August 29, 2014

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Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist?


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What Does it Mean
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Addressing Hunger & Obesity: General Mills Lays Out Framework

As a food company, health is a core growth strategy for us as well as a primary driver of our innovation.

Mahaheadshot

By Maha Tahiri, Chief Health & Wellness Officer, General Mills

General Mills – a company that produces staples in American kitchens like Cheerios, Green Giant and Yoplait, among others – recently celebrated more than 50 years of having a dedicated nutrition department. We were one of the first in the food industry to have a department devoted to health and nutrition.

The department has evolved into the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition (BIHN), and continues to influence the development of quality-differentiated products that nourish lives and contribute to healthy living.

As a food company, health is a core growth strategy for us as well as a primary driver of our innovation.

General Mills reaches millions of consumers with more than 100 brands across over 100 countries on six continents. We provide people with convenient, nutritious food that – when combined with physical activity – can help them live healthier lives.

Part of our commitment is to continuously improve the health profileBIHN of our existing products as well as introduce innovative, new products. These improvements are strongly tied to what consumers tell us they want: healthy, great-tasting foods that fit their lifestyles. However, they also tell us that they won’t compromise on taste. So, the guiding principle behind all of our health improvements is the maxim: “It’s not nutritious unless people eat it.”

Continuous Health Innovation

This focus on health requires nutrition expertise, grounded in science and a penchant for innovation. For example:

  • In the 1960s, Total was launched as the first U.S. cereal to contain 100 percent of the U.S. government’s minimum daily adult requirement for eight vitamins.
  • In the 1970s, we began voluntarily labeling all products with nutrition information.
  • In the 1980s, we added folic acid to our cereals due to its importance in helping to prevent neural tube defects that can cause incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord.
  • In the 1990s, recognizing that children weren’t getting enough calcium, we began fortifying nearly all of our kid cereals with calcium. We also pioneered food allergen labeling on all products.
  • In the 2000s, we began increasing whole grain in our products – the most significant product improvement in our history. And, in December 2009, we announced a commitment to reduce sugar to single-digit grams per serving in all of our Big G cereals advertised to children.
  • In the 2010s, we announced a commitment to reduce sodium by 20 percent on average across our top 10 retail product categories by 2015. This sodium reduction effort represents about 40 percent of our U.S. Retail portfolio – everything from snacks to soups to side dishes.

This history of nutrition expertise is what guides us as the world faces challenges related to food and nutrition. We're working to be an active part of the solution to the global issues of obesity and malnutrition. Through our products, consumer education and philanthropic efforts, we promote healthy lifestyles that balance consumption and physical activity.

From Addressing Undernourishment & Hunger…

More than 15 percent of the global population today is undernourished. Our products – including vegetables, cereal, yogurt, soup and grain snacks – contribute to healthy lifestyles. We offer foods enriched with nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber, support numerous hunger-relief programs and donate food globally. We provided $46 million in food donations globally in 2013 and have donated $300 million in food worldwide since 1999.

GenMills-foods

In addition, we founded Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), a non-profit that links the technical and business expertise of volunteer employees from General Mills, Cargill, Royal DSM and Bühler to small and growing food processors and millers in the developing world. The goal: to share knowledge and expertise with African food processors and empower them to produce high-quality, nutritious and safe foods at affordable prices while increasing the demand for the crops of the local smallholder farmers who supply those businesses. PFS today is impacting more than 135,000 local smallholder farmers who support an estimated 822,000 family members.

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Join us for a live Twitter chat with General Mills' @gmills_jerry & @gmills_steve on April 23, 2014, at 3pm ET at #GenMillsSusty! Register by emailing aman@csrwire.com.

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…to Obesity

In more developed regions of the world, however, its obesity we’re facing. The World Health Organization reports that obesity has nearly doubled worldwide since 1980.

We’re helping by offering nutritious food choices and improving the health profile of our products. We've developed Health Metric, a corporate initiative overseen by General Mills’ Health and Wellness Council and the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition – to encourage and measure the company’s progress on nutrition and health improvements.

Since establishing the Health Metric in 2005, we have improved the health profile of 73 percent of our U.S. Retail sales volume. These improvements include enhancing positive nutrients such as increasing protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, or reducing other nutrition components such as calories, sodium, sugar and fat, all while ensuring great taste.

In fiscal 2013 alone, we improved more than 20 percent of our U.S. Retail sales volume with improvements touching all General Mills U.S. Retail platforms, including baking, cereal, dairy, meals and snacks.

GenMills-health-metric

And, General Mills has increased R&D spending on health and wellness by 60 percent since 2004.

Consumer Education: Encouraging Nutrition and Fitness

Improved nutrition alone won’t solve the problem, though. So we’ve invested in programs that promote energy balance, including a six-year $10 million commitment to encourage fitness among children through the Presidential Youth Fitness Program with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. This commitment builds on our flagship Champions for Healthy Kids grant program that was established in 2002. Since launching Champions for Healthy Kids, we have funded more than 500 youth nutrition and physical activity programs that have reached nearly one million kids through grants totaling $5.5 million.

Everyone, industries and individuals, has a role to play. Harnessing our unique expertise and partnering with others that share our commitment to health and nutrition has resulted in the greatest impact. And we’re seeing progress, but we know these are big challenges that take time, and require all of us to be at the table talking and working together.

There is much more to be done but we’re committed to being part of the solution.

Related:

Supply Chain of the Future: An Inside View of General Mills’ Commitment to Sustainable Sourcing

A Transformative Way to Fight Hunger: Strengthening the Food Sector, Sustaining Communities in Africa

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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