General Mills is one of the world's top brass cereal makers. Every year it jockeys with Kellogg to be #1 in that market with a brand arsenal that includes kid-friendly Kix, as well as Chex, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Wheaties. Much more than a cereal maker, General Mills is one of the world's largest food companies. Some of its #1 and #2 market-leading brands include Betty Crocker dessert mixes, Gold Medal flour, Green Giant vegetables, Pillsbury cookie dough, and Yoplait yogurt. While most of the firm's sales come from the US, General Mills is working to extend the reach and position of its brands globally. It picked up natural foods maker Annie's in 2014 and premium meat snack maker EPIC Provisions in 2016.
General Mills sells its products in more than 100 countries throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. The US is its largest market, accounting for 72% of sales. Europe is next, contributing about 12%.
In addition to its consolidated operations, the company has a 50% stake in two strategic joint ventures that manufacture and market food products sold in more than 130 countries worldwide.
The company operates 59 facilities for the production of a wide variety of food products. Of these facilities, 30 are located in the US (1 of which is leased), 6 in the Asia/Pacific region (2 of which are leased), 4 in Canada (2 of which are leased), 10 in Europe/Australia, and 9 in South and Central America and Mexico.
The company boasts offices and manufacturing facilities in more than 30 countries. It divides its business into three segments. The majority of the firm's sales come from US Retail, which includes seven US-focused divisions that market Big G cereals like Cheerios, packaged meals such as Hamburger Helper, the Pillsbury and Yoplait brands, snacks like Nature Valley granola bars, baking products such as Betty Crocker, and Small Planet Foods, a subsidiary that offers organic brands Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen.
Through wholly-owned businesses outside of the US, General Mills' International segment sells certain brands and products in Canada, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. Among them are Cheerios, Green Giant, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Old El Paso Mexican foods, Pillsbury, Wanchai Ferry dumplings, Yoplait, and Yoki flour in Brazil (which was acquired in mid-2012 in a deal that doubled General Mills' annual sales in Latin America). The company also offers some local brands, including La Salteña pastas and tapas in Brazil and Jus-Rol in the UK.
General Mills' smallest business segment, Convenience Stores & Foodservice, delivers baking mixes and flour to bakeries and grocery store bakeries; branded cereals, snacks, backed goods, and yogurt to schools, restaurants, and hotels; and a variety of products to convenience stores and vending machines.
General Mills also owns interest in two joint ventures: Cereal Partners Worldwide with Nestlé (which sells such breakfast cereals as Chocapic, Nesquick, Shreddies, and Uncle Toby's) and Häagen-Dazs Japan (which operates ice cream cafés in that country).
U.S. Retail accounted for about 60% of the company's net sales in fiscal 2016 (May year end) and the International segment, 28%. The remainder was accounted for by Convenience Stores & Foodservice.
Sales and Marketing
The company's primary customers include grocery stores, mass merchandisers, membership club stores, natural food chains, commercial and non-commercial foodservice distributors and operators, as well as restaurants, convenience stores, and drug, dollar, and discount chains. Wal-Mart, which accounted for 20% of the company's net sales in fiscal 2016, is General Mills' largest customer.
Advertising and media expenses for the behemoth food maker lingers around the $900 million mark. Indeed, in fiscal years 2016, 2015, and 2014, General Mills logged $754.4 million, $823.1 million, and $869.5 million, respectively, in getting its name out.
In fiscal 2016 General Mills net sales declined by 6% due to a 4% drop from foreign currency exchange rates related to re-measurement as a result of the value of the US dollar over other currencies; the sale of the Green Giant vegetable business in North America; and a 52-week year (compared to a 53-week in fiscal 2015). Excluding the impact of foreign exchange, net sales declined by 2% in fiscal 2016.
Net sales for the International segment declined by 10%, reflecting negative foreign currency translation effects. On a constant currency basis, International net sales increased 3%. Net sales grew by 12% in Latin America, with a good performance in Brazil, including the acquisition of Carolina yogurt in that market. Sales rose by 3% in Europe thanks to growth on Old El Paso Mexican products and Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Asia/Pacific revenues went up by 1%, led by double-digit sales growth in India. Net sales declined by 4% in Canada, driven by the divestiture of the Green Giant vegetable business in that market.
The company has recorded net income growth over the last five years.
Net income increased by 39% in fiscal 2016 due to lower restructuring, impairment, and other exit costs, and s gain from divestitures.
Cash from operating activities grew by 3% due to a $477 million increase in net earnings (including a $96 million change in deferred income taxes and a $148 million net gain on divestitures) also offset by a $424 million decrease in non-cash restructuring charges. The $43 million change in current assets and liabilities was primarily driven by the timing of accounts payable including the impact of longer terms offset by the timing of inventory build.
Beyond acquisitions, General Mills is looking to new products for growth. The food giant regularly launches dozens of new products across its diverse portfolio each fiscal year. Past additions include Green Giant Veggie Chips, Totino's Pizzeria Rolls, and GoGurt Twisted, among many others. General Mill's brand-building strategy involves developing new value-added products and building its brands over time with strong consumer-directed marketing and innovative merchandising programs.
It introduced the Annie’s organic brand to new categories, including yogurt, soup and cereal. In fiscal 2017, the company plans to continue to innovate on its brands to drive sales growth.
To reshape its portfolio General Mills is acquiring and divesting products to increase the growth profile of its businesses. It is also getting its brands into the fastest- growing outlets where people buy food and expanding into new geographies to reach more consumers around the world. The company is currently pursuing several multi-year restructuring initiatives designed to increase efficiency and focus on key growth strategies.
Building its international business is another key element of the company's strategy. Indeed, in fiscal 2016 General Mills' international arm contributed 28% of the company's total sales, up from 19% in fiscal 2011. The company has been increasing their global footprint by acquiring new brands in international markets and expanding their current brands into more markets around the world. A great example is the recent introduction of Yoplait yogurt in China.
The company also sells under-performing assets to raise cash and cut costs.
In fiscal 2016, General Mills approved Project Compass, a restructuring plan designed to enable the International segment to accelerate long-term growth through increased organizational effectiveness and reduced administrative expense. The company also made the decision to close its manufacturing facility in Vineland, New Jersey; reached a tentative agreement to sell its Martel, Ohio, facility to Mennel Milling Company; agreed to close the Marília manufacturing facility and distribution center; and transfer production out of the São Bernardo do Campo facility to other General Mills facilities in Brazil. It also decided to exit the fruit snacks business in China.
In 2015 it sold its Green Giant and Le Sueur frozen and canned vegetables businesses to B&G Foods for about $765 million. The sale comes as General Mills struggles with weakness in some of its top brands; Green Giant itself is considered a brand in somewhat of a decline as consumers increasingly desire fresh produce over the frozen and canned variety.
In 2015, General Mills also announced a preliminary decision to exit its foodservice business in South Africa and close its facility in Linbro Park, Johannesburg. It also closed its frozen dough manufacturing facility in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and approved plans to close one of its two facilities in Joplin, Missouri, and its refrigerated baked goods plant in Midland, Ontario, Canada and New Albany, Indiana. In fiscal 2014 its sold certain grain elevators in the US.Retail segment for $124 million.
In 2014 General Mills inaugurated the company’s first innovation, technology and quality center in China. The $15 million facility, spanning 75,000 square feet, was the company's first major technical center outside of the General Mills worldwide headquarters in Minneapolis.
Mergers and Acquisitions
General Mills also has an eye on the growing natural foods niche.
In 2016 it bought EPIC Provisions, a rapidly growing, premium meat snacks company based in Austin, Texas. EPIC will operate under General Mills’ Annie’s business. EPIC will maintain its present location in Austin. The acquisition of EPIC positions General Mills for exciting growth with a highly authentic brand in an entirely new natural snacking category.
In 2015 the company acquired Brazilian yogurt maker Carolina Administração e Participações Societárias Ltda., (Carolina), a privately-held dairy products company headquartered in Ribeirão Claro, Paraná, Brazil. Carolina is a family-owned Brazilian company, a dairy products producer. Carolina’s strong capabilities in yogurt and dairy were targeted to accelerate General Mills’ growth in Brazil.
In 2014 the company bought Annie's, a top US maker of branded organic and natural food products for $46 per share in cash, representing a value of about $820 million. Annie's, founded in 1989, has grown from a producer of organic mac and cheese and bunny-shaped crackers to a bustling business that boasts product categories that compete successfully with heavy hitters in the food business.