August 31, 2011, 11:17 AM

General Mills sends out the Red Spoon Squad and pushes gluten-free via e-commerce sites

Two new e-commerce initiatives by the big manufacturer of packaged food products.

Lead Photo

With help from "cloud" technology, General Mills Inc. is driving a new e-commerce strategy. The first two examples are the Betty Crocker Red Spoon Squad and Gluten Freely sites—two e-commerce operations targeting niche markets.

With, the company is testing a site where shoppers can learn about new recipes, get personalized online instructions suited to their cooking experience, and arrange for visits to their homes from Red Spoon Squad experts.

Computer tablet in hand, Red Spoon Squad members will arrive armed with cooking tips and a mobile app that will display recipes, show cooking demonstration videos and process online purchases of suitable Betty Crocker products, says David Wolfe, managing director of BrandJourney Venturing, the web technology development firm that is building and temporarily operating the new sites for General Mills. Red Spoon Squad experts have started serving consumers in test markets including Virginia Beach, Va.

BrandJourney has also developed, which launched in March after a six-month development period, Wolfe says. Consumers can shop the site for 400 General Mills products, including breads, cakes, pasta, pizza and other foods, that are free of gluten—a protein naturally found in grains that helps dough rise and gives certain foods a chewy texture.

Gluten is known to cause celiac disease, with symptoms including digestive problems and fatigue in some people—about 1 in 133, according to General Mills. Yet gluten-free products are not always easy to find, a void the company is seeking to correct through its new e-commerce site.

BrandJourney employs the Microsoft Azure technology platform of web-based Microsoft software. It strives to make its new ventures revenue-producing businesses within 12 months before handing over the new ventures for their clients to operate, Wolfe says.

General Mills says it chose to work with BrandJourney and the Microsoft Azure technology to avoid the costs of running sites on the manufacturer's own web site infrastructure. "We needed to build an e-commerce solution without incurring the costs and maintenance of a traditional on-premises platform," says Dom Alcocer, marketing manager of new ventures for General Mills. "Gluten Freely was brought to market about twice as fast and at about half the cost of what we were expecting from a traditional I.T. development."

General Mills isn't commenting on the level of traffic and sales has produced, but notes that it has already built a strong following through Facebook and Twitter, including more than 90,000 fans on Facebook. "In our first day, we had orders from more than 25 states, and we now deliver to every state in the continental United States," Alcocer says.

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