of grain-based products,” she said. “Let’s put protein in, for example, to show the products are not just full of empty calories.”
General Mills had worked to call out relevant messages on pack to engage consumers, she explained, such as ‘slow release energy’ on Nature Valley bars.
For free-from worries, Seibold said it was about creating choice for the consumer – offering GMO-free options; gluten-free variants; peanut-free products.
“By the time I actually write out what a consumer wants in free-from, it has changed. It is an incredibly dynamic world about what consumers want out of their products so we must increase the consumer first choices and give them options,” she said.
Simplicity and ‘worth it’ calories
Beyond carb and free-from worries, consumers wanted simple foods – a concern that wasn’t new but still growing, Seibold said. “So, in the face of that increasing concern, we must increase trust and transparency in the foods we’re producing.”
General Mills, for example, had designed its snack lines with a ‘visible ingredient’ concept – using whole nuts and whole grains that could be seen through see-through packaging.
Consumers also wanted calories that were worth eating, she said, a challenge General Mills approached in three ways – with sensory delight products, justifiable indulgence and sensory disruption.
For example, baking mixes that smelt incredible when baked in the home, added fiber in a chocolate chip cookie, or bold flavors and colors in products.
“In the face of really giving consumers calories that are really worth it, we’re talking about ramping up what it takes to be remarkable,” she said.