In conversation with PepsiCo: external innovation priorities for more sustainable plastic packaging (key talking points)

In the second of our four-part event, we were in conversation with PepsiCo, one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies serving more than 200 countries and territories around the world. The goal of PepsiCo’s external innovation team is to explore novel technologies to locate disruptive innovation that will impact their core products, as well as new and emerging products. 

On Monday 15th November, 50 academics and technology transfer professionals joined our second virtual event of the newly launched ‘Global Challenge’ campaign. 

You can now access the recording of this event through our dedicated webinars page here. Feel free to share it with any colleagues who might find it useful.


What are PepsiCo’s external innovation priorities relating to plastic and polymer sustainability?

As part of our Global Challenge campaign on sustainable plastics and alternatives, PepsiCo outlined to IN-PART the top R&D priorities that they are looking to scientists to provide solutions to address. Their technology needs relating to plastics sustainability are summarised as follows:

  • Advanced recycling technology (non-bottle PET, multi-layer films) 
  • Economical gas/moisture barrier for PET, paper, and films while maintaining recyclability or compostability 
  • Reusable packaging
  • Biodegradable adhesives and sealants
  • Biodegradable films (PLA, PHA)
  • Recyclable films (mono-material) 
  • Moisture barrier for bio-based films
  • Moisture barrier for paper substrates

How does PepsiCo work with academics, universities and research institutes? 

In their presentation, Sameer and Voytek said that their team is mostly focused on strategic partnerships, commercial development, and running pilots and proof of concept (POC) testing when working with academic partners.

If you are a researcher who is interested in collaborating with PepsiCo on their packaging solutions then you can submit your technologies on our global challenge submission page.

About our panellists

Our two speakers from PepsiCo were from the External Innovation team, a part of PepsiCo’s R&D team.

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Highlights from the Q&A with PepsiCo

After our panellists showcased their external innovation priorities and ambitious 2025/30 sustainability goals, we hosted a Q&A session with the audience. These questions ranged from asking about PepsiCo’s approach to working with universities to more technical questions about alternative biobased materials.

What does PepsiCo look for when evaluating new projects and opportunities from researchers and universities?

Within the scope of the external innovation priorities that our panellists outlined, the team will use a set of specific criteria to assess submissions from researchers. Voytek commented that the way he likes to evaluate projects is to look at the chemistry and the process and offer help to the academic partner with the commercial development, in order to support researchers to create viable commercial products. 

Many members of the packaging value chain currently focus exclusively on recyclability – how do PepsiCo’s areas of interest in biobased materials and alternative materials fit into this? 

Sameer explained that regarding plastic films, their team are not just looking at a singular approach. Whilst they are looking at recyclability, Dr Talsania explained the need to look at biodegradability, but unfortunately, the infrastructure isn’t always there. This necessitates working throughout the whole value chain – so the work goes further than just developing the films, it requires working with recyclers, working with collectors, and working with communities and governments to ensure the recycling infrastructure is available. 

Voytek said that regarding beverage packaging they are focussing almost exclusively on recyclability, as the infrastructure is generally there for recycling, whereas for food packaging there are fewer options for widely recyclable materials, which is why the current focus in this area is on biodegradability. 

What is a Global Challenges campaign?

In the spring of 2020, we launched our first Global Challenge campaign (formerly named ‘an open call for research’), where we reached out to all the universities and academics in our extended global network to share with us research at their institute addressing COVID-19. We prioritised dissemination of these technologies to industry teams with aligned interests, to help rapidly deploy interventions against the pandemic. Through this Global Challenge campaign, we facilitated more than 60 introductions between universities and relevant industry R&D professionals. We ran a second open call for Covid-related research in the spring of 2021, creating further connections. 

This time around, we are building on the success of these campaigns and turning our focus to sustainable plastics, polymers, and alternatives.

Read more about the new Global Challenge campaign on sustainable plastics, including more information on the R&D priorities from all the companies participating in our Virtual Series.

Read our Global Challenges FAQ for more information.

To submit your research or opportunities at your institute to PepsiCo’s external innovation team, as well as to other companies in our cross-sector network of industry teams looking for new plastic solutions, our Global Challenge submission form can be found on the landing page for academics and TTOs.

Written by Anabel Bennett. Edited by Alex Stockham.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘In conversation with PepsiCo: external innovation priorities for more sustainable plastic packaging (key talking points)’

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