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. Not just a cereal maker, General Mills is actually one of the largest food companies in the world. Some of its #1 and #2 market-leading brands are Betty Crocker dessert mixes, Gold Medal flour, Green Giant vegetables, Pillsbury cookie dough, and Yoplait yogurt. Although most of its sales come from the US, General Mills is trying to grow the reach and position of its brands around the world.
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 75% of sales. Europe is next, contributing about 10%.
The company has offices and manufacturing facilities in more than 30 countries. Organizationally, it divides its business into three segments. The majority of its 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, Bakeries & 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).
Sales and Marketing
The company's primary customers include grocery stores, mass merchandisers, membership club stores, natural food chains, drug, dollar, and discount chains, commercial and non-commercial foodservice distributors and operators, as well as restaurants, and convenience stores. Wal-Mart, which accounted for 22% of the company's net sales in fiscal 2012 (ends May), is General Mills' largest customer.
General Mills' fiscal 2012 (ends May) sales increased 12% vs. the prior year, driven by strong performance overseas. Indeed, sales from the company's international arm jumped 46% year over year, while sales at its core US retail segment rose just 3%. Still, low-single-digit growth by the US Retail segment, which contributes more than 60% of General Mills' total sales, was an improvement over the prior annual comparison, which was negative. Top performing retail categories included Snacks (up 15%), and Small Planet Foods (up 9%), driven by double-digit growth for Larabar, a natural fruit and nut bar. Big G cereals posted a 4% sales gain (vs. a 2% decline in fiscal 2011), while the company's Pillsbury and Baking Products units each saw their sales grow 3%.
Net income fell 13% in fiscal 2012 vs. the prior year, with the increase in net sales, offset by increased expenses related to the purchase of Yoplait S.A.S. , and increased advertising and media expenses.
The cereal business is plagued 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.
Beyond acquisitions, General Mills is looking to new products for growth. The food giant will launch dozens of new products across its diverse portfolio in the first half of fiscal 2013. New additions include Green Giant Veggie Chips and Totino's Pizzeria Rolls, and GoGurt Twisted, among many others. General Mill's brand-building strategy involved 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 2012 (ends May) General Mill's international arm contributed 25% of the company's total sales, up from 19% in fiscal 2011.
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 purchased 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.
In line with its strategy to grow 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 August 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.