This is one of three articles about our food packager of the year, General Mills. To read the other stories, click on the headlines below.

Packaging a big part of General success

Raising the bar on granola--and elsewhere

When it comes to keeping an entire fleet of innovative packages in formation, General Mills runs a tight ship.

General Mills has designed a spectrum of packaging innovations that catch the consumer’s eye, sustain a product’s freshness and minimize environmental impact. The only thing tougher for a company than designing a good package is designing a good one that also promotes sustainability.

“General Mills has been able to improve sustainability while maintaining convenience of our products in several ways: through packaging material reduction, use of recycled and recyclable materials and package design changes to improve pallet pack-out and reduce truck shipments, amongst others,” says spokesperson Maerenn Ball.

But where many companies just reduce materials or use recycled content, General Mills functions holistically. A couple of examples:

The Yoplait unit is working to improve how it sources raw ingredients and distributes finished product to reduce the total miles the packaging material travels.

General Mills also got rid of the different colored lids for various Yoplait flavors and replaced them with plain silver foil lids, reducing the amount of ink and energy required to produce those lids, eliminating hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide and significantly increasing productivity.

While sustainable packaging is one criterion for whether a consumer will buy a product or not, convenience still reigns. And, in the convenience packaging area, so does General Mills.

In 2007, the company introduced Betty CrockerWarm Delights Minis, a smaller, single-serve version of its microwave-and-eat cake mix. The 150-calorie cake mix is in individual bowls with a die-cut paperboard sleeve that highlights each bowl as single-serve for calorie control and personalization. The powdered mix and the frosting come in separate pouches inside the bowl, which is tidier for the consumer than having the powder loose in the bowl would be. Bagging the mix also allowed the company to use existing form-fill-sealers instead of having to buy new dry filling equipment.

A version of Betty Crocker Hamburger HelperMicrowave Singleswas released with ground meat already added. The single-serve, shelf-stable pouches come four per paperboard box. The consumer just adds water and heats in the microwave for a quick snack or meal.

General Mills launched Green GiantValley Fresh Steamers, a line of microwaveable steam-in-pouch frozen vegetables, in six varieties with sauce and seven without sauce. The 12-ounce stand-up bag features “magic steam” vents that automatically open at the top of the stand-up pouches as the vegetables steam in the microwave, and a tear notch for easy opening.

Knowing that Cheerios has been a classic finger food for toddlers, General Mills introducedTot Pack, a 1.1-ounce high-density polyethylene canister fromGateway Plastics Inc.(262-242-2020), with a flip-top closure for pouring and a teardrop-shaped one for one-at-a-time dispensing. The package is small enough to fit in a purse, stroller or diaper bag, and keeps the product fresh.

In another kid-friendly move, Cheerios is promoting literacy through its “Spoonful of Stories” program. For the sixth year in a row, General Mills put 5 million small children’s books inside Cheerios cereal boxes to kick off National Children’s book week, Nov. 12-18, 2007. Five different books were selected to go in each box, intending to reach children from low-income homes.

General Mills also redesigned packaging forMulti-Grain Cheeriosto convey it as a low-calorie line extension. The box, which won a gold award in the Paperboard Packaging Council’s 2008 national competition, features curved scores designed to mimic a waistline while maintaining carton integrity. It also sports a graphic of a measuring tape across the front to give a slimming feel.

Wanchai Ferry’sChinese Dinner Kits,which contain rice, vegetables, sauce and seasonings, feature a design that mimics the look of a classic Chinese food takeout container. This look makes the brand easily recognizable in the grocery store’s ethnic cuisine aisle.

Bisquick’sShake ‘n Pourpancake batter, to which consumers simply add water and shake to create buttermilk pancake mix, had its package redesigned to make it more attractive and easier to use. The product now comes in both a 5.1-ounce bottle and 10.6-ounce bottle, both which now feature a molded handle, more aesthetic design and a fill line to tell consumers how much water to add. Sales of the product increased 80% after the redesign.F&BP