Sep 27, 2011 • By

Annual Shareholders Meeting

Yesterday marked the eighth General Mills annual shareholders meeting I have attended in my 10 years with the company — and it continues to be an event I look forward to each year. Not only for the opportunity to sample new products from across the company and around the world, but also to hear what is on the minds of our shareholders.

A shareholder from Ohio asked during the Q&A where he could find 40-count boxes of our “Golden Grahams Treats” bars, sold individually in convenience stores. One of our executives agreed to hook him up on the spot.

(Ken Powell, General Mills chairman and CEO)

We also were thanked by a shareholder for our “above and beyond” support of men and women in the U.S. National Guard and the Reserves. In response, General Mills Chairman and CEO Ken Powell acknowledged that General Mills has 750 employees who are veterans, and 20 employees are currently deployed overseas. He said that, in addition to holding their job open, General Mills also makes up the difference in pay to match their General Mills salary while they are deployed.

(Peter Erickson, General Mills senior vice president of Innovation, Technology and Quality)

The questions and comments followed our formal shareholder presentation by Powell and Peter Erickson, General Mills senior vice president of Innovation, Technology and Quality. You can read about Erickson’s presentation here.

Powell noted that this fall, we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our acquisition of The Pillsbury Company, which transformed General Mills into a food company with international capabilities — an area that will continue to be a significant growth engine for us in the years ahead.

Powell said we’re now leveraging our global portfolio around the world to appeal to these key consumer groups:

1. The baby boom generation, with 1.2 billion people over the age of 50 — these consumers have a particular interest in foods with health and wellness benefits.

2. The Millennials — ages 17 to 34 — are the largest consumer segment. They like to experiment with food, and they look for options that are natural, simple and local.

3. Multicultural consumers in the U.S., along with the rising middle class in emerging markets, represent the fastest-growing consumer groups for us.

Powell said General Mills is increasing its investment in digital media to effectively reach these key consumer groups.

One such initiative was recognized at today’s meeting with a “Champions” ward recognizing outstanding achievements by employees.

Powell explained how our Pillsbury Crescents team took a 50-year-old business and repositioned it for today’s millennial consumer. They developed multiple TV spots, digital ads and videos to show moms how to use crescent roll dough for everything from appetizers to easy meal solutions. And they encouraged bloggers to comment on these new recipe ideas. As a result, Powell said retail sales for Pillsbury crescent rolls increased 8 percent in fiscal 2011, leading growth for the Pillsbury division.

Digital media was also key in the outstanding results for Lärabar, a line of fruit and nut based energy bars. In addition to new product innovation – including a new chocolate variety – the team launched an innovative and cost-effective social media campaign. As a result, the team drove a 77 percent increase in retail sales, making Lärabar the fastest-growing brand in our portfolio in 2011.

Our shareholders seemed most impressed with our Champions Award winners focused on cost savings. Powell explained that oat hulls are a by-product of our oat flour mill in Fridley, Minn. By replacing our natural gas boilers at the mill with biomass burners, we’re now using those oat hulls as an energy source. When Powell told shareholders that this initiative reduced our natural gas usage at the mill by 90 percent, the audience audibly “oohed” and “ahhhed.”

Powell also recognized our team in Australia for generating cost savings in areas ranging from procurement to packaging, delivering more than $10 million in cost savings last year.

The full webcast of the meeting is archived on