He's big, he's green and he's been in semi-retirement for the past eight years, a shadow of his former self.

But the Jolly Green Giant is back -- starting this week -- starring in television advertising, a bit more of a regular guy this time around.

One of the advertising world's most recognized icons, the giant has been around since the 1920s, an animated pitchman for the Minnesota born-and-bred Green Giant vegetable brand.

It's been owned by General Mills for the past decade, but the General hasn't done a lot with the giant recently. He's made token appearances at the end of TV ads, sometimes as a sentinel shadow looming over farmland to deliver his trademark line, "Ho-ho-ho."

His return comes with a subtle personality change. "The idea is to evolve the giant from protector of the land to really a more friendly and approachable character, a cheerleader for every child in the quest for vegetables," said Yumi Clevenger-Lee, marketing manager for the Green Giant brand. "The vegetable tone tends to be finger-wagging."

Yes, a gentler giant for a gentler view of vegetables. Golden Valley-based General Mills is hoping the new campaign will light a fire under its vegetable sales. In the company's fiscal year ending May 27, what's now known as its frozen foods division had sales of $1.6 billion, flat over a year ago. Vegetables are a tough, mature market.

The division includes both frozen and canned Green Giant products, as well as Totino's frozen pizza and snacks and other items. The only other General Mills U.S. division that didn't post a sales increase last fiscal year was Yoplait yogurt, which suffered a 5 percent decline.

The Green Giant was developed by the Minnesota Valley Canning Co. to market a particularly large sweet pea. At first, the giant was white and resembled a sleepy caveman. But in the 1930s, he went green and began to adopt a more sprightly appearance.

Minnesota Valley Canning, based in Le Sueur, renamed itself Green Giant in 1950 and was sold to Minneapolis-based Pillsbury in 1979. General Mills bought Pillsbury in 2001.

The first round of General Mills' new Green Giant ads feature a close-up of the giant's face, ringed by the theme "One Giant Pledge." It refers to families pledging to eat more vegetables.

Minneapolis-based Olson is handling the "One Giant Pledge" public relations campaign. TV ads are being developed by Saatchi & Saatchi; the digital ad campaign, by Story Worldwide. Both firms are in New York.

The full Green Giant, not just his face, will appear in future TV ads, Clevenger-Lee said. And of course, the ho-ho-ho is always a go. "The ho-ho-ho is such a reflection of his jollyhood," she said.

It will even be available as a ringtone.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003