The General Mills Effect

The General Mills Effect

Who's behind that food startup? Probably a former GMI exec.

If you want to know why the Twin Cities has become a hot spot for food and drink startups, look to the valley—Golden Valley, home to that global giant of packaged foods, General Mills Inc. Of course, many founders get corporate experience before venturing out on their own, but no Fortune 500 in town seems to produce as many food and drink entrepreneurs as GMI. Another benefit of eating your Wheaties?

Kent Pilakowski has a couple of theories on the phenomenon. He’s one of those GMI expats who left in 2007, after 14 years in sales positions, to launch Ignite Sales & Marketing Management, a business development and sales agency specializing in natural and organic foods. Before selling the company three years ago, he worked with Talenti, Good Karma, Beyond Meat, and other hot brands that have sold or gone public. Pilakowski’s pragmatic theory on the General Mills’ startup pipeline: The company has gone through rounds of layoffs, which prompted former employees to get creative with the financial security that comes from a corporate restructure. He also points out that General Mills execs are well aware of consumers’ shifting food tastes. “When I walked away, there wasn’t much disruption happening, and funding for startups was virtually nonexistent. Now, the food space has been completely flipped upside down.”

General Mills, for its part, is happy to champion the entrepreneurial spirit of its team, current and past. “General Mills has an incredible culture of innovation, ranging from new products to partnering with early-stage entrepreneurs to creating fresh ways to market our iconic brands,” says John Haugen, managing director of General Mills’ internal incubator 301 INC. “It’s the reason we’ve thrived as a company for more than 150 years.”

Recent startup successes and food industry leaders to come out of General Mills:

Fulton BeerFulton Beer 6 pack

What: Beer brand and brewery based in Northeast Minneapolis
Launched: 2009
Co-Founder: Ryan Petz, former GMI associate channel manager

Atlas Provisions

What: Popped lotus snacks
Launched: 2017
Founder: Sarah Pritzker, former GMI associate marketing manager

Hot Indian Foods

What: Fast-casual Indian food. Started as a food truck, Hot Indian now has carts at Target Field and Allianz Field, as well as permanent locations in downtown Minneapolis, Midtown Global Market, and Mall of America.
Launched: 2013
Founder: Amol Dixit, former manager of GMI Ventures

3 Bear Oats3 Bear Oats

What: “Heat & eat” artisan oatmeal
Launched: 2016
Co-Founder: Doug Moore (with wife, Therese), former GMI vice president, advertising and media

Ommie SnacksOmmie Snacks Bars

What: “Allergy-friendly” and vegan handcrafted energy bars made from fruits, seeds, and spices.
Launched: 2016
Founder: Claudia Fierro-Poppen, former GMI integrated marketing communications manager

The Twisted Beverage Co.The Twisted Beverage Shrub

What: Apple-cider-vinegar-based shrubs (The Twisted Shrub) and health drinks (The Twisted Shot)
Launched: 2016
Co-Founder: Scott Dillon, former GMI sales manager

Bizzy CoffeeBizzy Coffee cold brew beans

What: Cold-brew concentrate and ground coffee sold at natural food stores and co-ops nationwide
Launched: 2015
Co-Founder: Alex French, former GMI business analyst and new business development senior marketing associate


What: Fast-visit, casual markets selling local, responsibly sourced food and drink at three Minneapolis locations
Launched: 2014
Founder: Ryan Rosenthal, former GMI logistics business planner

Ancient inGRAINed—Ka-POP!Ka-Pop Ancient Grains

What: Ancient-grain popped chips
Launched: 2018
Founder: Dustin Finkel, former GMI associate brand manager (8th Continent and Adult Cereals)

Farmwise FoodsFarmwise Foods chicken veggie nugs

What: Packaged frozen veggie fries, tots, and rings that are gluten-free, allergen-friendly and made with all-natural ingredients
Launched: 2015
Co-Founder: Dave Peters (with wife, Cristina), former GMI general manager of the beverages group


What: A chocolate dip made with avocado and six other natural ingredients
Launched: 2017
Founder: Greg D’Alessandro, former GMI senior brand manager

Mark Addicks

Now: Owns Mason Jar Kitchen & Cupcake Bakery in Eagan; also CEO of Manova global health care summit
Then: GMI chief marketing officer

Lauren Mehler Pradhan

Now: Managing director of Grow North, a Minnesota food and agriculture accelerator
Then: GMI senior marketing manager (worked on the cereal division’s health and wellness strategy)

Read more from this issue

Joe Driscoll

Now: CEO of Pearson’s Candy Co.
Then: General manager responsible for integrating Immaculate Baking Co. into GMI

Josh Resnik

Now: CEO of Twin Cities Co-op Partners, which includes the Wedge, Linden Hills, and Partners Warehouse
Then: GMI marketing director

Kent Pilakowski

Now: Co-owner of Peace Coffee
Then: Head of sales for GMI organic foods division

Bob Waldron

Now: CEO and board member of Cameron’s Coffee
Then: GMI senior vice president