ANAHEIM , CALIF. — “It might be surprising to some that PepsiCo is at this conference,” said Jeff Zachwieja, Ph.D., senior director of Global R.&D. Nutrition Sciences at PepsiCo, Inc. He was speaking during a March 10 presentation at Natural Products Expo West, and it was his first time in attendance. The discussion centered on his company’s commitment to offering more nutritious and functional food and beverage products.
|Jeff Zachwieja, Ph.D., senior director of Global R.&D. Nutrition Sciences at PepsiCo
“PepsiCo has had a longstanding commitment to nutrition, and we really take this responsibility to heart to make sure that we’re moving to more nutritious offerings,” Dr. Zachwieja said. “In terms of our leadership team and our c.e.o., it’s their agenda that we really want the company to grow on the basis of nutrition… That’s why we’re here.”
PepsiCo’s presence at Expo West underscores a shift in the food and beverage industry, as the world’s largest companies reconfigure their portfolios to eliminate ingredients perceived as unhealthy and acquire better-for-you brands. Such businesses as General Mills and Campbell Soup Co., sometimes criticized for selling processed foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat, have forged a stronger foothold in the natural and organic marketplace and at Expo West, where this year Denise Morrison, president and chief executive officer of Campbell Soup, delivered a keynote address.
For PepsiCo, recent efforts to keep pace with changing consumer tastes have included the acquisition of KeVita, a brand of fermented probiotic and kombucha beverages, as well as innovation within the company’s Quaker Oats and Tropicana businesses.
“When we talk to consumers, they find it difficult to eat more oats or to eat oats throughout the day,” Dr. Zachwieja said. “It’s also been pigeonholed as a breakfast occasion… But what we know is consumers tell us oats are difficult and inconvenient to prepare, and especially cooked oats take too long to do so. Many people are on the go today and looking for easy convenient ways to consume their nutrition.”
To address the barriers to consumption, PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats unit is launching convenient, portable products featuring whole grain oats. An example is Quaker Overnight Oats, a line of single-serve cups of flavored oats. Consumers add milk and refrigerate overnight.
“Many of you may be aware of the overnight oats craze; soaking your oats overnight in milk or a combination of milk and yogurt trends very high on Instagram,” he said. “What we’re trying to do through our innovation is to make overnight oats a little more convenient for people.”
Other recent introductions include Breakfast Squares, a line of soft baked bars in apple cinnamon, strawberry and peanut butter varieties, and Breakfast Flats, which are crunchy biscuits made with fruit, nuts and seeds.
“Breakfast Flats and Breakfast Squares incorporate oats into easy, convenient, on-the-go bar-type nutrition with fruits and nuts and seeds to bring nutritious grains into the diet and can be consumed really any time throughout the day,” Dr. Zachwieja said. “Cooking oatmeal in the morning is not the only way to consume oats. They can be consumed in a variety of ways throughout the day, and we’re really working from an innovation standpoint to find new and different ways to bring oats to consumers.”
From Tropicana comes a range of juices infused with probiotics in such flavors as strawberry banana, pineapple mango and peach passion fruit. The beverages are formulated with B. lactis HN019, which adds 1 billion live and active cultures per serving, according to the company.
“There’s been quite a bit of research done over the years in terms of the functional benefits of probiotics, in terms of digestive health and immunity,” Dr. Zachwieja said. “Typically, though, you find probiotics in dairy-related products such as fermented milk or yogurt. What we’ve been able to do through our innovation is find ways to safely and confidently put probiotics into a juice drink in order to provide that functional benefit.”
Another health and wellness trend driving innovation at PepsiCo is the growing demand for gluten-free products. Though oats are naturally gluten-free, the company has developed a cleaning system to remove stray wheat, rye, barley and spelt to produce oats that meet Food and Drug Administration standards.“A tremendous amount of research and a lot of work went into that,” Dr. Zachwieja said. “There were a number of patents to support that technology… but I think that’s a great example of bringing something to the market that consumers are looking for and in need of.”