General Mills ups focus on ‘connected commerce’ claiming it is ‘the next evolution of marketing’

General Mills, owner of Häagen-Dazs, Old El Paso and Yoplait, is increasing investment in digital and data and it steps up efforts to go direct-to-consumer.

Haagen DazsUS consumer goods firm General Mills, which owns Häagen-Dazs, Old El Paso and Green Giant sweetcorn, is looking to better meet consumer demand and prove “connected commerce” is not just a buzzword, as it ups focus on gaining first-party data.

Speaking on an investor call detailing the company’s Q1 results yesterday (22 September), it confirmed plans to “advance” its ‘Accelerate’ connected commerce strategy, through which it aims to personalise and integrate physical and digital marketing experiences for customers.

“Connected commerce is powered by data, digital capabilities, measurement and execution to enable General Mills to be part of the consumer journey, creating strong one-to-one relationships and drive differential growth for our brands,” said chief executive Jeffrey Harmening.

As an example, he pointed to the digitisation of its Box Tops for Education scheme in the US, which has been turned into a mobile app, enabling it to gather first-party data. The initiative sees the brand donate money to schools for every label from its products that is redeemed.

Other examples include pet food brand Blue Buffalo, which launched a social media platform called Buddies, and Häagen-Dazs’ “omnichannel approach” in China that has upped engagement with younger consumers, both of which provided General Mills with more first-party data, enabling it to build one-to-one relationships and develop future innovations.

“The data generated enables us to optimise our personalised marketing efforts and refine our promotions. Connected commerce is an important way we will boldly build our brands in the future,” said Harmening.

“We’re encouraged by our first steps to creating a differentiated connected commerce capability. And we know there’s much more to do so continue to invest and advance in this space.”

Investor relations vice-president Jeff Siemon added that while for some the phrase ‘connected commerce’ may sound like a buzzword, at General Mills it is viewed as “the next evolution of marketing”.

He said brands need to think of ecommerce and physical retail simultaneously, as the former has risen in importance over the past year.

He highlighted how 85% of the company’s ecommerce sales now transact through its retailer partners, stating brands need to be “good at ecommerce” as well as physical bricks-and-mortar stores.

The data generated enables us to optimise our personalised marketing efforts and refine our promotions.

Jeffrey Harmening, General Mills

Siemon also highlighted how key relationships provide quality data, which in turn results in more precise marketing and innovations.

“Data keeps getting better for our retailers, it keeps getting better for us. That will certainly play a role, but you only trust the data of people you actually trust,” said Siemon.

“So the retail relationships we have are also important because as we go to market and talk about what’s going on in the environment. We need to make sure we have those [good] relationships.”

On marketing investment, Siemon pledged the company will maintain its “strong support” behind priority brands despite additional cost pressures to the firm.

Unilever accelerates digital expansion as it looks to ‘invest and grow’“We still believe that we have strong ideas and we’re going to continue to support those [brands]. I think as we roll forward here, we will also continue to support our capabilities, investments around data analytics,” said Siemon.

General Mills outlined its ‘Accelerate’ strategy in February to define its path to the “next chapter of growth” through focusing on building its brands, innovation, increasing scale and enacting more sustainable practices.

General Mills’ direction echoes FMCG giant Unilever which said digital channels such as ecommerce will “clearly remain a key” as the pandemic subsides, and it will make vital choices as it looks to lead in digital.

Fellow FMCG player Reckitt credited its increased use of data in helping it transition  into more “precision marketing”, and meaning it has been able to ditch “spray and pray” marketing practices.

General Mills’ net sales in Q1 increased by 4% to $4.5bn (£3.3bn), although operating profit is down 1% to $844m (£616m).