Pepsi and Health Food

PepsiCo is a global corporation which makes more than $43 billion each year. Its most popular products include soda (Pepsi, Mountain Dew) and chips (Fritos, Ruffles, Doritos). But now PepsiCo has expressed an interest in researching nutrition and making their already-popular foods healthier.

Their first foray into healthwashing ended pretty quickly when consumers told them that chocolate-frosted sugar bombs don’t suddenly become all that healthy just because a “Smart Choices” label is added.

Pepsi and Health Foods

PepsiCo has been moving into health foods for more than a decade, slowly but surely. In 1998, they purchased Tropicana, the orange juice company, and acquired Quaker Oats in 2001. While orange juice and oats are certainly good for you, many of the products sold under those brands are a little less healthy – fruit snacks (often more sugar than fruit), Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal, pancake syrup, bottled water, Chewy granola bars, as a few examples. I love those Chewy Dipps, but seriously, that’s a candy bar with a little granola thrown in.

In 2008, PepsiCo bought 49% of Sabra, a company that focuses on Mediterranean style foods, such as hummus and eggplant dip. All of Sabra’s products are vegetarian and kosher. In 2010, PepsiCo moved into the Russian market by buying Wimm-Bill-Dann, a company with popular dairy, juice, and toddler and baby food brands.

All these acquisitions and expansions have placed PepsiCo in the midst of the health boom. With many consumers looking for something “healthier”, but still convenient, the company’s revenues are increasing.

Pepsi’s Nutrition Research

PepsiCo has plans to triple their market share in the nutrition business – from $10 billion in early 2010 to $30 billion in 2020. To further that goal, they’ve opened a research laboratory near Yale University and set such goals for the researchers there, like reducing sodium and added sugar by twenty-five percent and reducing saturated fat by fifteen percent in certain products.

The researchers have said they’re doing pure research, where chance discoveries might lead to something groundbreaking, rather than focusing on a particular goal.

No Conflict of Interest

At the same time, PepsiCo has donated $250,000 for a five-year fellowship at Yale University. The fellowship is to be used to for M.D. and Ph.D. students’ research into nutrition and obesity-related diseases.

While the dean of the medical school says PepsiCo has no say over the content or direction of the research, the usual concerns come into play. Will the students or their advisors worry that their research might cause PepsiCo not to donate money again? Will the school be more likely to enter into joint ventures with the Pepsi lab down the street?

Pepsi has already been busy with their “localwashing” through their Frito-Lay division.

Image by LoneCelloTheory, used with Creative Commons license.

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