Jello, Maxwell House, Post Toasties --

these are some of the things General Foods Corp. puts in packages for sale to consumers in the United States and around the world. Now General Foods is repackaging its most important product: itself.

The giant company announced last week that it has adopted a new corporate logo, a stylized leaf-like symbol, in place of the not-so-stylized "GF" that has represented the company for more than two decades.

As in the cases of other companies that have changed their logos or names in recent years, the switch will involve the updating of the thousands of things to which General Foods affixes its name -- from factory signs to cereal boxes to stationery.

The change is being made because General Foods officials feel the company itself has changed.

"General Foods today is a different company than just five years ago," company Chairman James L. Ferguson said in a statement announcing the new logo. "We have made substantial progress against our mission to be the world's premier food and beverage company. Our new corporate symbol is a signal of that progress, of our confidence for the future and of our continuing commitment to provide superior consumer satisfaction in all our products."

A company spokeswoman said General Foods wanted a logo that represented its new image more closely, one somewhat more oriented to fresh foods because of the recent acquisitions of the Oscar Mayer and Louis Rich meat-packing firms and Entenmann's baked-goods line.

"It is not a cosmetic change," said company spokeswoman Kathleen C. MacDonough. "The old mark we thought was quite dated, and it did not present the essence of the company."

One does not go about the task of redoing a corporate symbol lightly. General Foods spent the last three years assessing its needs in a logo and researching various possibilities. The new symbol was designed by noted corporate designer Saul Bass, who also is responsible for the new AT&T logo, the old Bell System symbol and the United Way trademark.

The company has spent a bit less than $1 million on the research, design and legal fees to copyright the new logo, and will spend about the same amount spreading it around the company's products and facilities.

The new symbol vaguely represents a leaf, or teardrop, tilted over to one side. It is colored in two tones of green and surrounded by a thick black line open-ended at the upper right corner. The name of the company appears underneath. "The leaf certainly conveys the element of growth and dynamic growth," MacDonough said. "The strong black band obviously does convey from a design standpoint strength and movement.

"It's not art deco, it's not art nouveau, it is clean, it is its own," she said. "It is clean and strong and fresh. It is a dynamic mark."

Consumers can decide for themselves as the new logo begins showing up on the packages for General Foods products. It already has begun making its bow in advertisements for the company in business publications. It will take about two years before the changeover is complete. "We will phase in the mark," McDonough said. "We will not throw out stores of packaging, for instance." Some products with their own distinct brand name, such as Oscar Mayer, will not get the new logo, but it will appear on just about everything else the company makes.

After spending three years to come up with this logo, General Foods hopes not to have to worry about the important identification mark for a long while. "We anticipate . . . because it is clean and classic, that it will be a contemporary mark 30 years from now," MacDonough said.

The roughly $2 million price tag on the changeover for General Foods is fairly cheap considering what some other large companies have had to spend in recent years to change their corporate symbols or names in recent years. The most famous was probably Exxon, which reportedly spent $100 million to change its name from Esso in 1972.

But the most notorious story of a logo redesign belongs to National Broadcasting Co. The network spent millions in 1976 to design and advertise a new stylized block-letter "N" as its corporate symbol -- only to discover that Nebraska Public Television Network had been using a similar logo for several months, after spending less than $100 to design it. It cost NBC $600,000 in cash and equipment to purchase the rights to the symbol from the public TV network.