This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on global corporations.
General Mills is one of the world's largest food companies with revenues of $11.6 billion. In Europe, its cereals and snacks are available through joint ventures. The company is also in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. General Mills product range includes snacks, yogurt, ice-cream, prepared cereal products, convenience dinner foods, refrigerated dough and baking products such as Bisquick baking mixes and Betty Crocker. 
"Whole Grain" Nutrition
On the heels of the dietary guidelines and food pyramid update in 2005, General Mills announced the launch of reformulated "whole grain" versions of its cereals. Cereal boxes were plastered with huge "whole grain" banners as well as the revamped food pyramid, called MyPyramid. Everything from Reese's Puffs to Cookie Crisps, Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms were labeled as "whole grain," despite other ingredients such as canola oil, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, artificial flavors and various dyes. Explaining the contradiction, General Mills argues that high sugar content is unimportant given the cereals' overall nutritional benefits: "Even with presweetened cereals, there really is no better breakfast your child eat in the morning. Presweetened cereals account for less than 5 percent of your sugar for the entire day, but because it's fortified and nutritionally dense for the amount of calories, there really is not better breakfast your child could eat."
Marketing to Children
In the wake of increasing criticism of sugary cereals, General Mills launched a television campaign dubbed "Choose Breakfast" to portray itself as a champion of children's health. Launched in June 2005, the campaign purports to "communicate the benefits of breakfast to children." General Mills tried to give the campaign "public service" respectability by claiming the campaign is "non-branded," but the ten-second spots are paired with twenty-second commercials for the company's cereals, including Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix. The Trix rabbit and Lucky Charms leprechaun also appear in ads touting the benefits of physical activity, presumably to help the kids work off the sugar found in their cereal bowls.
Pushing Pancakes with Fake News
In March 2006, a video news release (VNR) produced for General Mills / Bisquick by the PR firm Medialink Worldwide aired on at least four television stations, disguised as "news." The stations who aired the VNR were KYTX-19 in Tyler, Texas; WBOC-16 in Salisbury, Maryland; WFXW-38 in Terre Haute, Indiana; and WILX-10 in Lansing, Michigan. 
The VNR featured new ideas for pancake dishes, such as Mexican corncakes, orange toffee pancakes, banana split pancakes, and PB&J shortstacks. The VNR coincided with "National Pancake Week," created in 1985 by General Mills and Bisquick. 
In August 2006, PR Week reported that General Mills "is simultaneously launching two separate PR campaigns targeting African-American and Hispanic communities." The African-American campaign, headed by the firm Circulation Expertí and starting October 1, is called "Serving Up Soul." The promotion centers around a contest, judged by "lifestyle expert" B. Smith, "to find a woman 'who serves up soul [food] in the most creative way,'" according to the firm's Tenley-Ann Hawkins. 
The Hispanic campaign, headed by Hispania Public Relations and starting September 1, is called "Que Rica Vida" ("What a Rich Life"). The promotion centers on mural contests for children, held in Houston, Miami and Los Angeles. The contests "will be supported by a substantial promotional component called 'retailtainment' events, where the agency hands out goody bags." It also includes a Que Rica Vida magazine, with "sections on nutrition and home life." 
|Key executives and 2007 pay: ||Options
|Kendall J. Powell, Chief Executive Officer||$2,020,000||$2,230,000|
|Randy G. Darcy, Executive Vice President||$1,180,000||$1,460,000|
|Jeffrey J. Rotsch, Executive Vice President||$1,170,000||$2,630,000|
Selected board members
- William T. Esrey, Chairman Emeritus, Sprint Corporation
- Raymond V. Gilmartin, Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Merck & Company, Inc.
- Steve Odland, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Office Depot, Inc.
1 General Mills Blvd.
Minneapolis, MN 55426
Phone: (763) 764-7600
Fax: (763) 764-7384
Articles & sources
- Circulation Expertí
- Eat Better America
- Fake news
- Hispania Public Relations
- Obesity PR
- Processed food industry
- Rockefeller Foundation
- Own Small Planet Foods - organic
- General Mills, Hoovers, accessed June 2007.
- Marybeth Thorsgaard, General Mills spokesperson, quoted in Michele Simon Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back (Nation Books, 2006) pg 95
- FindArticles - "General Mills Launches New Children's Advertising Initiative" Business Wire, June 22, 2005
- Michele Simon, Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back (Nation Books, 2006) pg 120
- 2006 PAC Summary Data, Open Secrets, accessed October 2007.
- General Mills lobbying expenses, Open Secrets, accessed October 2007.
- General Mills Key Executives, Yahoo Finance, accessed October 2007.
- Board of Directors, General Mills, accessed October 2007.