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 71% of sales. Europe is next, contributing more than 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 66 facilities for the production of a wide variety of food products. Of these facilities, 34 are located in the US (1 of which is leased), 7 in the Asia/Pacific region (2 of which are leased), 5 in Canada (3 of which are leased), 11 in Europe/Australia (2 of which are leased), and 9 in Latin 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 2015 (May year end) and the International segment, 29%. 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 21% of the company's net sales in fiscal 2015, is General Mills' largest customer.
Advertising and media expenses for the behemoth food maker lingers around the $900 million mark. Indeed, in fiscal years 2015, 2014, and 2013, General Mills logged $823.1 million, $869.5 million, and $895 million, respectively, in getting its name out.
(Fiscal 2015 had 53 weeks compared to 52 weeks in fiscal 2014).
In fiscal 2015, General Mills' net sales decreased by 1.6% due to lower U.S. Retail and International segment sales partially offset increased sales from the Convenience Stores & Foodservice segment.
Revenues declined as unfavorable foreign exchange transactions offset the benefits of a 53rd week and six months of incremental contribution from the Annie's natural and organic foods business (acquired in October 2014).
General Mills' net income decreased by 33% in fiscal 2015 due to higher selling, general, and administrative expenses and increased restructuring, impairment, and other exit costs and interest.
In 2015 the company redirected certain resources supporting its Green Giant business in its U.S. Retail segment to other businesses within the segment, resulting in an impairment charge related to the Green Giant brand intangible asset.
Restructuring charges recorded in restructuring, impairment, and other exit costs were $284 million in fiscal 2015 compared to $4 million in fiscal 2014. Interest, net for fiscal 2015 totaled $315 million, $13 million higher than fiscal 2014.
Selling, general, and administrative expenses decreased primarily due to a 5% drop in advertising and media expense, and savings from Project Catalyst and its other cost management initiatives.
In fiscal 2015, General Mills' net cash provided by the operating activities was flat due to offsetting changes in assets and liabilities. The change in current assets and liabilities was primarily driven by the timing of trade and promotion accruals, changes in tax accruals, and changes in derivative positions and restructuring and impairment charges.
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 2015 General Mills' international arm contributed 29% of the company's total sales, up from 19% in fiscal 2011.
The company also sell under-performing assets to raise cash and cut costs.
In mid-2015 it agreed to sell 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 announced plans to close one of its two facilities in Joplin, Missouri, and its refrigerated baked goods plant in New Albany, Indiana. In fiscal 2014 its sold certain grain elevators in the U.S. 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, is 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 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.