In a July 2020 webinar hosted by the Consumer Brands Association, General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening said the company believes consumers may continue to do many of the at-home activities they began during the pandemic, including baking and cooking. But the debut of the Pillsbury ready-to-eat cookies suggests the company recognizes consumers will venture out a lot more in the year ahead — and it needs to deliver more convenient, on-the-go options.
The Soft Baked Cookies mark Pillsbury’s second baked snack product, joining its Snack Cakes, which debuted this past June. Shortly after, General Mills announced that all Pillsbury refrigerated cookie and brownie dough was being reformulated so that consumers could safely eat it raw — or bake it if they have the time. These introductions show how the company is trying new innovations for the century-old brand as consumer habits and needs shift.
“While our fans love baking Pillsbury products in the oven, our consumer research indicates there are times that a ready-to-eat cookie is preferred,” Jeff Caswell, president of Minneapolis-based General Mills’ Snacks Division, said in a statement. “We focused on launching Pillsbury Soft Baked Cookies for that quick treat, knowing there is not always time for baking.” (Hometown Food owns the exclusive rights to the Pillsbury shelf-stable baking and dessert products.)
Cookies have seen renewed sales during the pandemic, as consumers seek indulgent treats. Caswell told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that General Mills’ premade cookie sales were growing in the mid-single digits before the pandemic. That growth rate has since jumped to nearly 12%. The exec also noted that General Mills’ research found that customers who bought Pillsbury refrigerated cookie dough were also shopping for ready-made options, revealing a growth opportunity for the brand.
Pillsbury has a lot of company in the cookie aisle, with competitors including Ferrero’s Keebler. At more than 160 years old, Keebler is also undergoing a push to make it more relevant to modern consumers. And it is contending with on-trend options from startups such as Partake Foods, whose cookies have an allergy-friendly, vegan hook.
That said, the advantage for Pillsbury is baked right in. Consumers already know the brand from their experiences baking with its refrigerated dough, and could appreciate the extra level of convenience that comes from having a ready-made option, especially as pandemic-related restrictions ease and the daily commute and in-person schooling increase.