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Honey bees are a vital pollinator of agricultural crops.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Shopping is not a particularly meaningful exercise. Perhaps that's why some companies have found that linking their products to a cause can provide a feel-good incentive to shoppers, and a boost to sales as well.

General Mills Canada is one example – its focus on honeybees earned it an award for the best marketing of the year at the Canadian Marketing Association awards on Friday evening.

The company, which makes Honey Nut Cheerios, saw an opportunity related to its mascot, a cartoon bee: in recent years, news of a global decline in bee populations has made news. For example, more than 40 per cent of species of wild insect pollinators face possible extinction in Northwestern Europe and North America – with butterflies and bees in particular danger – according to an assessment issued in February by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a group set up by the United Nations to assess biodiversity. The IPBES assessment estimated that roughly three-quarters of global food crops depend at least in part on pollination, whether by bees or other pollinators such as moths, wasps, birds, bats and others.

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After conducting research with more than 5,000 consumers, General Mills Canada found that awareness of the plight of bees was high among Baby Boomers, who are a core target market for the cereal.

In March, General Mills removed the cartoon bee, Buzz, from its Honey Nut Cheerios boxes for the first time ever. To highlight concerns about bee populations, a Buzz-shaped white void appeared on packaging instead.

The campaign, which was created by ad agency Cossette and ran through the spring and early summer, encouraged shoppers to go online to register for free seeds they could use to plant wildflowers. The company has distributed millions of packets of seeds since. It says the campaign's exposure has included more than four million views for its video online, and millions of people reached through social media.

The campaign earned the "Best of the Best" award at the CMA gala on Friday. It led to real results: in the spring, sales of Honey Nut Cheerios in Canada rose 11.5 per cent – another indication that "cause marketing" can give a boost to the bottom line.

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