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General Mills feeds consumers' appetite for snacks.

Summary: Ali Shaikh, Commercial Director, Middle East and Africa at General Mills, discusses how a backlash against artificial ingredients has been good for business

Ali Shaikh, Commercial Director, Middle East and Africa at General Mills (Supplied)

General Mills has been an important pillar of the ever-growing global snack food industry, which is estimated to be worth $620 billion by 2021. As one of the world's largest snack food companies, General Mills is guided by the philosophy: "Serving food people love".

As it expands its global footprint, the company brought its well-known brands, such as Hagen-Dazs ice cream, Betty Crocker cake mixes, Bugles corn snack, Yoplait yoghurt, Nature Valley granola bars, Green Giant frozen vegetables, Old El Paso Tex-Mex food, Pillsbury baking products, Jus-Rol frozen pastry, and Cheerios cereal, to countless consumers across the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Speaking from the company's regional head office in Dubai, Ali Shaikh, Commercial Director, Middle East and Africa at General Mills, said the appeal of their products, which already have a strong following in Europe and the U.S., has extended to the MENA region, especially the GCC.

The company has been present in the region for 50 years in the form of its brands. Although the bulk of its production still come from European and American factories, Shaikh said that General Mills has partnered with local manufacturers to bring its brands closer to regional consumers.

Using only the best ingredients

If there's one thing that General Mills is proud of, it is their commitment to using only the best ingredients in their products. This principle bodes well for the company since much of the growth in the snack foods category in the GCC region comes from a shift among consumers toward fresher and cleaner alternatives that use natural ingredients.

"Most of our products are snack foods, specifically in the ready-to-eat and to-be-prepared categories. Over the years, we have innovated our offerings to reflect consumers' demand for great-tasting and healthier options," said Shaikh, who has an extensive experience in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, having worked for some of the sector's largest international companies.

The Betty Crocker brand, for instance, launched its Supermoist Milk and Honey flavour cake mix in the Middle East, which has become an instant favourite.

He said, "Hagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, for example, uses a maximum of five ingredients, whereas a similar ice cream flavour by competing companies may have 10-12 ingredients, which are often made with vegetable fats, preservatives and artificial stabilisers.

"We believe in making delicious, high-quality 'better-for-you' snacks. That is also the reason why we have a relatively smaller product base compared with other companies. But we have remained true to our values of putting only the 'right' ingredients into our products."

General Mills is one of the first companies in the region to introduce a front-of-package-labelling initiative, which is designed to help consumers see at a glance the nutritional content of packaged foods. The label clearly shows how much fat, sugar, sodium and calories is in a food product.

"In many of our public awareness campaigns, we also emphasise to our consumers the importance of preparing fresh food at home. This is because many of the ready-to-eat meals are laden with preservatives and additives that are not necessarily good for them and their family," Shaikh explained.

Public occasions, such as Saudi Arabia's 87 th National Day, have been an excellent platform for General Mills to promote their healthy eating cause. The event, which was held on September 22, 2017, at Al Andalus Mall in Jeddah in partnership with Panda Retail Company, also commemorated Betty Crocker's 50 years in business.

The highlight of the celebration was the creation of a 12.53 feet by 12.56 feet marble cake, which was officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest of its kind, weighing 732 kilograms.

With the Middle East's young population, relatively stable economy and high household disposable income, it makes good business sense for General Mills to tap this fast-growing market.

According to a study by global intelligence firm Nielsen, the snack food sector in the Middle East and Africa is a $7 billion industry, with a steady growth projection.

Thriving on innovation

With more than a century and a half of history behind it, General Mills is a company built on innovation. Outside of the food industry, the company has dabbled in life-changing inventions, such as the aircraft black box, and developed the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, which is the highest standard of food safety worldwide.

Today, it focuses not only in producing high-quality foods, but also in observing sustainable business practices by vowing to lower its carbon footprint and maintaining a sustainably sourced supply chain.

Shaikh confirmed that General Mills remains committed to the India, Middle East and Africa region and will continue to engage with its expanding customer base.

"We are growing and recruiting more people at a time when many companies are shying away from investing into this region," he concluded.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Nov 19, 2017
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