Kansas State, PepsiCo team up on affordable nutrition

Multiyear agreement will leverage expertise of several university departments.

Kansas State University has entered into an agreement with PepsiCo Inc. to focus on making nutritious food and beverage products more affordable and accessible.

As part of the collaboration, the university’s faculty and students will work on projects to develop innovative new product ideas for the global food and beverage leader. The partnership will leverage the university’s research strengths across multiple food and life sciences to help the company attain its stated goal of increasing the availability of convenient, affordable and enjoyable nutrition for consumers around the world.

PepsiCo officials said the goal is part of the company’s 2025 sustainability agenda, which includes aspirations to transform its product portfolio by significantly reducing sugar, salt and saturated fat levels in its products and continuing to expand the focus on delivering positive nutrition.

PepsiCo’s nutrition brands, which include Tropicana, Quaker, Aquafina and Naked Juice, among others, comprise about 25% of the company’s $63 billion portfolio of food and beverage brands. PepsiCo’s goal is to grow this portion of its business faster than the rest of its portfolio over the next 10 years, according to company officials.

“This partnership is a first for PepsiCo and for Kansas State University,” said Sajid Alavi, Kansas State professor of grain science and industry. “The idea is to apply our research efforts toward PepsiCo’s interest in developing nutritious packaged foods and to get those new ideas into the consumer market more quickly.”

The collaboration most closely connects the university’s efforts in the department of grain science and industry and the department of food, nutrition, dietetics and health. The university’s Bioprocessing & Industrial Value Added Products Innovation Center, which houses Alavi’s extrusion lab, and the Center for Sensory Analysis & Consumer Behavior are deeply involved in this effort.

“We are excited about the opportunity to take our long-standing affiliation with Kansas State University to the next level,” said Jon McIntyre, senior vice president for global snacks research and development at PepsiCo. “Partnerships with leading experts outside PepsiCo play an important role in unlocking new innovations and making progress against shared priorities. We believe that the unique depth and breadth of food and life science expertise found at (Kansas State) has great potential to accelerate our portfolio transformation progress.”

Edgar Chambers IV, distinguished professor of food, nutrition, dietetics and health, called the agreement “a natural relationship that engages industry with teaching students and our research over multiple departments and centers of excellence.”

“Our collaborative approach throughout Kansas State University is being applied to help solve global manufacturing and consumer issues,” he said.

Chambers added that Kansas State’s Center for Sensory Analysis & Consumer Behavior, which has evaluated products for PepsiCo in the past and is widely respected by the industry around the world, will play an essential role in the work.

According to information from PepsiCo, the company will provide funding for up to five years that will be used to hire graduate students, develop a course that integrates professional and product development skills, conduct independent research and provide edible prototypes to PepsiCo.

Beyond product development, PepsiCo will be funding two positions for graduate students and will provide guest lecturers in college classes. The company noted that this commitment to professional development “underscores a mutual interest in supporting women and minorities in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.”

“Working in partnership with a large global company such as PepsiCo is a great challenge and a rare opportunity for us,” said John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research & Extension. “It gives us a chance to showcase the talent, knowledge, innovation and creativity of our faculty and students. It allows us to work side by side with the capable PepsiCo scientists and researchers and to produce better, nutritionally superior and more healthful products. It presents a challenge and opportunity to improve the global food system and the health and wellness of people everywhere while positively impacting both the company and the university."

According to Alavi, the current year’s goal is for the university to provide two to three edible prototypes, with processing and ingredient specifications, consumer testing, sensory analysis, nutritional claims and packaging. It is expected that several of these prototypes will be sorghum-based products.

“We are a sorghum university,” Alavi said, noting that Kansas State is home to the Center for Sorghum Improvement and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum & Millet.

John Buckwalter, dean of the College of Human Ecology, said his group is “thrilled to partner with PepsiCo and the College of Agriculture on this exciting project.”

He added, “The partnership benefits the faculty and students within the colleges as we conduct worthwhile research and train students. In addition, PepsiCo gains access to the tremendous expertise throughout the university as well as of the highly regarded Sensory Analysis program within the College of Human Ecology.”

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