General Mills is devoting more attention to developing products in the breakfast and snacking categories that help consumers who are struggling with their weight or just want to eat healthier, a top executive said in an interview.
Jodi Benson, the company’s chief innovation technology officer, said the maker of Lucky Charms, Betty Crocker and Fiber One sees four major principles defining people’s current approach to dieting: increasing protein, reducing bad carbs, consuming harder working calories and reducing empty ones. Consumers are more likely to follow principles than a definitive diet, Benson said.
“When we look at designing the foods, we’re not necessarily thinking about just one or the other,” Benson said. “We’re actually thinking about creating a portfolio of solutions, so people figure out which combination they are seeing the most results with.”
Roughly one in three adults and one in six children are classified as overweight, according to the National Institute of Health. Obesity can cause a variety of health issues, the CDC said, including increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. This puts pressure on food manufacturers to include options in their portfolio for consumers looking to lose weight or to just eat healthier.
The General Mills product development team’s approach to this segment is through innovation led by its three-person internal venture studio, according to Benson. The group is developing new product ideas “almost like a startup would,” she said. It latest innovation — a snack bar and crisps line called Good Measure targeted at consumers looking to control their sugar intake — is debuting in 6,500 retail locations this summer.
General Mills specified that the products are targeted at “consumers looking to lose weight.” Since 2017 the company has leaned in to “weight loss foods,” including a partnership with Weight Watchers.
Within the General Mills portfolio, the company’s protein focus will soon be highlighted through new Progresso soups that are currently in development. They are expected to contain 17 to 25 grams of protein, half of the daily recommended average. Benson added that the soups also appeal to consumers looking to eschew meat because the protein in the vegetable offerings come mostly from beans and legumes.
A newer product the company developed for “weight loss” minded consumers is a cereal, snack bar and yogurt brand called Ratio. The crunchy bar is marketed as keto friendly with only 1 gram of sugar. The packaging on the bar also contains detailed nutritional information.
“We’ve seen consumers really respond to it because it saves them the math, and they know they’re having the right type of carbs that are packing a better punch in terms of delivering healthy nutrients,” Benson said.
Prioritizing new products and trials
As a company known for its iconic cereal brands, Benson said General Mills is working on offerings that prioritize nutrition in order to meet consumer demand.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota-based company launched its Cheerios Oat Crunch line. The cereals contain 30 grams of whole grain, 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of total fat. A 2017 study from Nutrition Insight found participants ate less and lost weight when they swapped out refined grain products for whole grain varieties.
General Mills’ focus on expanding its portfolio of products that can help consumers loose weight coincides with the growth in the popularity of better-for-you foods across the food and beverage industry. The USDA said people have an easier time losing weight through foods with lower calories and higher nutritional value.
Last fall, the FDA issued new guidelines for “healthy” food. The agency said a product must have the equivalent of a serving of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy or protein foods as indicated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
On top of new product development, Benson said General Mills is modernizing the way it goes about conducting research over how to make its foods healthier.
Before, she said, the company used in-person clinical trials to test out new formulations to see if they delivered the needed health benefits of a nutritional claim. The process, she said, cost millions of dollars and took longer to get products to market.
Now, the company is conducting digital trials — with participants actively seeking out the opportunity to opt in remotely — to capture immediate data on health from their smartphones.
“We might be providing the food or asking them to go out and buy the food, but we’re getting a faster turnaround and a new way of looking at our pace and cost of innovation,” Benson said.