General Mills and South Dakota State University open oats research lab

By Vince Bamford

- Last updated on GMT

General Mills uses oats in 600 of its products. Photo: iStock - lisaaMC
General Mills uses oats in 600 of its products. Photo: iStock - lisaaMC

Related tags General mills Chief executive officer

General Mills and South Dakota State University are to work together in a bid to improve the nutritional qualities of oats and develop varieties with higher yields.

Describing itself as one of the largest buyers of North American oats, General Mills said it hoped the Oats Research Laboratory at the university would also increase profitability of the crop for US farmers.

More than 600 General Mills products contain oats, said the manufacturer, adding that 25% of its US retail sales last year comprised products containing whole grain oats. When launched in 1941, General Mills’ Cheerios brand was known as Cheerioats.

Last year, 40% of the oats General Mills purchased were from sustainable sources. It has committed to sourcing all its oats from growing regions that demonstrate “continuous improvement against industry-based environmental metrics​” by 2020.

Oat breeding research 

Having a venerable institution like SDSU as a partner will allow us to do more innovative oat breeding research in the labs and fields – and get us to that goal​,” said Jim Kirkwood, General Mills vice president and chief science & technology development officer.

General Mills agronomists and plant breeders will work alongside the university’s plant science department at the new collaborative oat research laboratory, which includes greenhouses and access to field trials.

South Dakota State University president Dr Barry H Dunn said the university believed strongly in public/private partnerships and the synergies they brought to research and innovation.

This relationship combines an international innovator in consumer foods and the leading land-grant institution in the country’s second largest oat-producing state​,” he added.

'A natural fit'

General Mills said South Dakota was a natural fit for the lab as the state was ranked second in US oat production in 2015. It added that – unlike some other commodities such as corn and soybeans – oats do not benefit from large-scale private or commercial breeding programs.

South Dakota growers prompted and helped the revitalization of oat variety development at SDSU and this scientific partnership with General Mills, a major buyer of South Dakota oats, brings value right back to the oat grower​,” said Dr. Daniel Scholl, interim dean of the College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences, and director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.

General Mills promotes Harmening to COO

GM Harmening
Jeffrey L Harmening

General Mills has promoted Jeffrey L Harmening, chief operating officer of its US Retail segment, to COO of the overall General Mills business.

In his new role, which hasn’t been held since 2006, Harmening will be responsible for all company operations including the US retail, international, convenience stores and foodservice segments; sales and channel development; global supply chain; and innovation, technology and quality.

Forty-nine-year-old Harmening has worked at General Mills for 22 years and has been COO of the $10bn US Retail segment since May 2014.

He has held positions including chief executive officer of Cereal Partners Worldwide, General Mills’ $2bn global cereal joint venture with Nestlé. Harmening has also served as president of General Mills’cereals business.

"Jeff has a wide range of experience in both the US and internationally​,” said General Mills chairman and CEO Ken Powell. “The timing is right to bring together overall operations under one leader.  Jeff is well positioned to drive both growth and profitability​.”

Harmening's successor will be announced at a later date.

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