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General Mills gets buzz with HefeWheaties beer

Annie Baxter Sep 18, 2015

General Mills gets buzz with HefeWheaties beer

Annie Baxter Sep 18, 2015

The food industry giant General Mills wants to drink up some of the popularity of craft beers. It’s partnering with a small brewery in Minneapolis to launch a limited run of a beer called HefeWheaties.

Fulton Brewing Company is making the Hefeweizen beer, which does not actually have any Wheaties in it. It just shares a key ingredient — wheat — and the iconic orange packaging of Wheaties cereal boxes.

General Mills says it’s a test to reach younger, male customers, a couple dozen of whom lined up outside Fulton’s tap room to try the new HefeWheaties beer at its launch Aug. 26.

One of them, Russ Hull, is the kind of person General Mills is targeting. At 41, he’s a bit above the “young” threshold, but like many of his younger peers he’s a craft beer lover. He says his refrigerator is stocked with Fulton beers.  

By contrast, the Wheaties boxes in his household are purely decorative.

“I have a couple boxes with my favorite sports athletes or celebrities in my home,” he says.

It was the same story for many others, who hadn’t eaten Wheaties in decades but had all recently consumed a Fulton. It’s not just that they traded their cereal bowls in for beer mugs with age. Packaged food is falling out of favor more generally, especially among younger adults.

What they want instead is fresh, local, authentic foods and drinks  words you might associate with craft beers. HefeWheaties gives General Mills a way to tap those associations.

“I think there’s something about novelty that is more of a driving factor for younger people than their forebears,” Joshua Bertsch, 34, says.

Bertsch left work early to make it to the HefeWheaties launch and gave the beer a thumbs up. Though he hadn’t eaten Wheaties since the last millennium, he says he might try it again.

“When I see a box, I will have recently tried something and had a pleasant association with Wheaties,” he says. “If you’re not on someone’s mind, how can they buy your product without thinking about your product?”

A Colorado brewery is making a beer with Count Chocula cereal, but General Mills says that’s not a formal partnership. Marketing expert George John at the University of Minnesota suspects market tests for that came back less positive.

“Because Count Chocula is such a kid-centric cereal,” he says. “You outgrow Count Chocula before you outgrow Wheaties.”.

General Mills says HefeWheaties has been more successful than officials at the company expected. Nevertheless, the food manufacturer is still sticking with the cereal business.

HefeWheaties hits a limited number of retail outlets in the Twin Cities area at the end of September.

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