NEW YORK — Recent launches from General Mills, Inc. demonstrate the company’s new approach to innovation. The Minneapolis-based Cheerios maker has adopted a mindset that favors speed over perfection in product development, said Jonathon J. Nudi, group president of North America Retail.
“In some cases, in the past, we might have brought something to market as the trend was leaving the market, because it took two or three years to get there,” Mr. Nudi said during the company’s investor day on July 9 in New York. “Through this consumer-first design process … we’re able to get from idea to market in less than a year. And as a result of that, we think we’re going to be on the front end of some of these trends.”
An example is Nature Valley crispy creamy wafer bars, which are beginning to hit retail shelves.
“These new bars are made with light and crispy whole grain wafers, layers of peanut butter and crunchy granola topping, providing a differentiated texture experience for consumers,” Mr. Nudi said. “It's still early, but wafer bars are off to a good start with strong display and consumer support plans on tap for the summer and fall.”
General Mills’ new approach involves distributing products into test markets quickly, gathering consumer feedback and iterating to improve the offering, Mr. Nudi said. Last year, the company introduced YQ by Yoplait, a yogurt brand featuring ultra-filtered milk with more protein and less sugar than traditional Greek-style yogurts. Early feedback revealed an opportunity to improve the taste and update the packaging to more effectively communicate the product’s benefits, Mr. Nudi said.
“This new product is on shelf now, and we’re driving awareness through our real good protein messaging, in-store trial driving levers and digital support,” he said.
Innovation is a key element driving growth in General Mills’ North America Retail segment, which generated $10 billion in net sales last year and represents about 60% of the company’s total sales. Other new products include Yoplait yogurt smoothies, Oui crème desserts and GoodBelly Probiotics yogurt.
“GoodBelly offers a modern approach to digestive health and meets a rising consumer interest, incorporating more probiotics into their diet,” Mr. Nudi said. “Leveraging our venture capital arm, 301 INC, we licensed the GoodBelly brand and created a high-protein, lactose-free yogurt with a clean ingredient deck. We're launching six flavors this month, with digital, social and in-store support lined up to build awareness and drive trial.”
The company also is expanding its natural and organic portfolio, which includes the Annie’s, Cascadian Farm and Epic Provisions brands. New Annie’s One-Pot Pasta contains organic pasta with hidden vegetables in the sauce. Epic Rise & Grind Bars combine meat, egg yolks and fruit into a high-protein, shelf-stable breakfast bar.
In the cereal category, a premium, ready-to-eat offering, Morning Summit, combines flakes, fruits and nuts, and features almonds as the first ingredient. A 38-oz box retails for around $13, Mr. Nudi said.
“The reality is most innovation doesn’t work,” Mr. Nudi said. “I think the estimates would say 10% of all innovation sticks for three-plus years. So we believe that we have to have a big funnel of ideas. And one of the things we’re focused on, as I mentioned, is getting better and faster with the way that we innovate…
“The reality, we’ve got to take our whacks, and if things aren’t working, we will move on from them. In other cases — like YQ is a great example — we feel like we have something; we were just a bit off. So we felt like it was worth iterating, getting the packaging more clear than the benefits coming through and improving the product itself.
“So, it’s a bit of a juggling act. We believe innovation is critically important particularly in many of our big categories. And we’re very focused on getting to market faster and really being on the right trends.”