Phil Z
Aug 31, 2015 • By

Taking gluten free to TV

You’d do anything for the ones you love, right?

Well, so would Cheerios engineer Phil Zietlow.

Phil, who’s worked at General Mills for 51 years, stars in the new commercials for gluten-free Cheerios – along with a few of his loved ones: his daughter-in-law, Joyce – and BuzzBee.

Joyce has Celiac disease. And a few years back, Phil started working on the gluten-free Cheerios project because he wanted her to be able to enjoy Cheerios. He was part of the large team, across General Mills, that came up with a way to make Cheerios gluten free.

“When I started on the project, I couldn’t really tell her what I was working on,” says Phil. “So, I probably worked on it for three years before I said to her, ‘I’m working on this thing, and I think we’re going to get it.’”

The Cheerios team definitely got it.

Cheerios_GF_350 And in July, five varieties of gluten-free Cheerios started landing on store shelves across the U.S.

Making Cheerios gluten free wasn’t simple, but the concept for the campaign to promote it was. We just needed to get Phil, Joyce and Buzz involved.

I had the chance to be on set while the scenes and lines for the new commercials “Family Matters” and “Phil & Buzz” were shot.

And when I say set, I mean Phil’s home in Minnesota. It was quite a scene. There may have been big cameras, lighting equipment and crew members all over his property, but there were no actors. Phil and Joyce were the stars, and their real story is the heart of the campaign.

Watch our behind-the-scenes video from the set, here.


“This is one of those stories that kind of wrote itself,” says Peter Moore Smith, executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi, who has been a part of Cheerios’ advertising for several years. “Of all of the people I’ve ever met who work on Cheerios, Phil embodies the spirit of the brand. When I learned that he got the idea to make gluten-free Cheerios because he wanted to be able to share breakfast with his daughter-in-law I thought there’s no better way to tell the story than to get out of the way and let him tell it himself.”

Family Matters Story Board

Family Matters just started airing today. Phil & Buzz will debut Sept. 9.

While the two ads have different tones, Phil’s personality shines through in both.

“The Honey Nut Cheerios ad is more playful. It’s got Buzz and it’s a little bit silly. So there’s a little bit of a laugh and a smile there,” says Smith. “The other commercial, with Joyce, is more heartfelt and more earnest about a man that did a wonderful thing for his daughter in-law – and really a wonderful thing for anyone who has Celiac disease.”

Smith said that while it’s always a challenge using real people instead of actors in commercials, the Zietlows were easy to work with and very accommodating.

Peter Moore Smith and Phil Zietlow

Phil felt the same way about working with Smith and his crew.

“Peter and the team are very inclusive and they want to make you feel at ease,” says Phil.

Although Phil considers himself shy and not fan of crowds, he says he was okay with the crew taking over his property for a couple days, because he’d do anything to help make sure people with Celiac disease know they can now enjoy Cheerios.Cheerios_GF_799 (1)

Smith describes Phil as a man of incredible empathy who doesn’t want anyone to feel isolated or alienated. And I got the same impression when I talked with Phil about the struggles of those with Celiac disease.

“If you’re a Celiac, you’re hurting all the time,” he says. “People say it’s only one, or two, or three percent of the population, but how many million people is that?”

And for the record, even though BuzzBee has starred in more commercials than him, Phil says he’s got Buzz beat in the Cheerios history department.

“I was around before Buzz! He’s a newcomer on the street because I was involved in the original development of Honey Nut Cheerios,” he says. “It actually worked, and people liked it. And then Buzz came along.”

By the way, you’ll be seeing Phil on more than just your television screen. He’s also featured on the back of the Cheerios boxes that are labeled gluten free.


We’ve seen a lot of love for gluten-free Cheerios on social media. Tell us, do you love the new ads?

Subscribe to “A Taste of General Mills” by email – here – and we’ll notify you about our latest posts.