General Mills Inc. is trying a new approach to get its products in front of customers.

The Golden Valley-based company on Thursday posted its first deal offer on Groupon, the online deep-discount coupon site usually used by restaurants and other retailers.

General Mills' $20 offer in the Twin Cities included 4,500 variety samplers of its products along with a coupon book -- a combined value of around $40, including shipping. The company offered 500 of the same packages Thursday in San Francisco. The sampler packages are to be delivered directly to Groupon customers' homes.

Chicago-based Groupon, which entered the Twin Cities market in late 2009, offers daily discounts of around 50 percent on all sorts of services. For instance, on Thursday its Twin Cities website was offering half-off deals on a dinner train ride in Spooner, Wis., and bowling, bocce ball or bistro eats at Pinstripes in Edina.

Groupon usually takes a 50 percent cut on the deals. The idea is that the Groupon coupon will help drive traffic to an establishment -- though some have said it's a losing proposition if it fails to do that.

For General Mills, Groupon "is not an e-commerce platform for us," said Karl Schmidt, the company's director of promotional marketing. "We are not looking to make money on this."

Rather, by mailing out samples, the company is trying to direct more traffic to grocery retailers for its products, Schmidt said.

General Mills said it was pleased with the response to the Groupon offer. Posted on the Internet at midnight in the Twin Cities, it sold out at 10:42 a.m.

A key gauge to the offer's overall success will lie in the redemption rate of the coupons offered with the sampler package. The higher the better, General Mills marketing executives say.

If General Mills deems the project a success, it will look to expand Groupon offerings, Schmidt said.

Thursday's sampler featured a dozen products, including a box each of Reese's Puffs, Kix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal; a package of Hamburger Helper; Fiber One chewy bars; and a Wanchai Ferry dinner kit.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003