Somewhat serendipitously, I opted to read the May 16 edition of The New Yorker featuring an in-depth profile on PepsiCo’s food and beverage innovation plans while traveling to last month’s IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo in New Orleans. The “Snacks for a Fat Planet” article by John Seabrook details PepsiCo’s plans for innovation across its portfolio of products with insight from senior PepsiCo executives, including Jonathan McIntyre, senior vice president of R&D global beverages, who was featured in Beverage Industry’s April cover story.
Similar to PepsiCo’s corporate Performance with Purpose goals, innovations on display at the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo included prototypes addressing specific population segments, health conditions and nutritional deficiencies. Ingredient suppliers featured herbal-derived flavors, low- or no-calorie sweetener solutions as well as a lineup of functional ingredients that addressed weight management, stress-related conditions and age-defying wishes.
As IFT attendees sampled a lineup of prototypes, The New Yorker outlined an innovation that PepsiCo uses in the earlier stages of product development. Helping PepsiCo find the “holy grail” of a natural, zero-calorie sweetener is a robot fitted with human taste buds, the article says. The robot helps to identify samples sourced from around the world that have a sweetness profile that consumers might enjoy. According to the article, out of 100,000 samples, the robot identifies about four humanly acceptable options.
PepsiCo also is analyzing human reactions using facial interpretation software to identify if a person’s verbal reaction is what they are actually thinking about a product, the article says. In addition, PepsiCo uses fMRI technology to test the hypothesis that labeling a product as “healthy” might lower taste expectations in the brain, the article notes.
The IFT event featured a lineup of next-generation product possibilities featuring a variety of functional attributes. Similarly, The New Yorker article previewed a drinkable oats beverage that PepsiCo plans to launch in the fall in Mexico and Brazil. Marketed under the Quaker Oats brand, the beverage contains 8 grams of oats and 8 grams of protein from skim milk in each serving as well as fruit juice and sugar, according to the article.
The magazine also mentioned a line of chilled vegetable soups available in Europe under PepsiCo’s Alvalle brand. The company recently shared that the soups were developed with help from PepsiCo collaborator Chef Ferran Adria, whose restaurant El Bulli in Spain is renown as one of the most innovative and best restaurants in the world.
As with some IFT prototypes, The New Yorker article mentions that the American population might not yet be ready for some concepts, such as the Alvalle chilled gazpacho-style soups or “soup smoothies,” as Seabrook comments. However, it’s encouraging to see that food, beverage and ingredient companies alike are anticipating consumers’ needs and continue to intersect taste and healthy attributes.