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General Mills adds fiber, cinnamon to sweeten sales

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, July 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

NEW YORK — General Mills hopes a pinch of cinnamon and a dash of fiber will be a recipe for stronger sales.

The Minneapolis-based company is doing things like adding more cinnamon to its Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and rolling out fiber-packed “better for you” cookies to boost the performance of its brands, which include Pillsbury dough, Betty Crocker baking mixes and Progresso soups.

General Mills executives spoke with The Associated Press this week to discuss how the company is trying to increase sales, which were essentially flat in its last fiscal year.

The company, which last month announced a cost-cutting plan that will include a review of its manufacturing plants, is working to adapt its offerings as it grapples with the changing eating habits of Americans.

The surging popularity of Greek yogurt in recent years, for instance, blindsided the company's Yoplait yogurts. And the move toward foods that people think are fresher has hurt Hamburger Helper, which last year was renamed “Helper” in a nod to people who prefer chicken.

General Mills is entering the cookie aisle for the first time with a “better-for-you” cookie. Its new Fiber One cookie has 5 grams of fiber and 120 calories. A Pepperidge Farm chocolate chip cookie, by contrast, has no fiber and 140 calories.

Food makers have been adding nutritional benefits — particularly fiber and protein — to a wide variety of products to ease the guilt often associated with snacking. Fiber One, for instance, started as a cereal but has since expanded to a variety of snacks, including brownies and more recently, a blueberry streusel bar.

The company isn't the first to bet people want healthier cookies; Kellogg's Kashi cookies list 12 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber.

General Mills is adding more cinnamon to Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and reformulating Trix cereal to make it taste fruitier. The tweaks will be advertised on TV this summer.

“What consumers often need is a reminder to come back and try brands they've always loved,” said Sean O'Grady, senior vice president of sales at General Mills.

It sounds simple, but the strategy apparently works. Last year, General Mills said it was able to boost sales of Cocoa Puffs by touting their more chocolatey taste.

Still, overall cereal sales in the United States have been sluggish in recent years, with people increasingly turning to alternatives such as Greek yogurt and breakfast sandwiches from fast-food chains.

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