Quick quiz: Can you name the giant food company whose CEO is female, Hindu, vegetarian and sings while she works? No? Then can you name the giant food company whose long-term business strategy is to modify its sugary, fatty, salty products to produce good-for-you nutritious drinks and snacks?
The answer to both is PepsiCo, the largest food-and-beverage company in the United States and second-largest in the world after Nestle. And the surprising revolution in its long-term planning is spelled out in a long (but worth the read) article by John Seabrook in The New Yorker. As counter-intuitive as it seems, PepsiCo, which currently thrives on products that are often blamed at least in part for the obesity epidemic, is changing course under its dynamic leader, Indra Nooyi, who became CEO in 2006.
Nuuyi believes PepsiCo must be a part of the solution and is pouring money and resources into the effort. She thinks people are becoming aware of the need to eat better, and PepsiCo will be ready to serve them with the right products. She’s hired experts from the public sector who have worked on the obesity problem by convincing them that for real progress to be made in the fight against obesity, the food companies must be involved.
Of course, not everyone is convinced of PepsiCo’s altruistic motives. One professor of food studies is quoted as saying, “The best thing Pepsi could do for worldwide obesity would be to go out of business.”
Still, there’s a lot to be said for reforming from within. Reading about how this behemoth of the processed food industry is hiring, researching, testing and tasting (with a robot no less) snack and drink products that will deliver good-tasting carrots and oatmeal instead of cookies, chips and colas loaded with sugar, fat and salt (the trio of compelling tastes that food processing companies rely on) gives me hope that the next generation might not be plagued with obesity and its severe health risks.