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PepsiCo exec: Young innovation is 'absolutely critical' to F&B's future

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Image courtesy of PepsiCo
Image courtesy of PepsiCo
Young entrepreneurs with bright ideas are critical to the progress of food and beverages and PepsiCo is always on the lookout for innovation within this community, says its president for Latin America Beverages.

In 2009, PepsiCo created 'Eco-Challenge' – a sustainable development category within the Talent and Innovation Competition of the Americas (TIC Americas)​ – alongside the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT). The creation was also supported by OAS (the Organization of the American States) and PepsiCo partners cbc (The Central American Bottling Corporation) and Colombian beverage major Postobón.

Developed to encourage young entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean between 18 and 34 to create sustainable business ideas and inventions, Eco-Challenge has awarded $175,000 in seed funding since its inception. Held every year, young entrepreneurs submitted ideas to a judging panel where aspects like financial viability, expansion potential and level of innovation were considered for the chance to win a $5,000 seed capital grant for their business idea.

Already into its 10th​ year, PepsiCo will open registrations for Eco-Challenge 2019 in August, with judging scheduled for January and February, next year.

Speaking exclusively to FoodNavigator-LATAM, Luis Montoya, president of PepsiCo Latin America Beverages and creator and business sponsor of Eco-Challenge, said the event was important because young innovation was “absolutely critical” ​for the food and beverage industry.

“We are always looking for the next innovation opportunity. Across the globe, PepsiCo engages with universities and young people to help us innovate and this is another example of how we do it,”​ Montoya said.

“...We have seen great ideas come out of the Eco-Challenge. We have also worked with some of the winners to bring their innovations to reality.”

They really think 'out of the box'

Luis Montoya, President LAB
Luis Montoya, president of PepsiCo Latin America Beverages and creator and business sponsor of Eco-Challenge

Montoya said each year, Eco-Challenge brimmed with innovative concepts around sustainability.

“Personally, I am always impressed at the creativity and ingenuity that they demonstrate through their projects and ideas. They think really 'out of the box' and that challenges us to do so as well. On the other hand, many of them are also our consumers, so it helps us to be close to our consumers and understand how they think and what they want,” ​he said.

PepsiCo had already worked with a number of winners from Eco-Challenge, Montoya said. One example was a “very successful promotion” ​with Life Out Of Plastic (LOOP) from Peru – a company offering locally-manufactured bags and clothing made from PET fibers and heading up awareness campaigns on the environment and plastic pollution. LOOP was a winner in Eco-Challenge 2015 and worked with PepsiCo the following year to design vintage 7UP PET bags, given away as a promotion with 7UP four-packs.

Despite involvement with some of the Eco-Challenge winners, Montoya said it was important to note that the entrepreneurs maintained full ownership of their ideas and simply received guidance from PepsiCo and YABT to bring their ideas to fruition.

“The entrepreneurs do not have any obligation to work with PepsiCo. We ask them for the opportunity to review their proposal first, but they have the right and can choose to work with any other company they want,” ​he said.

Finalists also continued receiving mentoring from YABT and other experts for one year after the challenge, he said, before becoming part of the Eco-Challenge alumni that provided continued networking opportunities.

Eco-Challenge 2018 winners

Image courtesy of PepsiCo

The winners of the most recent Eco-Challenge were announced earlier this year in April, with prizes awarded at the Summit of the Americas in Lima under three categories: nutrition, environment and women.

The winner in nutrition was Aleph Agriplus from Haiti – a team that had developed a highly nutritious beverage 'Makasan' from corn milk, ginger and citronella in various flavors, including chocolate and vanilla. PepsiCo said the product was an innovative take on a traditional Haitian beverage called 'Akasan' usually produced at home or by street vendors.

The winner for the environment category was Bio Natural Cover from Peru – a company that had developed a 100% natural, edible liquid to cover fruits in the post-harvest stage in order to control decomposition and extend lifespan. PepsiCo said the concept presented an innovative and sustainable alternative for the agro-industrial sector.

The winner for the women category was Comfy from Ecuador – an invention for a disposable toilet cover made using antimicrobial materials from natural extracts to prevent sickness. PepsiCo said not only was it positive for human health but also environmental because the cover was 100% biodegradable.

Two other categories – Central America and Colombia – saw winners developing products for agricultural water conservation and decontamination.

Since 2009, Eco-Challenge has grown from receiving around 300 applicants to more than 3,500 in 2018, “demonstrating the growing involvement of youth in creating innovative solutions to regional issues”​, according to PepsiCo.

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