Top executives at General Mills today (1 July) stood by their commitment to innovation in the year ahead despite the number of new products to be launched by the US food giant set to fall.

General Mills chairman and CEO Ken Powell and Ian Friendly, the chief operating officer of the company's US retail division, told analysts that the Cheerios-to-Old El Paso maker would continue to launch products despite the downturn.

"We're not backing off from our strong love of innovation and brand-building," Friendly said. "In total, we have more than 50 new products new products launching in the first half [of fiscal 2010]."

The company is set to roll out products including Progresso High Fiber soups, Yoplait Delights parfait and frozen entrees under the Chinese cuisine brand Wanchai Ferry.

However, when General Mills outlined its numbers for fiscal 2008 last June, it said it would launch some 60 products in fiscal 2009.

When pressed on the reduction in the number of products being launched this year, Friendly insisted General Mills had a "very good level of new product activity" next year. The company, he said, wants to focus on "bigger and better ideas as opposed to large numbers of ideas".

Friendly added: "We're out of the business of counting numners of new SKUs and items. That's a dangerous place. We were in that business for a while and it causes us to launch smaller ideas that don't work. The percentage of volume we expect to get is roughly similar [to last year]."

While some industry watchers question the merits of launching products in a recession, Powell insisted it was a "great time to launch new products".

He said: "The feedback that we have generally from our customers is that, our new product portfolio, as we go into our new fiscal year, is terrific. They would say that we are best-in-class."

Earlier today, General Mills reported a 1% rise in annual net earnings - but also posted a 10% jump in operating profit thanks in part to record domestic sales.