Sunday, October 23, 2011

GENERAL MILLS FAILS TO ANSWER CONSUMER QUESTIONS

An hour early for Hendrickson's presentation on Ernest Hemingway at the JFK Library (see Marash Girl's blog post on Hemingway's Boat), Marash Girl was hoping that the man across the way would offer her a page or two from his newspaper, and he did (with an apology that it was the paper from the day before).  Among the many articles in his Wall Street Journal of October 11, 2011, was an article by Julie Jargon on General Mills' efforts to reduce the sugar content in cereals. The article noted that not only do kids' cereals "need to taste sweet enough to keep kids clamoring, they have to float in milk for at least three minutes."  Julie goes on to note that John Mendesh, vice president of R&D for the General Mills' Big G cereal division, stated, "If we just took the sugar out, you wouldn't want to eat the product left behind."  Further, removing too much sugar would cause the cereal to be unable to float.  Marash Girl wondered why.

She asked Marash Boy (more scientist than she) who suggested she go to the source to find the answer, and so Marash Girl dutifully called General Mills (as you can at 1-800-446-1898 ). A customer representative answered the phone, a representative who knew nothing about the article in the Wall Street Journal.  "General Mills has 100,000 employees.  Do you think they're going to tell every customer service representative that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about them?" commented the representative to Marash Girl.  Well, Marash Girl would certainly hope so!  Especially with the convenience of email, every customer service representative at General Mills not only should have known about the article in the Wall Street Journal, but should have been able to respond to the customer calling to inquire, in this case, Marash Girl.  The representative continued.  "I know nothing about the article or the issue."  "Well," asked Marash Girl, "could you please have someone who does know about it return my call?"  The General Mills customer representative assured Marash Girl that it was unlikely anybody would return her call, much less be willing to answer her question.  He was right.  It has now been 12 days since Marash Girl called General Mills and there has been no response from General Mills by phone or by email.  So Marash Girl has resorted, once again, to those nearest and dearest, her scientist friends.  Though most of them explained in scientific terms why reducing the sugar would eventually prevent the cereal from floating, only one, Marash Girl's cousin, Staten Island Baby, could explain the phenomenon in lay language.  Here's what she said.

"It has to do with weight and volume and density. Which is heavier - the cereal or the milk?  Think of it as a person trying to float on water. If you are upright and trying to float, you have to move to stay afloat.  If you are in a prone position, you body weight is distributed over a greater area of water and you float.  The cereal cannot tread water so the weight of each flake or piece needs to be lower than the area of milk it covers.  Sugar weighs less than wheat or corn so the greater the volume of sugar, the easier to float.  Puffed cereal floats easily because of the density - less dense than non-puffed cereal."  Staten Island Baby added that it had been years since she studied biochemistry, and therefore her explanation may not be quite up to snuff.

A shame that the General Mills folks couldn't take time from their busy day to answer the concern of a consumer (now a non-consumer) of General Mills products.
And why do cereals need to float anyway?  Marash Girl will not take the time to call General Mills with that question!  She already knows that  General Mills will not return the call!

So now that we have a partial answer, Marash Girl would like to ask General Mills and her readership, Why is it so important that cereals float?  Will anyone answer her?

5 comments:

  1. I KNOW NOTHING. sounds familiar, doesn't it? hmmm, if i remember it was sargeant Shultz who made the response famous. it seems to have resonated in the political realm, as well. because in the political realm the translation from 'I know nothing' is gee, i can't remember, or i have no recollection. whether it is big government or big corporations, the respect and service accorded the consumer/recipient of service, is the same.
    i can offer, however a suggestion as to why it is important for cereal to float. it provides an incentive for the consumer to make the purchase, because, on his/her own, the consumer cannot produce a breakfast cereal that floats. does oat meal float? NO. Does oat meal, snap, crackle, and pop? No it does not. Does oat meal have multiple personalities? No. what it does offer is a simple, nutritious, health sustaining breakfast, hardly a marketing man's idea of a profitable and nourishing to the bottom line experience.
    Remember always, it is Earth against The Flying Saucers, and a saucer of milk will do if you can just make the darn thing in the bowl float, and not fly away..or sink.

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  2. Kris Patton Manager, Corporate Public Relations | General MillsNovember 10, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    I heard from the General Mills Consumer Services department that you had contacted us recently regarding the Wall Street Journal article written by Julie Jargon about our health advancements. I wanted to follow-up with you to provide some information from our Big G R&D department that may be helpful as you write the article for your blog:

    · Sugar reductions are technically difficult because sugar plays multiple roles in a recipe. One role it plays is to provide taste/sweetness and another is to help provide texture to the product, which we measure as “bowl life.” To address the challenges associated with reducing sugar, we pursue ingredient and processing technology advancements simultaneously.


    · Per your question about milk, “bowl life” really doesn’t vary based on the type of milk used.

    · When sugar is reduced, “bowl life” issues can arise and we must adjust the recipe. As with any recipe, there are limits as to how much adjusting we can do. General Mills does not reformulate a product unless we can maintain its great taste.

    · General Mills is making real progress, and we are committed to further reductions until single-digit levels are reached on all cereals advertised to children. To ensure the cereals continue to taste great, reductions will continue in a series of smaller steps. We are committed to reaching single-digit levels while maintaining great taste.


    I hope this is helpful.

    Thank you!

    Kris

    Kris Patton
    Manager, Corporate Public Relations | General Mills
    Ph: 763.293.1530 | kris.patton@genmills.com

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  3. Thanks to General Mills for finally attempting to provide an answer to our question (see above).

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  4. Seriously? If you are so concerned about the sugar content in their cereals, choose other cereals! I know John Mendesh and he is one of the best guys I know. There are many other issues that are far more important than sugar content in cereal such as ingredients that cause cancer or ingredients in diet soda. Give General Mills a break.

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    Replies
    1. You're so right. We should definitely give the big corporations a break and not question the reasons that they make the decisions that they make.

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