The surging popularity of Greek yogurt in recent years, for instance, blindsided the company's Yoplait yogurts. And the move toward foods that people think are fresher has hurt Hamburger Helper, which last year was renamed "Helper" in a nod to people who prefer chicken.
Here are some insights executives shared with AP ahead of the company's investor day in New York City:
CONQUERING THE COOKIE AISLE
General Mills is entering the cookie aisle for the first time with a "better-for-you" cookie. Its new Fiber One cookie has 5 grams of fiber and 120 calories. A Pepperidge Farm chocolate chip cookie, by contrast, has no fiber and 140 calories.
Food makers have been adding nutritional benefits — particularly fiber and protein — to a wide variety of products to ease the guilt often associated with snacking. Fiber One, for instance, started as a cereal but has since expanded to a variety of snacks, including brownies and more recently, a blueberry streusel bar.
General Mills isn't the first to bet people want healthier cookies; Kellogg's Kashi cookies list 12 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber.
REMINDING PEOPLE WHY THEY LOVE CEREAL
General Milles is adding more cinnamon to Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and reformulating Trix cereal to make them taste fruitier. The tweaks will be broadcast in TV ads this summer.
"What consumers often need is a reminder to come back and try brands they've always loved," said Sean O'Grady, senior vice president of sales at General Mills.
It sounds simple, but the strategy apparently works. Last year, General Mills said it was able to boost sales of Cocoa Puffs by touting their more chocolatey taste.
Still, overall cereal sales in the U.S. have been sluggish in recent years, with people increasingly turning to alternatives like Greek yogurt and breakfast sandwiches from fast-food chains.
CEREAL IN CHINA: NOT A THING YET
Figuring out how to get the Chinese to love a bowl of cold cereal in the morning is turning out to be a difficult task.
The problem is that the typical breakfast in China is warm and savory, said Chris O'Leary, chief operating officer for General Mills' international division. As such, he said cereal in China is "not a top priority" for General Mills at the moment, but that the company still hopes to crack the market one day.