General Mills thinks fast and healthy

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General Mills this fall launches two new products that tap into health and convenience trends: a nutritious cereal targeted to women and a new brand of cereal bars.

Harmony, a vanilla almond oat cereal fortified with calcium, antioxidants, soy protein, folic acid and iron, begins shipping to retailers Aug. 14 and will be backed by a $20 million-plus TV and print campaign that launches in September targeted specifically at women.

At the same time, General Mills will launch a line of Milk 'n Cereal bars that uses milk as a key ingredient in bars made with three of its top cereal brands -- Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Chex -- to offer a bowl of cereal in a more portable form. The bars also will be supported with a TV and print campaign bowing in October.

DDB Worldwide, Chicago, handles both new products.

MORE INNOVATION

The food behemoth has been praised for its new-product innovation, especially in the convenience arena. The most recent examples are two lines for its Betty Crocker meals franchise (AA, June 12). Now, with extensively backed launches of two wholly new brands, General Mills hopes to buoy its position in the highly competitive cereal and snack bar categories.

Harmony is intended to further boost General Mills' leadership position in the lackluster cereal category by tapping into the current health craze among aging baby boomers, led particularly by women.

"You've got a population approaching 50 that is seeing their own mortality and, while there may be no way to get the men from McDonald's, you might be able to get the women," said John McMillin, analyst with Prudential Securities.

Quaker Oats Co. recently announced its intended August launch of a similarly fortified oatmeal entry dubbed Nutrition for Women. Kellogg Co. too has recently introduced fortified cereal lines, including its calcium-enriched Special K Plus and a Smart Start extension that contains soy protein.

The Milk 'n Cereal bars aim to help General Mills compete in the growing snack bars arena. The company's Golden Grahams bars have all but disappeared from retailers' shelves, and its Nature Valley granola bars, while growing 17% for the year ended May 21, still total only $58 million, according to Information Resources Inc. Quaker's leading $137 million Chewy Granola Bar franchise has seen a spike from the introduction of items co-branded with Nestle USA, and retailers are even looking to expand the shelf space devoted to portable breakfast/snacks as new entries abound.

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