Gluten-free-oats
Jul 27, 2015 • By

How did we make Cheerios gluten free?

Five varieties of Cheerios labeled gluten free are now in the process of being shipped across the U.S. to a store near you.

And we’re excited to see that some consumers have already shared photos of the boxes on a grocery shelf or in their homes.

The boxes of gluten-free Cheerios (Apple Cinnamon, Frosted, Original, Honey Nut, Multi Grain) should be available nationwide by September. Production in our cereal plants started earlier this month.

Gluten-free-cheerios-all

It’s the culmination of several years of hard work by hundreds of General Mills employees who dedicated thousands of hours to making it happen.

We first announced our gluten-free news in February, and how we developed a way to sort out the small amount of wheat, rye and barley in our supply of whole oats that are inadvertently introduced at the farms where the oats are grown, or during transportation of the whole oats to our mill in Minnesota.

Gluten-free-Cheerios-label

In the last few months, we made the transition to using those sorted oats to make the oat flour for gluten-free Cheerios, which allowed us to meet the FDA’s strict guideline for the gluten-free label on the boxes.

Now, with the first boxes of gluten-free Cheerios on store shelves, it’s a good time to tell you the back story.

You also can learn more in this video.

The project actually started in 2007, at about the same time that Chex cereal was moving toward becoming gluten-free.

Phil Zietlow, an engineer in our Research and Development group for 50 years, wasn’t the first person at General Mills to raise the gluten-free banner back then.

But he was probably the most passionate. Because his gluten-free crusade had become a personal one. His daughter-in-law, Joyce, has celiac disease.

Phil-Zietlow

At a General Mills company function three years ago, Phil met Ken Powell, our chairman and chief executive officer, and told Ken that he was working on creating gluten-free Cheerios, but that the team needed more money for its research.

Phil even told him that he was willing to dip into his retirement funds to pay for the project.

He remembers Ken telling him, ‘I love your passion. Keep working on it.’

That moment was the turning point, and six weeks later Ken revealed to our board of directors that the company was working on gluten-free Cheerios.

We invested heavily in the project as it proceeded to the construction of a new multi-floor facility dedicated to oat separation, using existing equipment in the milling industry.

Gluten-free-Cheerios-mill

Changes also needed to be made at our cereal plants – from the installation of walls to new cleaning procedures – to ensure no gluten contamination from other cereals during production.

Mark Boyd, a Research and Development technology manager, who was part of the gluten-free Cheerios project from the start, says that everything came into place.

“The progress at all the Cheerios plants has been great,” says Mark. “The entire supply chain has been converted to gluten-free oats.”

Gluten-free-honey-nut-cheerios

Stringent testing at all the stages of production – of the separated oats, the oat flour made from those oats, and the cereal – also was a critical part of the project.

As a result, each box meets and exceeds the FDA’s gluten-free threshold of having less than 20 parts per million of gluten, in order to be labeled gluten free.

The Cheerios marketing team also has been busy. To explain the project, they invited gluten-free experts to our headquarters this spring, and inside our new oat milling facility and testing lab. They heard directly from the team – including Phil – and had their questions answered.

phil-zietlow

“This was uncharted waters for us, bringing in bloggers to our plant,” says Keith Pullman, manager of our Fridley, Minnesota, mill. “But gluten-free Cheerios just happens to be the biggest thing that’s gone on in some time at General Mills, and we had to open the door to the world.”

Adds Evan Shuster, associate marketing manager for our Cereal team: “Opening our doors to the most influential and informed dietitians, writers and bloggers was a great way for them to see our process, meet our team and learn about our passion.”

It’s that passion to help more people enjoy Cheerios that Phil – and the entire project team – hopes is very clear.

“The gluten-free project is the top thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Phil. “With gluten-free Cheerios, we’re helping a lot of people who really are suffering.”

You can learn more at Cheerios.com/GlutenFree.

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