James Kotecki (00:08): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you one of my favorite C Space Studio interviews from CES 2024. I had a lot of great conversations in Las Vegas and I know you're going to like this one, so enjoy. 


We are back. I am James Kotecki. We are in the C Space Studio live here at CES 2024, and we are excited to welcome back to the C Space Studio, the CMO of General Mills, Doug Martin, welcome back, sir. 

Doug Martin (00:39): 

James, thanks for having me back. I will say that I feel like I am aging, like the guy who drank out of the wrong cup in Indiana Jones, and you look like a million bucks, so ... 

James Kotecki (00:47): 

Well, you know what? I'll take that compliment. 

Doug Martin (00:49): 

You're doing something right. 

James Kotecki (00:50): 

Well, I really appreciate that, but you are, I mean, maybe what I'm doing is eating your products, Doug. 

Doug Martin (00:56): 


James Kotecki (00:56): 

So tell us, I mean just remind folks kind of the scope of General Mills. Cheerios obviously may be one of the most famous, but many, many others. 

Doug Martin (01:02): 

So yeah, we're most closely associated with our cereal brands, Cheerios, lucky Charms, all of those. But we're a pretty broad portfolio company from Haagen-Dazs outside of the United States to Blue Buffalo pet food, to Yoplait yogurt to Nature Valley granola bars, Progresso Soup, Pillsbury, et cetera. So really kind of across the store and in a lot of pantries. 

James Kotecki (01:20): 

Do you have some data point, like the average consumer has X numbers of your products in their house? 

Doug Martin (01:24): 

We are in 95% of American households on an annual basis, so we touch a lot of people. 

James Kotecki (01:30): 

So what brings you to CES? 

Doug Martin (01:32): 

First of all, I love CES and it's an incredible week for me because I like to get inspired by what might be coming to our consumers. I think it's really important to understand how they might be changing their lives, et cetera. But it's also a wonderful opportunity to meet other people in the industry, have connections like this, and it just feels like everyone's here and it's important that we're here too. 

James Kotecki (01:52): 

So what are you thinking about then? What are some of your near term opportunities, maybe with a tech-infused lens over top of that? What are you thinking about? 

Doug Martin (01:59): 

Yeah, I mean, I think the near term opportunity in food right now is clearly how do we demonstrate to consumers the value that we can provide. There's a lot of consumers out there who are struggling with that grocery budget. And then the tech connection is, listen, we have a lot of brands, we have a lot of brands that intersect at different parts of your life. How could we use our own media platforms, et cetera, to put together more complete solutions to make it easier for people? How can we know more about what your needs are, what problems you're trying to solve for your family so that we can show up with a solution that's helpful. 

James Kotecki (02:31): 

I want to dive into all that. On the value piece ... and if you don't like this question, just toss it right out, if this is outside of your privy. But I'm curious on the value piece, are you using robotics and automation more to create these things? I'm just trying to imagine what the Cheerio factory might look like, for example, on one of those old Sesame Street things, and I imagine it's kind of cool inside. Do you use a lot of automation there? 

Doug Martin (02:51): 

Well, in our supply chain, and obviously I'm not the supply chain expert, but we have a huge number of projects with automation to make sure that we are doing things like eliminating waste. It's a food product so it expires. Can we better connect our forecast to the point of sale so that we're making the right product at the right time? All those things deliver a huge amount of value to the company and to ultimately the consumer. 

James Kotecki (03:14): 

And then you talked about knowing the consumers better and kind of putting some of these things together is part of that potentially knowing not just that I bought a box of Cheerios, but what my overall lifestyle is and maybe what my family needs are? So you can put together a suite of products, for example, and sell that to me together as a comprehensive ... 

Doug Martin (03:33): 

100%. If we know more about your household, one of the examples I always use is obviously you could use a Pillsbury biscuit and some other Progresso item at dinner, but maybe there's also a Golden Retriever in the household. Your internet behavior search on that Pillsbury dinner solution is not necessarily going to let us know, the golden might be up for a weight management diet. So the more that we know about the household, the more complete solutions we can bring. 

James Kotecki (04:00): 

You talked about coming to CES to get inspired. How old is General Mills as a brand? 

Doug Martin (04:06): 

General Mills in some form or fashion has been around for about 150 years. We literally, I always say we are a tech company and that technology is the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River powered the mills- 

James Kotecki (04:16): 


Doug Martin (04:17): 

... that ground the grain, and we've been around for a long time, and so we are very serious about understanding what do our brands mean for consumers today and how can we be around for another 7,500 years. 

James Kotecki (04:28): 

I mean, in the one sense you might think, well, how does a brand with that amount of legacy continue to innovate? On the other hand, I imagine you couldn't have gotten this far without being continually innovative. But how do you think about that in your role, especially because you're the chief marketing officer, you're dealing with the brand, you're trying to push things forward potentially while also holding onto the fact that everybody knows Cheerios and recognizes that it's an iconic box and an iconic logo, et cetera. So where do you think about the balance on all this stuff? 

Doug Martin (04:53): 

Well, like I said, we have a huge range of brands and some of those brands is about awareness, but I think Cheerios is a great example where people know about it. But what we strive to do, year in year out is find a new way for Cheerios to, we talk about solve problems, deliver joy. If we can capture attention by, maybe you didn't understand the heart health benefits or something, well that's a problem we're solving, delivering joy could just be a great story about a family that connects to you and your heart and it makes you think this is a brand that kind of gets me and has similar values. 

James Kotecki (05:22): 

Yeah, I don't know if this is your decision, but wasn't there one Cheerios commercial that aired like every Christmas and maybe it still does air for like 20 years? 

Doug Martin (05:29): 


James Kotecki (05:29): 

Because you've somehow plucked the emotional heartstring so perfectly that you didn't need to improve it? 

Doug Martin (05:34): 

There's an incredible spot, that's well before my time, but it's about adoption and it's a family coming home and with a new child and- 

James Kotecki (05:42): 

Oh, wow. 

Doug Martin (05:42): 

... the Cheerios are the first way that they interact because there's a language barrier and there's another one with a grandmother at Christmas. There's a couple of iconic stories through our history that are worth telling over and over again. 

James Kotecki (05:55): 

Obviously one of the newest frontiers of innovation for a lot of folks talking about it here at CES, is AI. 

Doug Martin (06:01): 


James Kotecki (06:01): 

So, I want to talk about AI a little bit, but just start with what are you thinking? What's on your mind right now for that? 

Doug Martin (06:08): 

I mean, I keep thinking that I feel like nothing is going to transform the way we work in a five-year period of time, like AI is going to, and also today we have to keep doing the same things that we've been doing. So that's the challenge is figuring out- 

James Kotecki (06:24): 

Wow. It's hard to hold those two things intact. 

Doug Martin (06:25): 

Yeah. How to set yourself up for that transformation while delivering on the needs and demands of the business today. I would say early on, a lot of our efforts have really been about using generative AI tools to make our people more productive, to make our processes more efficient, and that's great, and then we'll have to build off of those to get to the more fully formed future that I think is coming when AI can be doing more creation of content on our behalf. 

James Kotecki (06:52): 

Could you imagine, or are you experimenting now with ways to use Gen AI to make new products or reorient current products you have in different brands or anything like that? 

Doug Martin (07:00): 

I'll tell you what's really interesting is just asking even publicly available tools, what do they think based on all of the information that you have scrubbed from the internet, what do you think? So I wouldn't say we are creating new products from it, but I think it is such an interesting starting point for a brief to a team that needs to create those products. And then maybe there's a seed of inspiration or maybe there's a left turn and a twist. That's that human element. But I think people who are not using those tools are really not taking advantage of some powerful stuff. 

James Kotecki (07:31): 

I think that's such a powerful thing you said about it's going to change everything in five years, but today we still have to keep doing the same thing. I mean, as a leader, does that just put a burden on you to continually try and boost up both sides of that equation and make sure that you're still going forward? 

Doug Martin (07:46): 

I can tell you what, this is very theoretical, but one of the conversations I'm having in my mind a lot is, do we take what we're doing today, incrementally improve it with tools and work towards a future? Or are we better off imagining a future state and then starting to understand what would have to be true today in order to get there? I'm starting to believe that that might be the path. I don't know how to do it, so there's no answers yet, but I do think that the transformation is going to be significant enough that the incremental path might not get you there. 

James Kotecki (08:18): 

Interesting. Do you think that consumers will notice any of this or will a lot of it be happening, huge changes but happening behind the scenes? 

Doug Martin (08:27): 

In my perspective, ideally, it's behind the scenes because I think we are a branded company. We exist because we build brands. Full stop. Brands are just a set of experiences that you've had in a relationship ultimately that you build with a product. I would be remiss if I let anything in an AI tool get in the way of those emotional connections and ultimately those relationships developing. So I think we have to be really careful about that. 

James Kotecki (08:55): 

Great point. Last year we talked about regenerative agriculture a little bit. 

Doug Martin (08:58): 

Yes. Yes. 

James Kotecki (08:59): 

Any progress that you want to highlight in the past year or maybe new thoughts on where you think we need to go? Is there more clarity there? 

Doug Martin (09:05): 

Yeah, I mean, we are all in on regenerative agriculture, and I will say as a company, we do not farm, but everything we make comes from the ground, right? That's an obvious point, but an important point. And so I think one of the big things this year is our team has understood we've got to do this together, right? Because we are not the farmers. And so we had a recent announcement that we partnered with Walmart on 600,000 acres of regenerative farmland that we're going to help transition together through education, et cetera, and that represents about how much land we would need to service all of the products that we sell to Walmart. So I don't think consumers are looking for one company to win in the area of regeneration. I think they're hoping that we work together. 

James Kotecki (09:50): 

As we wrap up here, I want to return to this idea of potentially setting a five-year vision and then figuring out what might need to be true. There's so much theory in that, but just to put it in some pragmatic terms, any specific details of maybe not something that you're going to necessarily commit to, but just because we're in a speculative safe space right now, any kind of glimmering ideas about what that five year future could mean? 

Doug Martin (10:12): 

Well, I tell you, I mean, everybody's talking about, listen, you got to grow where the growth audiences are. You need to connect authentically with people, you need to create relationships. And all of that brings, I think, a tremendous burden on content creations. So I think if we were writing a story that you and I are talking about in five years that I'm excited about, the headline would be, General Mills has authentically connected its legacy brands with the growth families in America, and I think that's going to require us to find some new ways of working, some new ways of producing content, and also an enormous amount of the human element of making sure we're actually really connecting with people about what they care about. 

James Kotecki (10:48): 

Some things need to change, some things need to stay the same. 

Doug Martin (10:50): 


James Kotecki (10:51): 

And you got to figure out what that is. 

Doug Martin (10:51): 

Yeah. Exactly. 

James Kotecki (10:52): 

It's a challenging job. Doug Martin, General Mills, CMO, thanks so much for joining us again. 

Doug Martin (10:56): 

I hope we'll do it next year. 

James Kotecki (10:57): 

Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation from CES 2024. That's our show for now, but there's always more tech to talk about. Hit that YouTube subscribe button. Leave a comment, follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartMedia, or wherever you're getting this show, and get more CES at CES.tech. That's CES.T-E-C-H. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.