MINNEAPOLIS — A data driven approach to help General Mills, Inc. win in the marketplace is yielding measurably positive results, the company’s executives said in a recent presentation. Still, despite beneficial shifts in the company’s product portfolio and a culturally-informed approach toward marketing, long-term financial targets will not be met this year because of a challenging operating environment.
The executives, headlined by Jeffrey L. Harmening, chairman and chief executive officer, spoke Feb. 22 at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York virtual conference.
Setting the stage for his colleagues, Mr. Harmening updated the investment analysts on the company’s Accelerate strategic framework first introduced a year earlier.
Accelerate is a roadmap for the company’s path toward long-term profitable growth and relies strongly on achieving success in North America, a market that accounted for 85% of General Mills sales in fiscal 2021 (year ended May 30), Mr. Harmening said. In recent years the company has made acquisitions and divestitures to focus on five global platforms (cereal, pet food, ice cream, snack bars and Mexican food), together with numerous “local gems,” Mr. Harmening said. He estimated that the global platforms account for 50% of General Mills sales while the local gems represent another 30%.
“Since fiscal 2018, we’ve turned over roughly 15% of our net sales base through acquisitions and divestitures and increased our growth exposure by about a full point,” Mr. Harmening said. “We divested or have agreements to divest lower growth, lower margin businesses, including yogurt in Europe and Brazil and dough in Europe and Argentina. We acquired high-growth businesses like Blue Buffalo pet food and Nudges True Chews and Top Chews dog treats. And we’ve successfully integrated these acquisitions into the General Mills portfolio and continue to fuel their growth.
“For example, net sales for Blue Buffalo have grown by roughly $600 million since our acquisition, which represents a 10% compound annual growth rate.”
Mr. Harmening credited the portfolio shifts for helping General Mills hit the high end of its long-term sales growth targets of 2% to 3% over the last couple years.
Dana M. McNabb, chief strategy and growth officer, said the company has used data to more successfully connect to consumer culture. The approach has informed which product attributes to spotlight in the company’s marketing and which celebrity spokespersons to engage for endorsements.
“We challenged ourselves to highlight the taste, health and convenience benefits of cereal in a culturally connected way that resonates with today’s consumers,” Ms. McNabb said. “Take Cheerios heart-shaped O where this year, we’re telling consumers to pour their heart into taking care of their health with the help of an utterly likable coach, celebrity Ice-T. When Lucky Charms became Loki Charms last summer tied to the hit Disney Plus show, the boxes sold out in seconds, reinforcing for us the power of exclusive, limited offerings that reintroduce our brands to consumers. And recently, Cinnamon Toast Crunch collaborated with snowboarder and influencer Chloe Kim to talk about her obsession with Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s irresistible taste. These are three of the biggest brands in the US cereal category, and they’re showing up in culture in a way that has driven significant penetration gains and helped expand Big G’s category leadership with our US market share up more than a full point so far this year.”
Similarly, the company’s data insights demonstrated that African Americans are the largest and fastest-growing vegan demographic in the United States, Ms. McNabb said. The company’s 301 INC. venture accelerator recently invested in Everything Legendary. The business is a “taste forward plant-based meat company led by passionate founders and targeted to the Black community,” she said.
Updating the analysts on the company’s financial outlook for the year, Kofi A. Bruce, chief financial officer, said supply-chain difficulties will contribute to a difficult third quarter.
“We anticipate our back half earnings growth will be more heavily weighted to Q4 than previously expected,” he said. “Recent acute supply constraints on our refrigerated dough, pizza and hot snacks platforms in North America have caused short-term production shutdowns and lower customer service levels during Q3. As a result, we expect our net sales growth will lag our retail sales performance in Q3, and we expect third-quarter adjusted operating profit will be down high single digits to low double digits versus last year. We’ve taken actions to address these supply constraints, and we expect to improve customer service and deliver strong top- and bottom-line growth in the fourth quarter.”
Mr. Bruce said the profitability setback this year stands in contrast to the last few, in which General Mills’ objective of mid-single-digit growth in operating profits has been achieved.For fiscal 2022, he said General Mills expects full year organic net sales to increase 4% to 5%, constant currency adjusted operating profit to be down 1% to 4% and constant currency adjusted diluted earnings per share to range between down 2% and up 1%.