PepsiCo adds pop to N.C. Research Campus

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó PepsiCo will open a 4,000-square-foot lab at the N.C. Research Campus next year to find ways to make its productshealthier and more nutritious.
Campus founder David Murdock introduced his newest and highest profile industry partner Monday at the opening of the $1.5 billion biotechnology complex in downtown Kannapolis.
While soda doesn’t seem to fit with Murdock’s goal to improve human nutrition, PepsiCo also owns the more healthful brands Tropicana, Quaker Foods and Gatorade.
PepsiCo wants to make its products “not only desirable but healthy and nourishing” and joined the Research Campus to “stay ahead of the game,” said Dr. Mehmood Khan, chief scientific officer.
PepsiCo will move its “brightest and best scientists” to the Research Campus, Khan said.
Campus officials mentioned possible collaborations between PepsiCo and the universities with research programs in Kannapolis.
PepsiCo will lease space in the Core Laboratory Building, which opened Monday along with two other buildings that will house branches of seven public universities.
Khan said it’s too early to say how many people the lab will employ but called it a major investment. The company has not yet named a director.
Murdock, the billionaire owner of Dole Food Co., said he also courted Coca Cola Co. but “Pepsi got here first.”
PepsiCo already has a relationship with Dole Food. The company’s North American non-carbonated beverage portfolio includes Dole single-serve juices.
PepsiCo, one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, recently announced plans to lay off 3,300 workers and close six plants in the wake of a 10 percent decline in third-quarter net income.
The loss was due in part to declining sales of soda and bottled water in the United States.
The company has a new productivity and growth plan that includes an emphasis on long-term research and development, like the kind taking place in Kannapolis.
PepsiCo has been interested in health and wellness for years, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, which covers the beverage industry.
“It’s not a new strategy for them,” Sicher said. “Opening a facility like this is consistent with a lot of work they’re doing around the world.”
PepsiCo owns SoBe, a bottled drink with herbal ingredients, and recently introduced Tava, a vitamin-fortified, zero-calorie, non-carbonated drink.
Sicher called PepsiCo a “very innovative company” that will focus “more and more” on health and wellness over the next decade.
As soda sales continue to fall, both PepsiCo and rival Coca Cola are looking for a breakthrough product that will win back consumers. Both companies will introduce beverages next year that use a natural, low-calorie sweetener derived from the stevia plant, Sicher said.
PepsiCo already labels its healthiest snacks and drinks with a green logo. It was one of the first food and beverage companies to embrace production changes like using healthier oils and less salt, said Khan, who is an endocrinologist and guides PepsiCo’s research strategy.
Scientists at the new lab in Kannapolis will research everything from which seeds grow the healthiest oats to which oranges make the healthiest juice, Khan said.
That requires technology, he said, and the Core Lab has an array of instruments unlike any other scientific institute in the world.
“Increasingly, future innovation will be driven by leading-edge science,” Khan said.