General Mills launched the new brand The Good Table.

General Mills launched the new brand The Good Table.

General Mills launched a "mealtime solution" brand, The Good Table, in the US last week, targeting the millennial consumer on the look-out for less processed, cleaner foods. However, there is a perception among some of those consumers that Big Food is not the place to turn for such products. How likely is this brand from a major US company to succeed? Hannah Abdulla reports.

At the beginning of the year, General Mills outlined three areas of focus: better for you snacks, natural and organic and cereal. So last week, when the company had developed a new "mealtime solution" brand, the news begged the question 'why'.

The product is a sauce and crust mix that allows consumers to create 'restaurant-style' meals at home.

The US market for wet cooking sauces - according to Datamonitor - has a compound annual growth rate forecast of just over 1.1% for the period of 2013-2018. But it is a bit more complicated than just sticking the new brand - The Good Table - within the wet sauce category since it also includes a crust mix.

It is a "hybrid" product says, Tom Vierhile, an analyst at Datamonitor, arguing that it "straddles two areas; dry breading mix products and cooking sauces". In this sense it does make it difficult to outline a single category metric to provide a benchmark for the product.

While one could assume its competitors could be the likes of Kraft Heinz Co. with its Shake'N Bake breading mix or crust mix for chicken and fish, The Good Table features a liquid coating sauce too and could be seen to compete in the wet cooking sauce category where the likes of Campbell Soup Co. plays with its Easy Cooking line and Campbell's Oven Sauces.

Then there is spice giant McCormick & Co., which is building its presence in wet sauces. "McCormick is a spice giant and has recently been getting more active in value-added liquid sauces as consumers seem to perceive dried and dehydrated sauces and spices as less fresh and maybe more processed than liquid variants," Vierhile says.

General Mills believes The Good Table brand is a "unique offering" in the dinner solutions category. A spokesperson told just-food there are no competitors offering a "similar two-step coating solution which results in a great crust and perfect flavour pairing".

It is not a part of the store alien to General Mills. The firm has a presence in sauces, seasonings, sauces and dinner kits with its Old El Paso brand.

However, David Turner, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, believes until now General Mills has been a "small player" in the meal-solutions segment.

"This may be about expanding into an under-developed - for General Mills - segment, particularly as some of their other core areas, cereals in particular, struggle."

General Mills has tried to position itself as a player offering convenient meal-time solutions for its consumers. A quick browse of General Mills 'meals' page on its website, and one senses the importance it places on home-cooking and good old fashioned family meal times. Wanchai Ferry boasts the ability for allowing consumers to "easily prepare authentic Chinese meals at home" and there is even a blog on the lifelong importance of family meals.

The difference with The Good Table however, is while it still focuses on these principles, it targets the "millennial" consumer, a General Mills spokesperson says, explaining the shopper is "a key consumer" for the company.

"Millennials say they are cooking more and protein is king," argues Amy Kraushaar, US category manager, food and drink, at Mintel. "As chicken gets boring night after night and some consumers are avoiding marinades due to sugar and fat concerns, this [The Good Table] presents an alternative that fits what consumers are avoiding: artificial flavours and colours, HFCS, trans-fat and of course, msg."

And the millenial consumer is well-known for being the sort of consumer that will go out of their way to investigate what is in a product. They are concerned with what goes into their bodies and so will read the ingredients panel or - thanks to smartphones - execute a quick internet search of ingredients they are not familiar with. So General Mills has been forced to re-shape its portfolio. But while much of its recent efforts to appeal to the more health-conscious millennial shopper has been around renovation of existing lines - take the push on artificial ingredients in its fruit-flavoured snacks last week as an example, or cutting the sugar in its Yoplait product by 25% back in May - it is interesting to see the firm add a new brand to its range to target that cohort. Could the same not be achieved under an existing brand - Progresso for example, or Old El Paso?

Vierhile calls The Good Table a "test bed" for General Mills since the firm could have come out with such a product under an existing brand but may have found itself with an uphill battle from day one.

"Doing so would have denied the company the ability to approach this with a clean sheet of paper and test some newer concepts including a more clean label-oriented product, one that looks like it came from a smaller company and an effort intended to appear to be less processed and more contemporary in the flavour department," he tells just-food. "General Mills, Kraft Heinz Co., Campbell Soup and others are all in the same boat as they all have a major presence in the centre of the store, but that is precisely the place that consumers perceive to be the home for highly processed, less fresh and less natural products. The question is if any of these companies can innovate their way out of this perception but at the same time hang onto their presence in centre-store grocery aisles."

General Mills concedes the challenges of product awareness and education are undeniable, as with any new product offering, but hopes to tackle this through "marketing and retailer efforts".

But Vierhile warns there is a danger of how the marketing strategy behind the product is executed. He says at present the product looks like it has been launched by "a small upstart company" one in which consumers are more likely to buy into the "better ingredients and restaurant inspired" idea.

"In some ways what the company is trying to do is steal a page from the craft beer market where products from smaller companies are perceived to be better tasting, higher quality and more natural. Will consumers feel tricked if they buy the product and later find out it came from a packaged food giant instead of a small upstart?

"The fact that General Mills came up with this launch in the first place seems like an admission that cleaning up centre-store brands by removing artificial flavours, colours and ingredients is not going to be enough to turn around centre store brands. The company seems to be saying that it will take more than that, including the creation of new brands that lack the highly processed baggage that older brands may carry."