Re-inventing a Junk Food Company

You’ve got to hand it to Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo. She is trying to re-invent the junk food and beverage conglomerate by building an entire portfolio of “Good For You” Products. Problem is, that she is pushing the company forward when it needs to go backward. We’ll explain…

Here is an example. The company is now experimenting with a new product under the Tropicana brand called Tropolis – it’s an 80-calorie fruit puree, which comes in brightly colored pouches, and will be marketed to moms and kids.

“We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience,” Ms. Nooyi said.  Read more from the Wall Street Journal…

Perhaps a bold step forward in food processing, but as we explain, our childrens’ health mandates we take a step backward -  get people to consume the unprocessed fruit, not juice and not a puree.

But unprocessed means that

  1. supply is based on seasonality.
  2. products need to taste really good in their original form. But current varieties are bred for shelf life and size, not flavor.
  3. it’s much harder to differentiate veggies or fruits, when they are simply commodities.
  4. there is no ability to mark up the price and make a hefty profit on commodities.

Processing allows manufacturers to

  1. maintain sales year round by creating products with almost infinite shelf life.
  2. use the lowest quality inputs by adding additives to improve the flavor
  3. build mega brands that rake in billions of dollars
  4. convince us we don’t need to work hard for food – no need to cook, no need to peel an orange, no need to chew.

If junk food companies truly have our health interest in mind, they  need to be much more creative than evolving a juice into a puree.

  • They need to forgo a few quarters of profit growth, and perhaps a few years.
  • They need to stop drilling a hole in our heads promoting sugary drinks, salty snacks, and fatty burgers.
  • They need to figure out how to become leaders in a brand new food system where there is a much bigger emphasis on quality commodity inputs, minimal processing, localized and short distribution cycles.
  • They need to stop externalizing the true cost of junk food (food related disease and medical bills, subsidies for corn and soy)

We don’t need an evolution in junk food products. We need a revolution. One in which healthy food is cheaper to buy than junk food. One where the best selling snacks are fresh, perhaps local, fruits and veggies. One where financial rewards and incentives are awarded to companies that morph into something else.

As things appear now, the incumbent big brands won’t be igniting a food revolution. They are too comfortable. Their competition is other similar companies, not fresh fruit and produce farms. And we, the silent majority of consumers are mostly complacent and kept comfortably numb.

So buyer beware. You have been trained (through gazillions of ads, commercials, and press releases) to seek and easily find junk food. The high salt/fat/sugar content has trained your palate to want more of the same.

Here’s something for you to think about: How would you re-invent a major food brand if you were given the helm?

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  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    WE are the ones who can make junk food companies change. By not buying their products. How about a year long “pepsi-cleanse”? Walk away from the junk that is making people and the planet sick.

    The reason Pepsi and others make so much money is because corn and soy are subsidized heavily. It all boils down to the Farm Bill.
    Hopefully Fooducate will be able to educate readers on this and help gather momentum to make some meaningful changes in the next farm bill.

  • WF

    I am all for companies trying to develop and sell healthful alternatives that meet consumers’ needs for convenience and taste. But I disagree with such a broad characterization of any food company as a “junk food company”. Pepsi owns the Tropicana brand. I wouldn’t call Tropicana Orange Juice a “junk” food.

    It all comes down to making healthful choices, and understanding what the alternatives are. In this case, what would the consumer be eating if they weren’t eating the fruit puree snack? Is the fruit puree taking the place of a piece of whole fruit, or is is taking the place of a bag of potato chips they would otherwise eat? Is a whole orange a more healthful choice than a glass of orange juice? What if we are comparing beverages – is a glass of orange juice a more healthful choice than a glass of Pepsi?

    I think a good 2011 resolution would be to stop categorizing foods as either “good” or “bad” (ie., “junk”).

  • runner girl

    spoken like a true dietitian WF…some food is junk plain and simple. Yes, a whole orange is more healthful than a glass of orange juice that is made in a factory from oranges from other countries…. consumers ‘needs’ are too heavily influenced by advertising, marketing, and the cheap cost of heavily subsidized junk food. Promote eating real whole food and quit giving people an excuse to use their free will to make bad choices!

  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    I would be so bold to call juice a useless, perhaps even hazardous food!
    If you watch pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig MD’s lecture on fructose, you’ll understand that eating an orange is completely different than drinking juice.
    You also might want to check out the book Squeezed which came out last year.
    The only Pepsi product which has a sliver of value is Old Fashioned Quaker Oats. But quite frankly, you could buy rolled oats way cheaper in the bulk aisle.

    Pepsi, like all corporations, is beholden to their shareholders to turn a profit. They will never come around to putting the health and well-being of consumers first and foremost.
    Want better health? The answer is easy, simply avoid all Pepsi products and eat real food instead.

  • Bill M

    My mother gave my son one of those fruit puree things, but from an organic brand. I will say this, it was very tasty. But it is not something that we would spend the money on.

    As for getting comapnies to change, they seldom do. What typically happens is that another company takes over market share as the publics habits change. Remember Webcrawler and Prodigy? They were overcome by new companies with a better way of doing things. Will the general public think seasonal whole food is better? We share see.

  • s.l. menz

    They should just shut down and start over. Then in 2 generations America will have a balanced outlook on wellness.

    Ahhh a perfect world, right?

  • Alan K.

    @Dr. Susan Rubin

    Thank you for sharing Dr. Robert Lustig’s hour and a half talk. For those that can get through it, it seems to me that this is the “Inconvenient Truth” on food policy. He should totally shorten this down and present this at TED. It would certainly get a wider audience with people that have the influence to do something about it rather than just the students he teaches.

    What a difference two years makes in his understanding (comparing a 2007 discussion vs this 2009 talk). This is the kind of talk I’ve been looking for that agglomerates all this “truth” on food in one concise discussion. I’d totally be for getting this information out in a movie format with Magnolia Pictures who funded the movie-fication of his, now, infamous environmental talk.

  • K

    @s.l. menz

    Seriously? How would shutting down and putting almost 300,000 people out of work make the world perfect?

    PepsiCo is primarily a junk food company, if you don’t like junk food, then don’t buy their products. They will respond only to consumer demand – and believe it or not, already are the leaders in making their junk slightly “healthier.” They were the first major junk food company to stop using trans fats, and have developed a new salt that has smaller granules, which means they can add less of it to their chips and in turn people consume less sodium. They have spun off YUM! brands and acquired Quaker, which sells more than oats – they have the Near East couscous brand, which some could argue is very close to packaged health food.

    Branding commodities is a horrible idea that will do nothing more than raise the price of fruits and veggies for all of us. Remember the huge surge in popularity POM created for pomegranates a few years back?

    Junk food companies sell junk food because that’s what people want to buy from them. I’ll buy my veggies at the farmer’s market thank you.

  • Nancy-The Frugal Dietitian

    Agree with Dr. Susan Rubin – consumers buy – they will make it. I think we have forgotten to take personal responsibility for our choices – it is much easier to blame companies and the media.

  • Daria

    This is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen. If you want the benefits of fruit just eat a piece of fruit. Why buy something that comes in packaging that won’t degrade, that started out as fruit? I can only hope consumers are smart enough not to buy this.

  • Smokey Bull

    Hoo-Ray! Great article…pointing out that the “Emperor has no clothes”. The food congloms are firing on all cylinders lately with their “All Natural”, 0 Trans Fat, etc. In the marketing world, it seems, there is no “real” definition of natural or limitations to labeling with the word “healthy”… it stops when “we” quit getting fooled and start reading labels…I commend you for pointing out the truth and facts.