General Mills gets its Kix vying for the top spot among 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.
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 60% of sales. Europe is next, contributing more than 10%.
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 21% of the company's net sales in fiscal 2014 (ends May), is General Mills' largest customer.
Advertising and media expenses for the behemoth food maker lingers around the $900 million mark. Indeed, in fiscal years 2014, 2013, and 2012, General Mills logged $869.5 million, $895 million, and $913.7 million, respectively, in getting its name out.
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).
General Mills logged $17.9 billion in sales in fiscal 2014 (ends May) -- a $135.5 million increase vs. 2013's numbers -- driven by new business, a 20% spike in snacks sales, and 15% rise across each of its yogurt, cereal, and convenient meals units. Net income dropped 2% in 2014 to $1.8 billion as compared to 2013, thanks to the rising cost of sales and increasing income taxes. Cash flow from operations dropped by $385 million during 2014 to $2.5 billion. General Mills attributes the decline to a $503 million change in current assets and liabilities (largely due to changes in trade promotion and income tax accruals as well as a $107 million change in inventory).
The cereal business has been plagued in recent years by rising ingredient and other raw material costs, as well as competition from private-label products, which have improved greatly in quality and are growing in popularity with cost-conscious consumers.
Mergers and Acquisitions
To help offset weakness in its core cereal business, General Mills is beefing up its yogurt empire through acquisitions, such as its $1.2 billion purchase of a controlling stake in Yoplait in 2011, a brand that it had licensed for several decades. The company acquired the 50% stake in Yoplait owned by French investment firm PAI Partners, plus 1% from dairy cooperative Social. Additionally, General Mills acquired a 50% share of a related firm that owns Yoplait's global branding rights. General Mills aims to expand Yoplait's operations in France, Europe, and the rest of the world. Also in 2011 General Mills acquired Dean Foods' Mountain High all-natural yogurt business for about $85 million. The brand became part of General Mills' Yoplait USA division.
General Mills also has an eye on the growing natural foods niche. In October 2014 the company acquired 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.
In line with its strategy to grow its business in global markets, General Mills acquired Parampara's ready-to-cook spice and sauce mixes made and marketed in India and also exported to the US, Canada, and Japan. In 2012 it bought Brazilian food maker Yoki Alimentos, which makes and markets more than 600 items under nine brands, including Yoki and Kitano. The deal doubles General Mills' annual sales in Latin America.
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.
Building its international business is another key element of the company's strategy. Indeed, in fiscal 2014 (ends May) General Mill's international arm contributed 30% of the company's total sales, up from 19% in fiscal 2011.