Monday, August 31, 2009

MyBrownBaby Goes Road Trippin' With Betty Crocker and General Mills

I’m back from the General Mills Eat and Greet, and I’m still swooning over the awesome time I had learning about the history of one of the largest food companies in the world, touring its Minnesota headquarters, meeting company executives, and trying out new products. I super heart cooking and creating in the kitchen, so really, all General Mills had to do was let me stand in the Betty Crocker kitchens for, like, a minute, and I would have been happy. But oh, did they do so much more. Here’s my recap:

After checking into the spacious and comfy Sheraton Minneapolis West Hotel, General Mills kicked off the Eat & Greet with a tour of the rustic Mill City Museum, set in the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, once the epicenter of the world’s flour milling industry. There’s lots of touching history here; at its peak, the mill was the most technologically advanced and productive mill in the world, grinding enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread daily. That flour was made at the hands of laborers who often put in long backbreaking days and nights running the machines, lifting 100+ lbs of flour, and enduring endless danger under constant threat of explosions and fires (indeed, 18 people died in a huge explosion in 1878). But that mill kept the city going, and helped put Minnesota on the map. An interactive, multi-story exhibit documenting life in the factory really moved me, as it reminded me of my parents, both factory workers who long toiled on assembly lines (my mom at Estee Lauder, my dad at Entenmann’s) for questionable pay and little gratitude. Listening to the stories of the workers (as told in the exhibit) reminded me to say another “thank you” to my mom and dad for working so hard in order to provide my brother and I with an incredible life.

Okay, so how come I didn’t know that General Mills has that many products all up and through my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator? Seriously: Yoplait, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Progresso, FiberOne bars, Pillsbury biscuits, rolls, pie crusts and cookies, Haagen-Dazs, Betty Crocker cake mix, Gold All-Purpose Flour, and Old El Paso taco kits are all General Mills products that STAY in my pantry/refrigerator, and these are just a TIP of the products this company produces. I seriously never paid attention to this until we were invited to tour the Betty Crocker Kitchens, where reps stood at the ready to have us taste some of their new products. But first, a few words about the Betty Crocker Kitchens: Absolutely beautiful. Spacious. Bright. Sunny. Cheery. Everything you’d ever want in a kitchen, plus granite, state-of-the-art appliances, and a view to die for. Here, a picture of the beautiful Sheena and her son (who somehow manages to be even juicier in person than he is on his mommy's incredible website, MommyDaddyBlog) standing outside the kitchen; Trix and Lucky standing in the kitchen, and; me, trying really hard not to drool on the counters and appliances.

There was plenty of tasting going on at the Eat and Greet; Chex, Progresso, Cascadian Fam, Yoplait, Pillsbury, Nature Valley, FiberOne, Muir Glen, and the cereal division had stations set up with new products for us to try. The cereals, including the new Sprinkles Cookie Crisps, were pretty awesome (though I still have a hard time wrapping myself around feeding my kids all that sugar so early in the morning). And I was pleasantly surprised to see all the products that FiberOne makes, including pancakes, which have a nice amount of, well, fiber, to justify treating the fam to pancake breakfasts a little more often. But the products that absolutely stole my heart were Muir Glen’s organic canned tomatoes (sampled in a delicious chopped tomato tapenade with goat cheese, olives and fresh basil, these tomatoes are produced like a fine wine; sign up for the Muir Glen Connoisseurs Club and get special tomato reserves delivered to your home, plus lots of great recipes ). I also loved the frozen Yoplait Smoothies mix (fresh fruit and Yoplait yogurt bits + a little orange juice makes Denene a very happy girl!), and the Simply Delicious cookies (chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies with 0 trans fat and made only with ingredients that actually belong in cookies—milk, sugar, butter and flour. What a concept! And ridiculous, addictively yummy). Oh, and check out Melanie from MelADramaticMommy trying yogurt for the first time ever! Lucky for Mel, her first was the Crème Caramel Yoplait Delight (which totally shouldn’t count because it tastes more like a rich dessert than yogurt, but we won’t nitpick!).

I scored a Lucky Charms t-shirt and a Hamburger Helper Helping Hand pin for Lila, a Pillbury Dough Boy “Hug Me” shirt and Green Giant keychain for Mari, and a Betty Crocker Kids Cook! cookbook for my collection from the General Mills gift shop (they sell all of General Mills’ products at DEEP discount prices; I swear, I’d do ALL my grocery shopping in there!) before we headed to the General Mills Photography Studios, where a super gifted staff literally works magic to make finished recipes come to life for use in General Mills’ various publications. There were lots of useful tips here—from how to light food for the best picture, to how to make dishes look authentic. I appreciated that the food stylists use only real food from the recipes in their pictures, instead of the obligatory glue/fake food/trickery that all-too-many stylists use to make food pictures look good. I also wanted to grab a cart and go shopping in the studio’s prop room, which had virtually anything and everything you’d ever need too cook and entertain.

You know me: I’m going to notice if there are (or aren’t any people of color in the room. I can’t help myself. But I figure if I’m going to support a company so wholly, I need to know that that company supports me wholly, too. I was glad to sit and chat with Kim Bow Sundy, who handles General Mills' diversity and marketing, over lunch, and was delighted to hear that General Mills actually conducts focus groups with people of color to figure out what we like and what we don’t like, and that from those focus groups the company realized that African Americans really appreciate companies who give back (so true!). So it created, a charitable organization that celebrates everyday people making a difference in their communities. The chosen ones win cash and donations to their favorite charities. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to see that both Shirley Dollard, the director of the Betty Crocker Kitchens and Kim Nelson, the president of General Mills’ snack division are both black women—though I resisted running up to both of them and hugging them silly for their accomplishments, I sure did giggle a lot when I listened to them speak. Go ‘head, General Mills!

And just for kicks, I had to include some pictures of Trix, who for some reason decided to vogue for mama while I was kickin' it with the cereal reps. Silly rabbit!

I am grateful to General Mills and Coyne Public Relations for inviting MyBrownBaby to this informative and fun event; I appreciate all that they did to make us bloggers feel welcomed and special. I also want to send a special shout out to all my new thrifty bloggy buddies—Jane4Girls, CouponSista, NorthernCheapskate, and $5DollarDinners, and MummyDeals for encouraging me to learn how to make coupons and sales slash my grocery bill, and CookingWithAmy for inspiring me to cook simple, delicious food. Y’all. Rock. Same goes for Integrated Mother, MomInTheCity and MelADramaticMommy, sisterfriends who make me happy.

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  1. Thanks for the fun and informative post on this state of the art facility Denene. And the lovely dramatic photos of you, Sheena, Melanie and Trix! Good stuff.

  2. Denene: Thanks for the informative post. I think I need to sign up for those Muir tomatoes.

  3. Oooh, I need to get that Yoplait smoothie mix for my daughter. She'd love it! Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you had a ball! :)

  4. Oh my goodness, what a neat adventure! I'm soo feeling yoplait right You did an awesome job sharing your experience, pictures, products, history. Thanks!

  5. Food, hanging with bloggy pals, AND meeting new ones? I'd say you scored big on this one, D! Glad you had a blast, and as always thanks for sharing!

  6. Those tomatoes sound good, and I've been meaning to try the fiber one products. Tasty for the kids, and healthy as well.

  7. Minnesota!! That's my neck of the woods, born and raised! In fact, I worked for General Mills for close to five years including internships.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it and got to get a "taste" of the kitchens. When I grow up (in the mommy blogging world) I wanna be just like you!

  8. Hee hee. Yes, no nitpicking. I have two flavors in my fridge right now. It was SO good to see you! (and thank heavens I'm going to the hair salon in three days, I had no idea it looked so bad!)

  9. MBB you have such a beautiful blog and your pics of the General Mills Eat and Greet are absolutely gorgeous! It was a pleasure meeting and seeing fellow sista's in this house.
    Take care and the next time your in the Mini-apple, look me up and we'll go to the MOA!

  10. Looks like you had a great time. Thanks for sharing the details of the experience!

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  12. Yeah i can see that you had a fun loving time there.Thanks for the pictures.

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