Apr 11, 2016 • By

The power of food passion

Kurt Vickman was a pastor before founding Good Grocer, a nonprofit grocery store in Minneapolis that helps families in need gain access to healthy foods at affordable prices.

Bob Safford was a General Mills marketer – who worked with Monster cereals 30 years ago – before starting Boundary Waters Brands, the maker of JOIA All Natural Soda.

Hannah Barnstable was an investment banker in New York before returning to Minnesota to found Seven Sundays, a maker of muesli and muesli bars.

The three shared their stories of how they embraced their passion for food at a recent event for employees at our headquarters in Minneapolis, geared toward inspiring new food ideas.

Andrew Zimmern (“Bizarre Foods” on Travel Channel) led the panel, which also included Stephanie March of Mpls.St. Paul Magazine.


Zimmern – who has worked with General Mills through the years – accurately summarized the discussion: “How do you take one of the largest food companies in the world and help them reorganize their thinking?” he asked.

General Mills for years, noted Zimmern, has defined itself as a brand company. However, that really shouldn’t be the case.

“You guys make food,” he said. “Food, and the passion around it, should be the centerpiece of everything that you do.”


Nearly everyone on the panel had transformed their lives through their passion for food.

For Vickman, he said it’s about wanting to help the less fortunate have better access to food, every day. (Listen to Vickman tell our employees why he started Good Grocer).

Safford’s motivation came from wanting better options for non-alcoholic beverages.

And Barnstable created Seven Sundays because of a love for breakfast.

Zimmern asked the panel what each would do if they owned General Mills.

March agreed that food can break down barriers, so she said why not create food-centered gatherings – dinner parties – for employees where the ideas can flow and introductions made.

Safford had a number of ideas centered on introducing contemporary food culture to the company.

He suggested that marketers – before they begin work at General Mills – might better understand food culture and consumers by serving short internships at small-town grocery stores or co-ops. Our marketing and business teams, says Safford, also could serve as mentors to small companies such as his.

Barnstable’s idea was a novel one to encourage our employees to slow down and smell the coffee. Once a week at her company, employees are encouraged avoid technology for a half-day.

Vickman said he would attempt to recapture the sense of General Mills’ past, and allow that to propel the company into the future. “Food is the vehicle that helps create community, friendships and relationships,” he said.

He suggested, in this audio clip, that our employees should share their passion for food boldly with each other at work.

Employees took in all their advice, and the discussion, meant to lead to more innovation in our food.

“We wanted employees to hear from people tapping into their personal passions to inspire us as well,” says Lisa Tomassen, content integration manager, in Owned Media & Publishing at General Mills, part of the team that planned the discussion. “It’s about helping employees, whatever their role, to find their personal food passion. Whether that’s eating, cooking, baking, gardening or maybe just grocery shopping. We all need to understand our personal food passions to unlock the inspiration for those ideas that can then benefit consumers, our brands and our company.”

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