Back-to-school shopping list: Pencils, books -- and mac and cheese

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Annie's 3x2
Annie's 3x2 Credit: General Mills

Annie's Homegrown is back with a campaign meant to remind families it's about more than just mac and cheese.

The natural and organic food brand highlights some of Annie's best-sellers in the ads, which come from Pereira O'Dell, New York. It's the agency's first national campaign for General Mills.

In TV spots Annie's products are shown in everyday moments, such as a dad serving macaroni and cheese at a sleepover party, a kid sharing snack crackers at lunch, and a mom averting a toddler's meltdown with the lure of bunny-shaped grahams.

It's a departure from the brand's first TV campaign, a whimsical look at the history of organic food and Annie's (from General Mills' internal agency, The Bellshop) that ran for a few months starting in August 2017.

Annie's, which began in 1989 with mac and cheese, was acquired by General Mills in 2014 and has since expanded into areas such as cereal, soups and yogurt. Those items aren't called out in the new spots. Mac and cheese, still its bestseller, is featured along with grahams, cheddar snacks and fruit snacks. The "more than just food" campaign is meant to build off of last year's campaign, says Priscilla Zee, senior marketing manager at Annie's.

"A lot of people that buy our mac and cheese don't necessarily know that our fruit snacks exist, or don't necessarily buy across the aisle in our crackers," says Zee, who joined the Berkeley, California-based brand in 2017 after marketing roles at General Mills.

Natural and organic products are priorities for General Mills, which has said it may divest some businesses to sharpen its focus on its faster-growing categories. Annie's mac and cheese, in particular, has done well for the company, whose other natural and organic-focused lines include Larabar, Cascadian Farm, Epic Provisions and Muir Glen.

The campaign launches on Monday in the U.S. and Canada, as some kids have already returned to school and other families are gearing up, often shopping for snacks and quick dinners as they get ready for the fall. Zee didn't share spending plans but says Annie's will be in online video "in a much bigger way," in places like Hulu and YouTube. Other plans include a partnership with Scary Mommy.

The new ads come soon after Annie's updated its mac and cheese, which is being touted as "yummier than ever" with a creamier sauce and a cheesier taste. Crackers are also getting an overhaul to be crispier and more cheesy tasting. And in June, Annie's introduced gluten-free Cheddar Bunny Tails crackers made with rice flour. Fans asked for gluten-free bunnies for more than a decade, says Zee.

Annie's is also expanding its presence beyond the grocery store. In July, Einstein Bros. Bagels introduced a limited-time Mac & Cheese Bagel, with Annie's mac and cheese baked into the dough, that's available through late August.

Annie's social work is done internally in collaboration with the agency. Mindshare handles media. Along with Annie's, Pereira O'Dell is working on General Mills' Chex brand, with work set to debut later in 2018.

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