Dr. Mehmood Khan, chief scientific officer PepsiCo, CEO Global Nutrition Group
Taking on the PepsiCo challenge
Chicago-based scientist tasked with doubling firm's healthier food portfolio -- improving rest
As chief scientist, Dr. Mehmood Khan oversees efforts to reduce salt and introduce alternative sweeteners. And that puts the doctor in the unlikely position of selling what most people call junk food, but also helping to make it marginally healthier -- all while keeping one eye on the cola wars, in which beverage giant Pepsi has been losing ground to rival Coca-Cola. (MICHAEL TERCHA/TRIBUNE PHOTO)
Tropicana has lost sales and market share for each of the last three years, according to data from SymphonyIRI, which does not include Walmarts and club stores. Tropicana Pure Premium, the top-selling refrigerated OJ by far, saw its market share decline to 32 percent in 2010 from 37 percent in 2007, and sales of refrigerated OJ as a whole slid in 2009 and 2010. PepsiCo executives have promised additional focus on Tropicana this year.
Quaker Foods North America has posted two years of declining sales. Khan, however, has said that Quaker "know-how" has played an integral role in creating products for other brands, including "energy bites" in Gatorade's G Series FIT, and a "drinkable oats" product launching in Latin America later this year.
Khan confirmed that PepsiCo is expected to seek partnerships and make acquisitions to build the healthy and "better-for-you" food business to $30 billion. One such grab was its purchase of 66 percent of Moscow-based Wimm-Bill-Dann Dairy and Juice Co. for $3.8 billion last December.
As chief scientist, Khan also is tasked with a variety of environmental and health initiatives, including the company's plant-based bottle, biodegradable chip bags, and ways of reducing salt and sugar in its core products, like Pepsi and Lay's Potato Chips.
The company is readying a proprietary "crystal" salt for production. Khan's team knew that people only taste a fraction of the salt they consume in part because the salt must dissolve before it can be tasted. Much of it gets swallowed before that can happen. The crystal salt dissolves faster, Khan says, allowing consumers to get the same taste with less sodium.
For sweeteners, the company has a number of tasters traveling the world to identify flavors and combinations that could provide suitable sugar alternatives. SoBe Lifewater and G2, the low-calorie Gatorade, both have their roots in this project, Khan says.
Khan also points to Trop50, a low-calorie orange juice created because the company knew dieters were adding water to their juice. Pepsi set out to make something that tasted better, using natural ingredients, Khan said.
But Khan and PepsiCo must also stay focused on the cola wars, in which Pepsi is slipping. The flagship soda fell behind Diet Coke in sales volume during 2010, according to Beverage Digest. To help stem declines, the company will begin testing a new Pepsi, now being called "Pepsi Next," with 60 percent less sugar than the original in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin next month.
To keep up with the demand for alternative sweeteners, Pepsi is now testing so many flavor combinations -- about 100,000 a day -- that it's turned to a robot, which identifies the samples that might be appealing to human taste buds.
Earlier this year Pepsi announced that it had developed a plastic bottle made entirely from plant waste. Now the team is working on scaling it.
The environmental path has been a somewhat bumpy one, however. Pepsi launched a biodegradable bag for Sun Chips last year, which was recalled after consumers complained it was too noisy.
"Don't worry," Khan said. "We've got round two, round three coming."
CAREER PATH HIGHLIGHTS
2010-present: PepsiCo, Chicago, CEO, Global Nutrition Group and senior vice president, chief scientific officer.
2007-10: PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., senior vice president, chief scientific officer.
2006-07: Takeda Global Research & Development Center, Deerfield, Ill., president.
2003-07: Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc.,Lincolnshire, Ill.
2001-03: Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., consultant, Division of Endocrinology; director, Diabetes, Endocrine and Nutrition Clinical Trials Unit.
1992-2001: Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis, positions included director, Diabetes and Nutrition Program, division chief, Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition.
1992-2001: Assistant professor, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.