Behind the Brand: PepsiCo Labs

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While Pepsi might be most well-known for its beverages and snacks divisions, the CPG giant’s innovation division PepsiCo Labs program is aimed at supporting innovative tech startups. 

While Pepsi might be most well-known for its beverages and snacks divisions, the CPG giant’s innovation division PepsiCo Labs program is aimed at supporting innovative tech startups. 

During a recent Brand Innovators livecast, leaders from SnackFutures Innovation at Pepsico shared a peek behind how this division works. Searching for startup partners that think outside the box helps the company keep its finger on the pulse of the culture.

“Having a systematic approach and having processes in place has enabled us to be more agile,” said Jenny Oh, GM PepsiCo Labs, Tech Venture & Innovation, PepsiCo. “I say that because we have what we call the Rapid Pilot Process, which is fit for purpose at every stage of the way. I think often when people think process, they think bureaucracy but we really streamlined things so that we can act with agility. I think built into that is this constant mindset of being fluid and agile so that whenever we need to adapt or deviate from the process, we are all very open to doing that while constantly asking ourselves if this is the most efficient way and whether we’re focused on the biggest opportunities. In the last couple of years, what we’ve really been able to establish is this systematic approach to this program, which enables us to really channel startups into PepsiCo in the right way.” 

Sarah Pichardo, Program Management at PepsiCo Labs, PepsiCo, pointed out that their role is to help shepherd the process for startups to make it as easy as possible for them to get onboarded into the organization and to actually gain relevance within the organization. 

“At PepsiCo, we want to be a leader within our industry and we want to be a leader now within technology because we understand how important it is,” said Pichardo. “But being a part of a big organization, it’s hard to know where to focus and where to start. Within the PepsiCo side, we help to create the structure and rigor to understand what those big opportunities are, and narrow those down so that we only focus on a couple of really big opportunities and dedicate our resources there. It’s important to hone in the organization and focus on what matters, but also to stay connected throughout the entire experience. So, creating the right learning structure, creating the right layers or support and stakeholders that are kept abreast of our successes is also critical. We want to make sure that we’re focused on priorities but also that we’re bringing everyone along in the process.” 

PepsiCo Labs’ partnerships are complex and range across industries, which also requires a personalized touch.“If you want to simplify as much as possible, success would mean scaling so taking our proof of concept and increasing increments of spend across the organization,” said Eve Rabin, Sr Manager, Media Innovation and Partnership Development, PepsiCo. “However, as you can imagine, we work with a ton of startups across a multitude of terrains like personalization at scale, to sports marketing, to competitive intelligence, to creative excellence and so, there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all model in terms of what scaling looks like. It’s not like we acquire a company, wipe our hands clean and then send it off into the organization. We’ve developed a rigorous scaling model that captures all of these layers and defines what scaling looks like for each partner, which we then use to help define and measure success against.” 

Pepsi has used the PepsiCo Labs group to stay close to consumer trends, learning a lot particularly over the last year and a half of global disruption.

“This pandemic has accelerated consumer and shopping trends, it has prioritized more sophisticated technology and digitalization, and it’s given rise to new ways of working,” said Pat Cavanaugh, Manager, Media Innovation and Partnership Development at PepsiCo.

“These evolutions in our business mean that we can’t think about marketing and media in the same ways that we have in the past; we can’t continue as business as usual. We need to reimagine our strategies, our approaches, we need to have an open mind about advanced solutions, developing new capabilities, deploying these cutting edge technologies and reinventing the way we go to market for our brands. Ultimately, we need to embrace innovation. We search for startups who think outside the box, and provide global, scalable, and advantaged solutions for PepsiCo’s marketing and media agenda.” 

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