When the going gets tough, the tough get going . . . and continue growing. Actually, “continuing growth” was exactly how General Mills Inc., Minneapolis, summed up its fiscal 2007 performance.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going . . . and continue growing.

Actually, “continuing growth” was exactly how General Mills Inc., Minneapolis, summed up its fiscal 2007 performance.

Writing for the company’s annual report, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Steve Sanger noted, “For the second year in a row, all three of our business segments achieved solid gains in net sales and operating profit. We increased our level of marketing investment, which will help sustain our brands’ growth momentum going forward. And we returned $1.8 billion in cash to shareholders through increased dividends and share repurchases.”

Officials noted that two General Mills units - Big G cereals and Pillsbury USA - posted sales growth coming off “modest declines” the previous year. Also posting net sales gains were General Mills’ other U.S. retail divisions, as well as the company’s International and Bakeries & Foodservice segments.

Officials noted, too, that General Mills (1) expanded its reach in new channels, (2) recorded increases in both gross margin and segment operating profit and (3) realized sales increases from as many as 400 new products introduced during the year.

To further accelerate new product development, General Mills last year launched the “Worldwide Innovation Network” (WIN), to partner with inventors or small companies with new products or technologies complementary to General Mills brands and businesses.

Still other new products helped General Mills gain ground last year. As mentioned, the company reached out to new channels and one significant new offering for convenience store operators was Pillsbury Sweet Minis, a line of frozen chocolate chip cookies, brownie bites and mini donuts delivered in branded serving cups and lids. Priced at just $1.99, the grab-and-go offering is well suited to convenience store shoppers. Operators, meanwhile, simply need to heat and serve from closed-door and/or open-air warmers.

Recognizing increased interest in both sweet goods and chocolate, General Mills recently introduced Pillsbury Chocolate Strudel Sticks and Double Chocolate Twirls. Both offerings come in an unbaked, freezer-to-oven format and deliver indulgent taste (chocolate baked into the dough) with zero grams trans fat per serving.

With its cinnamon rolls and crescent rolls also posting double-digit sales increases, officials say General Mills’ Pillsbury USA business has developed more new offerings, such as Pillsbury Place ’n Bake Crescent Rounds and Flaky Cinnamon Twists. Addressing consumer interest in both convenience and sweet indulgence, Pillsbury also introduced two Pillsbury Simply Bake Bars (Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk, Turtle Supreme), which consumers prepare by peeling off a plastic film and placing the package (on a cookie sheet) for 20 minutes.

For The Record

Jan. ’08 - FORTUNE magazine ranks General Mills among the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Sept. ’07 - Twenty-eight-year company veteran Kendall Powell succeeds Steve Sanger as General Mills chief executive officer. General Mills says Sanger will remain chairman through the fiscal year, ending in May 2008.

Aug. ’07 - General Mills promotes Don Mulligan to executive vice president and chief financial officer, succeeding Jim Lawrence, who retires. Brian Berger is appointed vice president of business development for General Mills Bakeries & Foodservice.

April ’07- General Mills launches its Worldwide Innovation Network, a formal initiative in which it partners with outside inventors and small companies on patented or patent-pending products and technologies complementary to General Mills businesses.