Wait, silly rabbit, Trix are for parents, too — or so General Mills hopes.
The Golden Valley-based company this month released seven reformulated cereals without artificial flavors or colors and this week started an ad campaign that confronts the diminishing role of cereal at breakfast.
With the slogan "Love Cereal Again," the advertising touts the company's makeover of some of its top-selling products, including Trix, Cocoa Puffs and Golden Grahams. One 30-second TV ad depicts versions of a familiar scene — a young child asking a parent to do something again. It finishes with a father throwing a handful of Trix in the air, catching the cereal in his mouth and then being urged by his daughter to do it again.
For General Mills, the directness of the ad campaign reflects both the importance of cereal — its biggest U.S. retail business — and the authentic nature that works in marketing today.
"We recognize food culture and food values are changing," said Lauren Pradhan, a senior marketing manager in the cereal division.
The campaign, developed with its ad agency McCann Erickson, turns to sentimental, family-oriented themes the company in recent years has used with success for its biggest-selling cereal, Cheerios.
"We wanted to say 'Hey we get it' and 'You can love your favorites all over again,' " Pradhan said. "It's another reason to enjoy cereal with your family and have it be a collective experience."
The company's research showed that one in two American food shoppers was concerned about the artificial colors and flavors in cereal. "We'd rather, in an age of transparency, share that with them than shy away from it," Pradhan said.
Cereal, which accounts for about one-fourth of General Mills' approximately $10.5 billion in annual U.S. revenue, has experienced declining sales in recent years. Some people shifted to protein-rich products, such as eggs and Greek yogurt, at breakfast, while others started grabbing breakfast on the go rather than sitting down with a bowl of cereal.
Activists for several years pressured General Mills and other big food processors to remove artificial ingredients and colors from products.
Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of several books on food safety, said General Mills responded to that activism as well as the changing tastes at breakfast time.
"Taking out the artificial additives works as marketing, and nobody needs those additives, so this move is good for everyone," Nestle said by e-mail. "Whether it will help sales and improve health remains to be seen."
Four years ago, General Mills researchers began studying ways to take out artificial colors and flavors from cereals, the company said. That effort intensified in 2014, leading to hundreds of tests with spices, fruit and vegetable juice concentrates that could replace the dyes and flavorings it had used for years.
Last June, the company announced that it would have the artificial flavors and colors out of 60 percent of its cereal portfolio by the end of 2015. General Mills says it has gone beyond that, making the change in 75 percent of its cereals.
The most transformed is Trix, the fruit-flavored, corn-based cereal it began making in the late 1950s. The cereal for years has had six colors, but the company was unable to replicate two of the colors, blue and green, without dyes. The new version has red, orange, yellow and purple colors.
General Mills next week will focus more attention on the changes to Trix by announcing winners of a "real Trix rabbit" to temporarily take the place of the animated rabbit that is the mascot of the product. The rabbit, in one of the longest-lasting advertising slogans at the company, has been told since 1959 that "Trix are for kids."
Pradhan said the company has received more than 8,000 entries from people who want to see their rabbit depicted on a box of Trix. "People are passionate about their bunnies," she said.
General Mills aims to get artificial colors and ingredients out of the rest of its cereals in 2017. Doing that is most challenging in products like Lucky Charms that have marshmallows in them.
"Marshmallows are really hard," Pradhan said.
Evan Ramstad • 612-673-4241