Protein, indulgence and bold flavors on deck from General Mills

by Monica Watrous
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MINNEAPOLIS — Healthy snacks, high-protein cereal and dark chocolate flavor headline the latest spate of launches from General Mills Inc. planned for the coming months.

“Across all of U.S. Retail, we will launch more than 50 new products in the back half of the year,” said Ian Friendly, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, U.S. Retail, during a Dec. 18 earnings call with financial analysts. “That is on top of the more than 100 items launched in the first half. But it is not just quantity, it is quality that matters, and we think we have a strong lineup of product innovation that will contribute to good growth for U.S. Retail in 2014.”

January cereal launches include Fiber One Protein cereals in cranberry almond and maple brown sugar varieties, Chocolate Toast Crunch, Multi-Grain Cheerios Dark Chocolate Crunch, Cascadian Farm Graham Crunch and a cranberry almond variety of Nature Valley Protein granola, with 10 grams of protein per serving.

“We expect our cereal business to show continued sales growth in the second half of this year,” Mr. Friendly said.

General Mills hopes its high-protein cereals will unlock growth in the sleepy category.

“A lot of the competitive set outside the breakfast cereal category is bringing this fullness benefit or protein benefit to consumers,” Mr. Friendly said. “People like it in cereal, too, and so as we added that to Nature Valley and we will be adding that to Fiber One, and that, while it is not selling yet, sung into our customers in a very strong way. We think those are the kinds of things that are going to get people back to the category and consuming cereal just a bit more often.”

New yogurt flavors slated for a January introduction include strawberry cheesecake and apple pie varieties of Yoplait Greek 100 and cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavors of Yoplait Greek blended yogurts.

“We launched Yoplait Greek blended yogurts last quarter, and they are off to a good start,” Mr. Friendly said. “Retail sales growth for our Yoplait Greek products in total continues to outpace the Greek segment.”

The Liberte yogurt line will expand with orange mango and lime yogurt flavors, as well as a coconut variety of Liberte Greek.

“Fueled by our innovation and marketing plans, we continue to expect renewed sales growth for our U.S. yogurt business in fiscal 2014,” Mr. Friendly said.

Meal bars will debut under the Fiber One brand in January in three flavors: strawberry Greek yogurt, dark chocolate almond and chocolate peanut butter. The bars contain 10 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber per serving.

“We think they will appeal to weight-conscious consumers looking for a quick and nutritious meal replacement,” Mr. Friendly said.

Fiber One fruit-flavored snacks are set to roll out with 3 grams of fiber per 70-calorie pouch.

Other snack launches include Nature Valley Breakfast Biscuits in honey and blueberry flavors, Reese’s Puffs cereal treats and Chex Mix Popped snack mixes featuring popcorn for a “lighter snacking alternative” in white cheddar and sweet and salty varieties. The Green Giant snack chip line will expand with Baked Sweet Potato Fries and cheddar-flavored Baked Veggie Puffs.

New items in General Mills’ natural and organic snacks portfolio include dark chocolate turtle and dark chocolate peanut varieties of Larabar Uber fruit and nut bars, guacamole and falafel flavors of tortilla chips from Food Should Taste Good and Cascadian Farm chewy protein bars in peanut butter chocolate chip and honey roasted nut varieties.

“I think we see and continue to see extremely strong momentum on all our snacking businesses, and I don’t see anything that is going to change that,” Mr. Friendly said. “And when I look at our innovation lineup for the back half, and that division has our highest per cent of volume coming from innovation, it is a very innovation-driven category, and I am really quite excited about the prospects for that business, so I think it is strong.”

Also in January, General Mills extends its Helper line of convenient meals with spicy chipotle chicken enchilada and crispy buffalo chicken varieties of Chicken Helper, firehouse chili macaroni Hamburger Helper and two varieties under the Ultimate line of Chicken Helper: sweet and spicy teriyaki and orange chicken.

“Helpers are gaining dollar share driven by new Chicken Helper and Ultimate Helper varieties launched this past summer,” Mr. Friendly said.

Strong levels of consumer marketing will support new and established products in the second half, Mr. Friendly said.

“Our U.S. Retail businesses continue to face a challenging operating environment, but we believe our categories and our leading brands are well-positioned for growth,” he said. “We have some great product innovation in the marketplace now with more coming in the second half. We are supporting our brands with strong levels of advertising and consumer-directed marketing. With the year half complete, we remain on track to achieve our goals of low single-digit sales growth in fiscal 2014 with the segment operating profit growing faster than sales.”
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