James Kotecki (00:08):
This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki bringing you an interview that I recorded live at the C Space Studio at CES 2023. Enjoy. Hey, we're back in the C Space Studio here at CES 2023. And do you like food? I do. And that's why I'm excited to talk to our next guest, Doug Martin, Chief Brand and Disruptive Growth Officer at General Mills, which makes many of the great food products that so many of us enjoy. Can you just start rattling off some brands just to get us going?
Doug Martin (00:41):
Absolutely. So Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Progresso Soup, Nature's Valley, Yoplait yogurt, Pillsbury Biscuits. Totino's Pizza rolls. We've got a lot of good stuff.
James Kotecki (00:51):
I'm getting hungry, and I really appreciate that you're here. What's your favorite product?
Doug Martin (00:55):
You know what? I am super partial to the original yellow box Cheerios.
James Kotecki (00:59):
Just the classics?
Doug Martin (01:00):
Yeah, it was first finger food for my son, and he still eats them today. He's 13 years old.
James Kotecki (01:04):
Okay, there you go. So, Chief Brand and Disruptive Growth Officer, tell us about what that title means inside your organization?
Doug Martin (01:12):
Absolutely. So, Chief Brand Officer is very much just a traditional CMO role, leading our brand building activities. Disruptive growth is a set of activities and capabilities that we have to build new businesses. So, we have a venture capital arm, 301 INC. And then, we have a group of employees who are forming three-person teams to start brand-new businesses, and do it as entrepreneurs. And how can they innovate quickly, learn fast, get things in front of a consumer quickly, different areas that we wouldn't necessarily get to in the normal course of our doing business.
James Kotecki (01:43):
So, can we dive into that for a minute? First of all, why three people?
Doug Martin (01:47):
So interesting. So, we bring three people together, basically a commercial mindset, like a business mindset, and an investigative question asking mindset, so that they can work together. It's lonely to try to start something up from scratch. And so, we've tried to bring complimentary skills together, so that they have all that they need together to move really quickly, and get to lowest fidelity solution that I can put in front of a consumer and get some reaction.
James Kotecki (02:16):
And do you have any examples of businesses that have spun out of this process?
Doug Martin (02:20):
Yeah, so it's a relatively new capability for us, but one of our first teams, the problem they were trying to solve is the problem of people with diabetes. Huge number of people with diabetes in the United States. And everyone wants the same convenience. So, they built a brand that is about low impact to your blood sugar, and have proven that these snacks in fact have no impact. And now they're at the point where these are going to start scaling into regular grocery store. So, it's a little brand called good measure, and they've done a great job with it.
James Kotecki (02:51):
And is a lot of this about recombining the way that you contextualize this to consumers, versus starting entire new food products from scratch? Because I imagine there's so many different ways that you as a marketer could slice and dice what you accentuate about different products, and maybe some of the branding is around that.
Doug Martin (03:06):
I think a lot of this is about for us, how do we move quickly and reduce elements of risk? So, in that example of dealing with consumers with diabetes, if you were to put a Nature Valley product out there, it's going to get a certain amount of attention. It has to be perfect on day one. This team needed six months a year to just learn with low fidelity, digital concepts, et cetera. And then, move from there into real products. So, lowering the barriers to failure, being willing to fail fast, and iterate and come back.
James Kotecki (03:37):
That's interesting. And to be clear, these are folks on the General Mill's payroll, but they just get this chance to innovate?
Doug Martin (03:43):
Yeah. And it's a combination of people we've brought in from our core, and some entrepreneurs that we've hired from outside of the company.
James Kotecki (03:48):
Fantastic. So, when you think about a lot of these legacy brands, these longtime brands like Cheerios, how many years has that been around? And we all love Cheerios, we all eat Cheerios. But how do you think about marketing something like that, something that's ubiquitous, something that we all know and love? How do you keep that fresh? Where do you keep coming up with ideas for this?
Doug Martin (04:10):
Absolutely, and actually CES is such an interesting place to think about that, because I walk the floor and I'm like, "Brand new. Completely new technology, or something." You just need to tell someone about it. Everybody knows about Cheerios. And so for us, it's really about two things. It's one, it's a brand that is built on a foundation of really a deeply held set of beliefs about the value that they can add in families. And in the case of Cheerios, it's first [inaudible 00:04:35] food, up through heart health. And then, it's finding new and emotionally resonant ways to connect with consumers on that journey. And then sprinkle in some new flavors, sprinkle in Cheerios Oat Crunch, which is a little bit of a new form factor, but it's staying consistent with a purpose led brand, and building year after year after year.
James Kotecki (04:53):
I noticed in your bio that it says you're a leader who sometimes encourages discomfort and risks. Is there something that you're currently feeling uncomfortable about, that seems [inaudible 00:05:03]-
Doug Martin (05:02):
I feel uncomfortable about everything. That's my secret. No, I mean-
James Kotecki (05:05):
You're like the Hulk, I'm always angry, I'm always uncomfortable?
Doug Martin (05:08):
Exactly. What's my secret? Yeah, I'm always uncomfortable. That's a perfect example. No, I would say we have teams that are really good, really established at doing what they're doing. And all of our teams are also continuously trying to learn how to do it better. And so, that creates a little bit of a discomfort. This world that we live in, that's so digitally connected, it has really challenged some of our functional silos for a company that's been around a 150 years. So, we're always finding new ways to cross those [inaudible 00:05:37]. What is sales? What is marketing in a digital world with e-commerce? Luckily we have great relationships in the company, and we're tackling those barriers, but those are things that we always need to constantly challenge.
James Kotecki (05:47):
One of the themes of CES this year, are global challenges. So, it's called Human Security for All. That's the theme of CES. And we're talking about everything including environmental security, health security, food security. Is this a resonant theme with General Mills, and how does that play out for you?
Doug Martin (06:02):
A 100%. And obviously, there is no human security without food security. And what we do at General Mills is, we take agricultural commodities out of the ground. We combine them in really tasty ways, put them in a box and make it convenient for you. We don't grow any of those things, but we are a huge player in this ecosystem. And so, one of the things that we're really focused on is regenerative agriculture. And it's a little bit tricky, because it's like what is that term for the common person? But basically, if we are farming in a way that is stripping away topsoil, then we will run out. That is the dire truth. And so, General Mills is working on converting a million acres to being farmed regeneratively. So, it's farmed in a way that you're putting nutrients, minerals, and health back in the soil. And that has to also live within an ecosystem, within a watershed, within an ecosystem of agriculture that supports itself. So, that's something that's really important to us, and that we're super focused on.
James Kotecki (06:57):
And you can just drive that trend because you're just a major buyer of these-
Doug Martin (07:00):
We don't drive the trend, but in the example, we buy more oats than anyone else in the world. So, if we start to work with oat farmers, about how they're farming their oats, and we do a pilot and show them that this can be sustainable not only for the earth, but also to create economic sustainability for the farmer, then the people want to do the right thing. And so, we're just trying to help people understand the science, build models that can show them this works, and then the acceptance comes with that.
James Kotecki (07:32):
So, it's more of a pull than a push.
Doug Martin (07:32):
A 100%.
James Kotecki (07:33):
It's not a director from on high that you must change this. You have such an industry that is just so part of everyone's day-to-day lives. Do you have any predictions or crazy ideas about your industry, that people might think are wild but could actually come true?
Doug Martin (07:49):
Short term, I think what's winning in the United States right now is the click and collect model. Very convenient for the consumer. It's a relatively affordable model. We may or may not be heading into some kind of recession. But the problem that retailers find is that, all those shoppers that they have in their store, need to be there at the exact same time as all of those people who are now employees picking groceries. And that's creating some traffic and some negative experiences. I think you're going to see a lot more dark stores, where they're going to be drive up though. So, it's not just a dark building. I think employees will be in there picking your groceries, you drive up, fulfill the order. I think that's a model that we're going to see.
And then long term, there's been a lot of work going on to add robotics into the grocery store. And I think the focus early on has been back of house mostly, because that's more of a controlled environment. But I do think long term, you're going to see robotics come into the front of house and grocery as well.
James Kotecki (08:41):
And a place like General Mills is obviously a good fit for that, because ideally every single one of the Cheerios boxes that you make, or Yoplait yogurts, it's exactly the same. So, I don't have to worry about the ripeness of the banana.
Doug Martin (08:50):
We are already starting to have to answer questions like, "Hey, the shape of this package, is this going to be grabbable by a machine?" Look at the work that Kroger's partnering with Ocado on those automated warehouses, and something like a yogurt cup that is round and has a foil lid, might not be the best thing to be grabbed by a metal arm. So, these are questions we're going to have to ask ourselves.
James Kotecki (09:11):
Well, Doug Martin, disrupting and shaking things up by General Mills, thanks so much for sharing some of your time with us today.
Doug Martin (09:16):
It was a treat to be here. Thank you so much.
James Kotecki (09:18):
Well, I hope you enjoyed that live conversation from CES 2023. Look up the CES C Space Studio for more conversations like that, and get even more CES @ces.tech. That's CES dot T-E-C-H. And of course, please subscribe to this podcast, so you don't miss a moment. I'm James Kotecki talking Tech on CES Tech Talk.