Announcing its first-quarter results this week, the company admitted its Fiber One grain snacks had experienced 'challenging trends' so far this year.
According to IRI data for the first six months of 2016, sales of Fiber One health bars have fallen 8.7% to $143m on unit sales down 9.4% [YTD July 10 2017]. (See table below)
Despite the decline in Fiber One snacks, General Mills’ US snacks business grew 2% year on year in the first quarter, although its cereals business declined 4%.
'Slower start than we planned'
“We had a slower start than we planned on Yoplait, Fiber One bars, and in our cereal business, and we’re working to improve our performance in these categories going forward with innovation, renovation and good messaging,” chairman and chief executive officer Ken Powell told analysts.
In the case of Fiber One, this includes new media activity this year to promote the ‘key message of superior taste with the added benefit of fiber’.
“We think the key to stabilizing this business is to bring news that reminds consumers that Fiber One fulfills the need for permissible indulgence better than any other product in the bar section,” said Powell.
New Fiber One bars
The Fiber One bar range is being expanded in January with two varieties of layered chewy bars, Salted Caramel Chocolate Chunk and Double Chocolate Almond.
“As we’ve seen in the past with Fiber One Brownies and Fiber One Cheesecake, delivering remarkable products to consumers usually translates to excellent growth, so we’re excited to get these products on shelf,” added Powell.
General Mills is also renovating elements of the brand; removing artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners from Fiber One brownies and the largest chewy bar varieties. And the company has reduced sugar in the brand’s oats and chocolate bars by 25%.
Powell told analysts previous renovation activity on Nature Valley was continuing to work, with sales of Nature Valley Crunchy granola bars up 2%, while gluten-free Nature Valley protein bars were up 5%. He added that Nature Valley Nut Butter Biscuits were continuing to drive growth this year.
Activity planned for fiscal 2017 included the return of marketing activity reminding consumers that Nature Valley products contain no artificial flavors and colors, and the expansion of the Nature Valley Nut Butter Biscuit line with a cocoa almond butter variety.
Cereal sales decline
With regards to the 4% decline in overall cereal sales, Powell said part of that was driven by a reduction in customer inventory levels as retail sales in outlets measured by Nielsen were only down 2%.
“When we include non-measured channels, we’d estimate that performance would be closer to flat,” he added. “We think we can continue to drive improvement in our cereal business by putting the consumer first and consistently delivering on their needs with innovation and renovation, just as we’ve been doing.”
Powell said the company continued to be encouraged by the performance of gluten-free Cheerios and products reformulated with no artificial colors and flavors.
The Annie’s Cereals launched this year were getting a good response from consumers and retailers, added Powell.
“We expect Annie’s cereal sales will build throughout the year as we grow distribution and get these products in front of more consumers,” he said.
See here for details of General Mill's Q1 2017 financial results.