Social Media Listening Finds Product Opportunities for General Mills

Photo credit: Mike Mozart

General Mills has turned to social media to find customer insights that enable it to improve products and develop new offerings. The foods company provides a case study of how a worldwide enterprise can employ social media monitoring to spot consumer preferences and identify new business opportunities.

The large number of brands under the General Mills umbrella and the company’s huge number of customers creates a challenge. General Mills owns almost 90 brands in the U.S. alone, including Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Nature Valley, Pillsbury, Progresso, and Yoplait.

General Mills has a product management team for each brand and a separate group handling consumer relations and social media engagement to manage customer complaints and glean insights from social media conversations. Each brand has separate social media accounts including a Facebook and Twitter account for each.

Achieving Social Media Organization

Managing the hundreds of accounts was problematic. “We’re talking about remembering passwords, remembering IDs. We couldn’t really tell what the last [General Mills staff] person did. We couldn’t even tell who posted a response,” Fred Gorrochotegui, a General Mills senior social media strategist, told Direct Marketing News.

The company created order through Spedfast, a social media platform.

In the month of May, General Mills reported close 3,600 responses to consumers on social media, including about 2,600 on Twitter and 1,000 on Facebook, for more than 30 brands. “It’s hard to measure impact because we’re a consumer packaged goods company, and we really sell to retailers,” Gorrochotegui says. “But, obviously, it’s paramount to engage with shoppers. And for my team, that’s the main goal.”

After repeatedly hearing customers say they dislike artificial ingredients, General Mills announced that it will remove artificial flavors and colors from its cereals. The change will affect about 40 percent of its cereals over the next two to three years. The company’s goal is to have 90 percent of its cereals free of artificial flavors or colors by the end of 2016.

The Gluten-Free Niche

General Mills previously identified the demand for gluten-free products by monitoring social media. Only about 2 percent of the population cannot tolerate gluten. Brands might easily conclude the niche is too small to target profitably. However, the gluten consumer group is web savvy and socially connected. When diagnosed as celiac, or unable to digest gluten, they often immediately search on the web to find what they can eat. Insights gained from social media prompted General Mills to introduce a gluten-free version of Chex cereal and a gluten-free Betty Crocker product line.

News of the new products spread quickly on Twitter among the socially connected group. “We felt that this was a product that was going to be marketed almost entirely digitally,” said Kelli Ask, interactive-marketing manager at General Mills, according to Advertising Age. “We knew this was a group of very passionate consumers, always talking to each other and looking for solutions.”

In addition, the social media team noticed that customers were saying they don’t think there was enough frosting in the packet that comes with the Toaster Strudel, Gorrochotegui says. The brand announced on its Facebook page that it is introducing Toaster Studels with 30 percent more icing.

In the past, large brands waited for more nimble small companies to find and develop niche markets, and then simply purchased the companies for substantial amounts. But that template is changing, due to the wealth of data obtainable through social media listening.

Bottom Line: General Mills provides a case study of how a large brand can employ social media monitoring to spot consumer preferences and identify new business opportunities. While companies have been using social media listening tools to respond to consumer complaints and questions, more brands are realizing those social media conversations can provide valuable insights into their products and customer preferences.

Originally published at on July 13, 2015.

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