Since its launch in 1996, General Mills’ Box Tops for Education (BTFE) program has become a mainstay of school fundraising, contributing more than $800 million to schools. But recent changes to the program have raised concerns among parent group leaders, who say their collections are down for the 2016-17 school year.

After watching the Campbell Soup Company phase out its Labels for Education Program, some school coordinators are worried about the future of the BTFE program, as well. We heard what leaders had to say and took their questions to General Mills. Here’s what we learned.

Why have Betty Crocker baking products and Pillsbury frozen foods gone off the list of participating products?

Companies add products to the list for a set period of time, so it’s not uncommon for different products to be added or removed from the list of participating products. By reviewing lists of participating products from several years, PTO Today found that Scott paper products and Hefty trash bags were on the list in 2015 before going off in 2016, but returned to the list in 2017.

Although Betty Crocker baking products and Pillsbury frozen foods did not continue their participation in the program this year, Mollie Wulff, a corporate communications manager at General Mills, pointed out that several Annie’s organic food products were added to the list, including baking mixes, macaroni and cheese mixes, and snack foods. “We continually strive to have a breadth of participating products,” Wulff says.

Several posters in our PTO & PTA Leaders Facebook group noted that their school families don’t purchase the organic products as frequently as other products because of their higher costs. This reinforces an important point—it’s not just the products on the list that influence box tops collections, but the amount of those products that families are buying.

Why is the list of participating products so much shorter now?

The list of participating products was two pages long in 2015 and was shortened to one page in 2016. According to General Mills, the document was shortened by consolidating product listings to show only the parent brand and not each flavor of participating products, removing product photos from each section, and using a smaller font size. The changes were made so that school coordinators would have less to print and copy.

Should we be worried about General Mills discontinuing the BTFE program?

“While there are no plans to discontinue BTFE in the next year, we are committed to constantly evaluating the program to ensure that we are doing right by our consumers, our brands, and our partners,” Wulff says. “It is a tremendous platform that provides significant and much needed funding to schools all over the U.S. and our brands and partner brands are proud of their support to the BTFE program.”

What are your plans for the Box Tops Bonus app?

General Mills introduced the Box Tops Bonus app in fall 2016. The app does not replace clipping the box tops off cereal boxes or other food containers. App users view special offers, buy the products that earn the bonus box tops, then upload a photo of their store receipt. App users’ schools then earn credit for the bonus box tops.

General Mills reports that the app has been downloaded approximately 350,000 times; however, it has poor reviews on iTunes and GooglePlay. Members of our Facebook group described the app as “glitchy” and prone to crashing.

“As with any new technology, we have had a few hiccups along the way, but we continue to make modifications and aim to improve the app’s performance with every software update,” Wulff says.

General Mills says it is is planning several changes to the app in time for back to school, such as adding a geolocation feature that should make it easier for users to find retailer-specific offers in their area. Users will also be able to see their school’s progress toward their earnings goal. And if a school has set up a Clip Board collection drive, its supporters will be able to view the clip board to see how the money they raise will be used.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart/CCBY