May 16, 2013

Food pioneer Robert Kinney, Maine native, dies at 96

The former chief executive of General Mills played a major role in popularizing fish sticks and Yoplait yogurt.

The Associated Press

PHOENIX — E. Robert Kinney, a former chief executive of General Mills who earlier in his career was instrumental in popularizing fish sticks, has died. He was 96.

A statement from General Mills said Kinney died last week in Arizona.

Kinney was a food company executive for most of his career, including a successful stint in leading Gorton's of Gloucester — a brand that became a mainstay in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store for generations. The company's success in the fish stick business prompted General Mills Inc. to acquire Gorton's in 1968.

Kinney served as president and chairman of General Mills from 1977 to 1981, leading the company during a time of rapid growth that included acquisition of licensing rights to Yoplait yogurt.

"Bob Kinney was a remarkable human being, a great guy with rock-ribbed New England integrity," said H. Brewster "Bruce" Atwater Jr., who succeeded Kinney as General Mills' CEO and praised him as a great leader of a high-performing company.

When General Mills acquired Gorton's, Kinney joined the company and led its consumer food operations and eventually rose through the ranks to become CEO. General Mills, based in Minneapolis, said its sales under Kinney's leadership grew from $1 billion to $5 billion, and the number of employees grew from 26,000 to 71,000.

General Mills sold Gorton's in 1995, but the brand remains a popular food choice thanks to Kinney's innovation.

"During his tenure with Gorton's he was credited with leading the company through a period of significant growth. While I wouldn't say he invented the fish stick, he certainly led Gorton's during a period of time when the fish stick became an established convenience food for consumers in the U.S.," said Paul Coz, vice president of human resources Gorton's Seafoods.

Kinney grew up in Pittsfield, Maine, graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and started a canning business called North Atlantic Packing Co. that grew out of his experience seeing lobster fishermen discarding crabs. He offered the fishermen a penny for each crab and started a canning business.

"Bob Kinney was a transformational leader for General Mills who had a tremendous impact on our company," said Ken Powell, the company's current chairman and CEO. "Not only was he successful in business, but also, more importantly, he was both respected and loved by colleagues and peers."

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)