Q&A with Marianne O’Shea

The Following is a Q&A with Marianne O’Shea, Vice President of Research and Development, Nutrition Sciences, PepsiCo

Q: What motivated PepsiCo to embark on its commitment to provide healthier foods and beverages to consumers by reducing calories, saturated fat, and sodium?

The products we create and sell are largely guided by consumer demand. Meaning, we listen to what our consumers want out of their food and beverage choices and deliver products that meet those needs. Several years ago, we noticed there were trends in the marketplace that demonstrated that consumers were looking for more out of their food and beverage product choices. They wanted less sodium and saturated fat in their diets, and we had an opportunity to deliver more of what they were looking for – such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein. Our commitment to our consumers includes a two-pronged approach: We’re reformulating some of our legacy products to reduce sugar, sodium, and saturated fat where we can, while expanding our nutrition-forward portfolio to offer consumers more options.

Q: You’ve been doing this work for several years now. What have you learned from your efforts thus far? What has surprised you?

As an organization, we have been focused on our commitment to provide an expanded portfolio of food and beverage options to our consumers for several decades. What we’ve learned – and what surprised us – is that when we want to reformulate products that are already established and loved by consumers, we must take a careful, stepwise approach to deliver on the taste expectation that our consumers love.

To do this, we have developed a set of science-based nutrition guidelines, called PepsiCo Nutrition Criteria, which are based on dietary and nutrient recommendations from leading global and national nutrition and public health authorities, and which set thresholds for this step-wise approach to our product reformulation plans. Through these gradual changes, over time, we can continue delivering products our consumers enjoy while advancing their nutritional profile. Learn more about our PepsiCo Nutrition Criteria here.

We’re also continuously learning and evolving as an organization. There are functional characteristics of the ingredients in some of our products, for example, that play a role in protecting the structure or quality of the product. These functional characteristics can pose technical barriers when we look at product reformulation. This is a challenge for us, but solving these challenges is something our research and development teams, in collaboration with external experts, are consistently working on.

Q: What perspective can PepsiCo offer on the role food and beverage manufacturers can play in reducing childhood obesity?

We believe that food and beverage manufacturers—including PepsiCo—have to be responsible about how they influence the diets of young people. I’m a parent, so this is particularly important to me. I rely, like most parents these days, on access to convenient snacks and beverages that I can quickly provide to my kids, whether for their lunchboxes or when we are running around to sports and after-school activities. Like most parents out there, I want to make sure the products I choose are appropriate for growing young children.

At PepsiCo, we have guidelines around the products we advertise directly to children. We only advertise to children those products that meet strict criteria for nutrients. Our global policy on responsible advertising to children and our criteria are available on our website, in the hope that other companies will leverage similar standards and join us in that endeavor.

Q: Have you acquired (or might you acquire) any healthier/good-for-you, start-up brands that align with this commitment?

Yes – we have acquired KeVita, which makes kombucha and sparkling probiotic drinks, and SodaStream (one of our most recent acquisitions), which allows consumers to create carbonated drinks at home, reducing plastic waste and carbon footprints. We’ve been acquiring healthier brands for several years, not just start-ups. Quaker was an acquisition some time ago that really moved us in a different direction and Tropicana as well. We’ve been on a journey of reshaping our company and ensuring we have more offerings for consumers that deliver the nutrients that they need.

Q: Do you see a link between healthier products and environmental sustainability? If so, what role should food and beverage manufacturers play?

There is definitely a link. I think there is no question at all about that. We have to think much more broadly as we deliver nutritious products. Our approach in the past 10 years has always included the environmental impact and the nutrition component. When we’re making a product, we are not just considering the nutrition aspects, but also how the ingredients are sourced, how the product is made, the packaging it goes into, and how it’s brought to market. That is something we‘ve been looking at it in a holistic way. There’s no doubt in our mind that the food and beverage industry plays a huge role, as well as suppliers and consumers, who need to be active in recycling. There’s responsibility throughout the food chain. At PepsiCo, we are working to do our part to make the food system more sustainable and bring others along with us on this journey.

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