General Mills’ Box Tops for Education was a Game-Changer

The Lempert Report
April 14, 2021

In 1996 General Mills introduced a program that would change the dynamics for elementary schools forever

Since then more than 70,000 schools have benefited from the $940+ million earned through the program. It’s was a simple program that just required families to clip the box top on hundreds of products from bottled water to frozen meals to cleaning products to, of course, cereals, sold in their supermarkets for each box top the school received 10 cents. And then another game-change. In 2019, General Mills altered its Box Tops for Education program by having shoppers scan receipts. Sure it was easier and more convenient – but that’s not the reason they went digital. It was to gain a significant data-collection operation. Rather than clip box tops, shoppers are now directed to upload scans of their grocery receipts to an app, and here’s the golden ring – the receipt also is showing the company what else they bought along with the General Mills’ products. “We’ll have the history of your shopping trips, will understand what products you like," General Mills  North American retail President Jon Nudi told Bloomberg. The company can tailor its coupons based on how long since you last purchased a General Mills product or a competing item. "If we know you like Cheerios but you haven't bought it, we can serve up a promotion on Cheerios." Nudi added.

"For a food brand it's really no longer about who has the biggest factory, or who has the biggest media budget,” Taylor Smith, a partner at Boston Consulting Group told Blomberg. "It's about what data you have and how you use it." And just in time. Many iconic and legacy brands, including those from General Mills had been seeing strong declines in sales and market shares for years and were struggling. Then the pandemic came along and actually helped many of these fading brands as shoppers returned due to availability on the shelf as well as a yarning for more comforting foods and brands. Add to that the rise in online shopping and grocery delivery which has widened the amount of data available to food companies. What the data revealed to them were the insights into shopping trends because retailers, not manufacturers, have been the gatekeepers to most shopper transactions according to Bloomberg.