Pepsico Is on a Mission to End Healthy Food Deserts—Here’s How

Photo: Seth Kaufman; Graphic: Well+Good Creative
When matcha, collagen, adaptogens, and a farmers' market full of fresh produce are readily available where you live, it's easy to forget that, for many, healthy food is out of reach. Food deserts—places with limited access to affordable, nutrient-rich food—are not only real, they're incredibly common. According to the US Department of Agriculture, an estimated 13.5 million Americans have low access to any large grocery store—yes, even in cities!

When hunger is a real problem in someone's life, the limited money they do have is going to be spent on whatever's cheapest, which, unfortunately, is typically nutrient-poor—think: soft drinks and foods loaded with preservatives, which allow them to sit on shelves for months. This is something that has long been on PepsiCo President of North American Nutrition Seth Kaufman's mind. Wellness has always been something he's been personally passionate about, so when the opportunity to take on a nutrition role at the company presented itself a year ago, Kaufman was quick to accept.

To many, it's a surprise that PepsiCo even has a nutrition division, let alone a well-developed mission to put an end to food deserts. More intel you might not know: PepsiCo owns health-focused brands like Quaker Oats, Kevita, Tropicana, Naked Juice, and Sabra.

Here, Kaufman shares exactly how the mega-company is working to give more people access to healthy foods and beverages.

food desert
Photo: Stocksy/Kurt Heim

What sparked your pivot within Pepsi from the beverages division to nutrition?

Seth Kaufman: One of the biggest projects I was working on when I was the CMO of North American Beverages was transforming the portfolio to meet the evolving needs of our customers. I was really passionate about starting the conversation [to include good-for-you brands], and all the important people at PepsiCo saw that. They knew I was super passionate about nutrition and I was also super passionate about a general manager role. When the opportunity came about to really make a bigger bet for PepsiCo in the space and be more aggressive with our North American nutrition profile, I jumped at it.

At the end of the day, I want to be able to be proud of all the amazing products I bring home to my kids, and I think this part of the organization is where I can have the biggest impact to do that and really evolve the portfolio to meet the needs of kids like mine as well as others in the world.

cold drinks
Photo: Getty Images/Kwangmoozaa

What are you proud to have accomplished so far?

We are on a mission to put nutrition within arms' reach of every consumer. For me, this comes down to three primary components. The first is trust. The world is incredibly confusing for consumers. There are lots of labels and lots of claims. If we say something is gluten-free or has a certain number of probiotics in it, for example, consumers can trust that it's true. The next thing is choice. People have different needs depending on where they are in their day.

Last, it's about accessibility, and this is where I think PepsiCo shines while many other, smaller brands can't. We're building a national chilled direct door delivery capability, which means that by the middle of 2019, we will have covered about 75 percent of every single small format store in the US where consumers will be able to go in and get healthy, chilled products. That's just one example of how we're able to get more nutritious options to consumers.

Naked bars
Photo: Instagram/@nakedjuice

Is there anything you're working on right now that you're excited about?

When Naked was founded, it was really about making fruits and vegetables convenient for consumers in a different form. Over time, that has expanded into how consumers can get access to more nutrients and vitamins that are part of these foods. Until this year, we've stayed a smoothie business, but now with Naked bars, there are whole pieces of fruits and vegetables as a fill-in snack for consumers; you can see the kale in there.

Also, Tropicana just launched a new blend made with coconut water. Some people don't like the taste of coconut water, but they want the benefits. This is a good way to get those electrolytes. I'm also really excited for what's happening with Quaker Oats. Oats are one of the best foods you can have because it has high-levels of beta glucan, a soluble fiber that boosts gut health, is good for the heart, and gives the body sustained energy. Last year, we launched pre-made overnight oats, and some of the feedback we heard from consumers was that they wanted an unsweetened version, so we just launched that this month.

healthy family
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

Are there any healthy food trends PepsiCo is prioritizing making more accessible?

One that our team talks a lot about is living a plant-powered lifestyle. Quaker, Tropicana, and Naked are great platforms for us to really expand that. Another one is the idea of food as medicine. People want to treat whatever issues they have with food, so we've been talking internally about ways to provide more ways for them to do that. Going along with that idea is providing products that improve gut health. Whether that's with Tropicana's probiotic drink, Kevita's kombucha, or Kevita's sparkling tonic line—including one with apple cider vinegar—it's a trend we talk a lot about and want to offer more innovation moving forward.

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