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HOW GENERAL MILLS TRACKS AMERICA'S TASTES

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How does Betty Crocker keep an ear to the ground for food trends and respond to them with cookbooks and food products? Here are just some of the ways: Marketing surveys. One finding: Corn is prepared more than any other vegetable in the American home.

Menu censuses. These are random samplings of what Americans are eating these days. Pasta is still big.

Pantry inventories. What do you have on hand? Not counting flour, sugar, and salt, 99 percent of the American households surveyed had a bottle of catsup. Other items in the top 10 included mustard, vegetable oil, cinnamon, margarine, spaghetti, seasoned salt, chili powder, potatoes, and soy sauce.

Equipment studies. Most households own an electric mixer, a toaster, and a blender. The 13-by-9-by-2-inch cake pan is the most widely owned.

Recipe development. General Mills tests new ones, updates old ones, and talks with consumers about how they would prepare them. How do people interpret directions? For example, when people were asked what it means to ``stir the product occasionally'' over a 15-minute cooking time, the consensus answer (39 percent) was ``every three minutes.''

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