As the company behind beloved household names such as Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Old El Paso, Yoplait and more, General Mills has a simple yet powerful mission – to serve the world by making food that people love. With origins dating back to flour production in the mid 1800s, its food is now marketed in more than 100 countries on six continents through 89 leading brands and numerous smaller brands worldwide.
A driving force in the company’s international growth is its Asia-Latam segment, catering to the largest and fastest-growing consumer market on the planet. Responsible for nurturing and expanding General Mills’ activities in North and South-East Asia since 2017, Managing Director Piony Leung is armed with more than 25 years’ experience in sales, marketing, retail and fast-moving consumer goods – not to mention her proven track record in turning businesses around.
“After starting out in the beauty and non-food industry with companies including Procter & Gamble, British American Tobacco, L’Oréal, and Esprit’s Red Earth Cosmetics, in 2007, I moved to Mars Food Inc in the capacity of General Manager, as well as Vice President Marketing for the Asia–Pacific business. These experiences taught me the importance of being authentic and to appreciate diversity. Most importantly, as a business leader, you have to drive sustainable growth,” says Piony. Having worked across cultures in personal care, skin care and cosmetics, chocolate, and pet food, Piony was well-equipped to take control of General Mills’ activities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
“The food retail industry is always changing. Consumer awareness is constantly increasing as people demand top-quality ingredients and more transparency when it comes to sourcing, production and distribution. They want to know every detail about the product as it moves along the supply chain from farm to shelves,” she explains. It has always been a part of General Mills’ strategy to improve the lives of its people and make food that people love. This starts with the farmers growing the produce, continues on to the well-being of factory workers, and ends with delivering the best nutrition and variety to the consumer.
It has always been a part of General Mills’ strategy to improve the lives of its people and make food that people love.
Realising the growing number of health-conscious consumers seeking organic products, General Mills designed a product line specifically for plant-based eaters. Started in Hong Kong and eventually spreading worldwide, the ‘Green Monday’ movement encourages people to eat a vegetarian diet every Monday. “It’s transforming the way people look at the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, and thousands of restaurants and retailers have jumped onboard. General Mills is very conscious of this trend and our natural brands have grown tremendously over the past five to 10 years, to the point that we’re now one of the top five organic food companies in the US.”
Through its Wanchai Ferry dumpling brand, General Mills partnered with Green Monday to become the first in the industry with an entire line of certified vegetarian dumplings. “Amazingly, this product has become our bestseller,” says Piony. This focus on quality ingredients is also evident in General Mills’ Häagen-Dazs ice cream, sold in more than 900 Häagen-Dazs shops across 50 countries. “No matter where it’s sold in Asia, except Japan, the product is made at our Arras Factory in France out of just five core ingredients, making it the highest-density ice cream in the market.”
Despite facing increasingly competitive and saturated markets, Piony has an ambitious plan to double the South-East Asia wing of the business within three years, followed by its counterparts in North Asia within the next five years. “In the ice cream segment, our top three markets are Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea. In Hong Kong alone, retailers have introduced more than 200 new products over the past two years,” she explains.
“To maintain our leading position, we’ve focused on expanding the category size and driving innovation. From December to March, we maintained the number one leading position and reached a record high 40% market share in the Hong Kong ice cream segment. In Taiwan and Korea, we rose from third to first place by a long shot, driving growth in markets that are either flat or declining.”
Recognising the growing power of the consumer, General Mills puts the wants and needs of the consumer first, always. “Internally, we emphasise collaboration and we play to win while always doing the right thing,” says Piony. The General Mills Engaging Leaders Workshop and International Women’s Network are just two of many initiatives aimed at fostering a more productive, diverse and supportive culture. “It’s a huge effort to bring so many people together, but it creates a powerful conversation and it brings our culture to life.”
A devotion to the community and the planet drives the way General Mills does business and gives back to society. Between 2010 and 2017, the company’s greenhouse gas emissions footprint decreased by 11%, and 76% of its 10 priority ingredients are now sustainably sourced. “General Mills is a proud partner of i-Bakery, a Hong Kong-based social enterprise that trains and employs disabled and under-privileged staff. Häagen-Dazs partners with them to support this social enterprise by joint promoting its handmade cookies with our brand and to let society appreciate diversity and equal opportunities for different groups. We want society to be aware that diverse groups have the same passion to contribute well to society,” says Piony.
“I work with people from different cultures, who speak different languages and are dealing with different economic circumstances – from developing regions in South-East Asia to premium mass markets in Hong Kong and Korea. I’ve learned so much from these people and it has really opened up my perspective,” explains Piony. “Good food makes people happy and brings them together. And you can see the difference instantly – you can see the appreciation and the smiles on their faces. We’re selling happiness, not just a product. We are proud to continue ‘making food that people love’.”
Good food makes people happy and brings them together. And you can see the difference instantly – you can see the appreciation and the smiles on their faces.
“My leadership philosophy revolves around three things – vision, passion and compassion. My vision is to make a difference to society, whether that be a small group of employees or an entire community. I want to make an impact on people and bring out their inner beauty.