General Mills (GIS)
By Alleen Brown
Fortune 500 rank: 214
Founder: Cadwaller C. Washburn
CEO: Kendall J. Powell
1 General Mills Blvd.
Minneapolis, MN 55426
What it does:
General Mills is the sixth largest food company in the world. The company markets a range of brands, from Betty Crocker to Yoplait to Green Giant.
Big G’s Cereals
Fruit by the Foot
Old El Paso
Yoplait and Colombo yogurt
Latina (Australia’s fresh pasta)
Diablitos Underwood (meat spread available only in Venezuela)
Forno de Mina (Brazil’s authentic cheese rolls)
La Salteña (Argentina’s baked goods dough)
Knack & Back (Refrigerated dough in Germany)
Jus-Rol (Pioneering pastry in the UK)
V. Pearl (China’s tasty dough product)
Wanchai Ferry (Premium dough and dumplings)
Number of Facilities: 79 in 16 countries
Total Employees: 28,578
Minnesota Employees: 5,400
Revenue: $12.4 billion
Net Income: $1.1 billion
S & P Data from October 2008. Chart by Denise Rath.
The founders of General Mills and the founders of Minneapolis are more or less the same people. According to a book by Mary Wingerd, the west bank of the Mississippi was off limits to settlers until 1855, but six years before that, Wisconsin congressman Cadwaller C. Washburn and Illinois congressman Robert Smith pulled some political strings and leased the land from the War Department. Originally, Washburn’s company milled timber, but as Minnesota’s agricultural value became apparent, it switched to flour.
According to the General Mills website, in 1866, Washburn built a mill originally called “Washburn’s folly” because of its size, price and the type of wheat it processed. Lucky for the future mega-corporation, the naysayers were wrong, and the mill thrived. Washburn and his peers made up Minneapolis’s powerful elite from the beginning.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, fellow New Englander Charles Pillsbury and family bought shares in another mill in 1869. The Pillsburys also prospered, and by the beginning of the 20th century, Minneapolis was known as the flour milling capital of the world.
The two companies merged briefly between 1889 and 1909, but financial issues put the relationship to an end. General Mills wasn’t officially established until 1928, when the president of the Washburn Crosby Company, James Ford Bell, consolidated several mills across the United States. Pillsbury finally came back under the corporation’s wing in 2000, reuniting the two Mississippi millers.
The General Mills label has now strayed far from its milling beginnings. It’s gone from providing the basic ingredient to a home-cooked meal to helping eliminate the need for home-cooked meals altogether, or at least making them really fast. In the General Mills family you’ll still find flour, but you’ll also find ice cream, taco shells, microwave popcorn and Venezuelan meat spread.
The range of products General Mills offers is actually smaller than what it was years ago. At various points in its history, General Mills included a mechanical division, an animal feed business, a line of appliances, Rainbow Crafts — makers of Play-Doh — and Parker Brothers, which made it the world’s largest toy company. Since 1985, the company has focused solely on food products.
Alleen Brown is a senior journalism and global studies student at the University of Minnesota.