Saturday, May 14, 2011

PepsiCo's Drinkifying Your Snack

It may surprise you to learn that PepsiCo, the largest food-and-beverage company in the U.S., doesn’t just make cola. Eighteen of its brands, including Tropicana, Gatorade, and Quaker Oats, are billion-dollar businesses. And collectively, these brands are responsible for many of the ultra-processed, insanely-sugary snack foods that are killing us. Plainly put, PepsiCo is making people fat and sick.

But according to this week's New Yorker, PepsiCo’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, wants the company to help battle the obesity epidemic, and to “lead the fight in the public health realm.” How? By selling "healthy," “scientifically advantaged” snacks that are “good for you."

“It’s not a question of selling less,” Nooyi has said. “It’s a question of selling the right stuff.”

Wow! Does this mean PepsiCo’s going to stop selling, say, PEPSI? Or TOSTITOS? Or AUNT JEMIMA SYRUP (which lists corn syrup AND high fructose corn syrup as its two primary ingredients)?

More after the jump...

Uh, no.
[Nooyi's] long-term strategy is to make PepsiCo’s “nutrition business” a much larger part of the company’s portfolio than it is today. She wants to increase what she calls “good for you” products -- snacks and drinks made of grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables and dairy -- from the ten-billion-dollar business it is now into a thirty-billion-dollar business by 2020.
Ha! The New Yorker doesn't spell it out, but despite Nooyi's attempt to paint a picture of PepsiCo taking steps to improve human health worldwide, PEPSICO HAS NO PLANS TO CUT BACK ITS PRODUCTION AND SALES OF TERRIBLE-FOR-YOU FOOD. Don't be fooled by the company's PR: It's just looking to grow its sales by also capturing market share from the purveyors of health food. More specifically -- processed health food. ('Cause who wants to buy real food, anyway?)

But okay -- fine. At least PepsiCo’s going to be using its marketing muscle to get people to eat more nutritious options, right? So just what is this “healthy” fare that Nooyi intends to sell?
The markets of the future may will be in “packaged nutrition” -- in enriched products like PepsiCo’s SoBe Lifewater, which contains vitamins, and in its pricey Naked line of fruit juices and smoothies, which contain antioxidants. Another growing category is “functional” foods and beverages, like varieties of the sports drink Gatorade, which PepsiCo markets for specific physiological or metabolic attributes.
Wait -- how are these products “healthy”? SoBe Lifewater, Naked juices and smoothies, and Gatorade drinks all happen to be loaded with sugar. They're not much healthier than chasing down a multivitamin with a can of Mountain Dew.

(Oh, and by the way: Did you catch the use of the term “functional foods”? Did you wonder what it means? Ponder no more. It was made up by food industry marketers to denote those processed food products that are somehow “enriched” with vitamins or other “healthy” additives. When you really think about it, this is ridiculous on its face. All real, whole foods are innately “functional” because they offer nutrients that help us function. The only foods that needs to be “enriched” -- purely for marketing purposes! -- are the crap that otherwise would have no benefits to offer whatsoever.)

But that’s not all that PepsiCo’s doing. The company is also “re-engineering the composition of its ‘fun for you’ products -- the sodas and the chips -- to make them ‘better for you’ by reducing the amount of sugar, salt, and saturated fat they contain.” PepsiCo is expanding its R&D budgets to, among other things, “see whether the company could make a lower-sodium chip that tasted just as salty as a regular chip” and to develop “a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that tastes exactly like sugar.”

Of course! I mean, why try to get people to curb their sugar addictions when you can just sell consumers something just as sweet to keep 'em hooked on your products? I’m sure PepsiCo's latest-and-greatest sugar substitute will be perfectly harmless, too. After all, PepsiCo's announced that it's committed to “doing the right thing” now! And thank goodness the New Yorker's helped the company get this important message out to the masses!

Nooyi’s saved the best for last:
“Let’s say you give a kid a carrot,” Nooyi explained. “And he says, ‘I don’t want to eat a carrot.’ But you say, ‘I tell you what, I’ll give it to you in a wonderful drinkable form that’s still as close to the carrot as possible.’ All of a sudden, what have I done? I’ve drinkified the snack! Or I take a fruit juice and give it to you in a wonderful squeezable form, which is Tropolis. What have I done now? I’ve snackified the drink. So there’s this new convergence area coming up, which is going to be a glorious area. If you don’t want to eat oatmeal, tell you what -- we’ll give it to you in a drinkable form, with a little bit of fruit. We can even give you a little bit of crunch. You can drink it on the go, and it taste great. And, guess what? We’ve just sneaked oatmeal into you.”

This makes my head hurt.

In summary: PepsiCo’s not content to make bazillions of dollars by selling sugar-packed, toxic snacks to people who don’t mind poisoning themselves with cheap, processed crap. There is, after all, an entire market segment out there that remains largely untapped by the company: People who don’t want to eat shit. So now, PepsiCo's marketing its “re-engineered,” “scientifically advantaged” and “enriched” (read: ultra-processed) snacks as “healthy” options -- to sucker in those who are health-conscious enough to avoid Doritos but still gullible enough to fall for the “good for you!” labels on PepsiCo’s products. Instead of offering truly good nutrition in the form of real, whole foods, PepsiCo's going to sneak some oatmeal into its consumers -- along with a bolus of sugar.

Oh, the horror.