Road to Brandweek: General Mills’ Brad Hiranaga Says Consumers Have Higher Expectations of Brands Now

CPG businesses have had a moment in the spotlight during the pandemic

Brad Hiranaga
Brad Hiranaga will speak at Adweek's Brandweek Masters Live event. Adweek
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Key insight:

It’s a good time to be in the CPG business. As stay-at-home orders forced people inside (and out of restaurants), grocery stores became one of the few storefronts that remained open for business. And as unprecedented challenges swept the nation, consumers began to gravitate toward the brands they knew and loved.

Brad Hiranaga, chief brand officer, North America for General Mills, who is speaking at Adweek’s Brandweek Masters Live event, which will be held from Sept. 14-18 this year, saw those changes firsthand. Since the onset of the pandemic, the company has not only evolved its own marketing and invested in ecommerce, but it has also worked with organization including Feeding America to get its products into the hands of people who need it.

Ahead of the event, Adweek sat down—virtually—with Hiranaga to discuss this moment in marketing and the CPG landscape.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Adweek: This year has brought unprecedented challenges for marketers. What’s been the hardest lift for you, and how are you getting through it?
Brad Hiranaga: Covid-19 has accelerated the need for marketers to have deeper empathy for the consumer, understand the problems that they’re facing and lean in to create solutions to help.

One of the most significant changes we’re seeing is how people buy food. Consumer demand for buying groceries online is growing. As far as evolving consumer needs, ecommerce plays a large part in making things easier by providing access to our brands and demonstrating a commitment to safety. As social distancing persists, we suspect this demand to sustain and new consumer adoption to grow.

What lessons do you think the marketing and advertising industry will come away from this time with? What changes has the pandemic accelerated?
The biggest lesson is that people have higher expectations of how brands need to show up in their lives—solving real, human problems and offering joy-filled solutions. 

Brands need to show up for people in a very authentic way. There’s a lot of talk about authenticity, but what the pandemic brought into focus for people was a desire to bring brands into their lives that add value and show a human interest in their everyday. What challenges are they facing? What experiences do they want to have with their friends and family? And, how can a brand play a role that helps make that happen? The industry needed to bring more empathy and understanding of what people are going through and what they need.

Additionally, given the ongoing pandemic and widespread racial injustice, there is a need for brands to move beyond talking to doing; taking a stand and taking action that is true to their brand purpose. People expect more from brands, and they should because brands have an essential role in communities and culture. In these moments, brands are defined by how they show up. I hope that what we’ve learned is that this is how brands should always show up.

What about your sector in particular? What changes have come, and how has that impacted your marketing?
The reason we exist is to make food the world loves. Today’s circumstances require us to make food the world loves and needs. And, there is increased demand for food products to feed those facing hunger. Through a program called “manufacture to donate,” we quickly enabled our plants to make food, box it up and send directly to Feeding America, producing $5 million worth of products. That’s in addition to $5 million in foundation grants to support food access in our key global markets and support our manufacturing communities worldwide.

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.