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Seed to Shelf: Quaker

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At PepsiCo, we’re on a mission to drive positive action for the planet and its people. But what does a career in sustainability really look like?

Matt Waldie is a fourth-generation farmer — a true steward of the natural world. “My grandfather always said they don’t make land,” he says. “You have to look after what you’ve got.” One of his specialties? Oats.

For the past 15 years he’s grown them for Quaker Oats. His operation expanded six years ago when he became the manager of 4Front Farming, a collective of four farms spanning 3,000 acres in the U.K. Today, 4Front Farming produces 2,400 tons of Quaker oats a year.

Of the roughly 300 farmers in the U.K. who produce oats for Quaker, Matt and his team are among the 75% who are located within a 100-mile radius of its plant in Fife, Scotland.

“The Quaker factory is only 6 miles from the farm,” Matt says. “Once the oats are fully ripe and golden, they’re transported on 30-ton trucks to be hulled and processed.”

4Front Farming should also be LEAF-certified by the end of the year. That means it will meet a certain standard of regenerative agriculture practices for improved biodiversity, soil health, water and air quality, along with the production of quality oats. By the end of 2023, every farmer for Quaker Oats will have LEAF certification.

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“LEAF is a fantastic initiative,” Matt says. “It really encourages farmers to think about what they’re doing, be more environmentally friendly, and to work with nature instead of against it.” LEAF engages growers, giving them a better understanding of regenerative agriculture, which lets PepsiCo know their growers are doing the right things.

It’s also just one aspect of the rewarding careers at PepsiCo — from farming to crop physiology to marketing — that prioritize the planet and its people.

Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change

Working in nature today looks far different from even 20 years ago. Although oats grow well in Scotland’s climate, Matt is keenly aware of the reality of climate change. “Growing up, seasons were very predictable,” he says. Now he’s seeing more extreme weather. “We’re getting extremely dry springs, dry summers and then a deluge of rain that doesn’t stop,” he says. “It’s been a massive wake-up call.”

Matt has had to restructure the business to cope with these major changes in the weather. He noticed that traditional plowing and sowing became more costly and less effective. These methods, which essentially invert soil, release more carbon than necessary, negatively impacting the environment’s overall health.

So, four years ago, he began growing cover crops. “This is purely for soil health,” he explains. “Cover crops invite butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects to help create this big, fertile biomass.” Increasing biodiversity this way can also attract wildlife, including pheasants, gray partridges and roe deer, to be a part of the land where Quaker’s oats are grown.

Matt and his team then use a one-pass drilling system — with a set of disks that go straight into the ground — that slots the oat seeds in. Once the cover crop dies, it acts like a blanket, protecting the oats from extreme wind, rain and hungry slugs, then allows them to grow through it.

Working this way has many benefits for soil runoff and health, insects, and other wildlife. It helps build up organic matter — and cuts down on fuel costs. “We’re only using 6 litres of fuel per hectare to sow a crop,” he says. “Before, we were using nearly 70 litres of fuel per hectare.”

LEAF, Matt says, has inspired many of these changes. “LEAF makes you think outside the box,” he says. “Being LEAF-certified inspires you to assess yourself and set benchmarks, whether that’s using less energy, monitoring your soil health or committing to reducing the number of fertilizers that are used.”

The connection between Quaker and farmers like him is becoming stronger than ever. “LEAF kind of fills the link in between us and the brand,” he says. “It’s a good thing — it encourages people to take more pride in what they’re doing and innovate.”

Growers and Scientists: Strengthening Valued Partnerships

LEAF gives farmers a solid foundation for regenerative agriculture. And certification allows PepsiCo to know they’re working in ways that help restore the earth and strengthen farming communities. Still, additional efforts live alongside LEAF certification to further optimize farming techniques, develop the crops and help create a better future.

Enter Dr. Shaunagh Slack, one of PepsiCo’s talented crop physiologists. Her role as part of the PepsiCo R&D Agricultural Science Team involves designing trials to improve on agricultural practices and produce better crop yields and quality, in a more sustainable way. Shaunagh’s team knows everything there is to know about oats, from the nutritional composition to breeding oat varieties to maximizing field performance.

She works closely with growers, including Matt, to support them as much as possible. “We have big goals to meet,” she says. “For example, our Positive Agriculture ambitions include building soil health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Part of that involves being on the ground and seeing operations from farmers’ perspectives. “By seeing what our growers are already doing, we can understand the changes that are possible and work with them to implement realistic solutions to meet our Positive Agriculture goals,” she says.


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Since 2013, the Agricultural Science Team has championed Opti-Oat, a program meant to perfect oats. “Opti-Oat is one of our flagship projects,” Shaunagh says. “Through this project, we can benchmark crop performance, and communicate those benchmarks to our growers, which they can then use to improve the way they grow oats to achieve the best yield and quality for Quaker.”

So far, the Opti-Oat team have collected over 2 million data points, helping them to build knowledge about oat growth and development. This was used to create the Oat Growth Guide, a free, detailed document about the physiology of oat crops and how they grow to support growers to increase yields by 5% to 10%.

Telling the Story of Sustainability

Prioritizing environmental and social sustainability isn’t just a good idea — it’s imperative for our collective future.

“We know we can make real change as a scaled organization,” says David Hughes, a Marketing and Sustainability Programme Leader at PepsiCo. “Our consumers and retailer partners are looking for us to pioneer and help lead change.” Ultimately, he says, that need for real-world change creates purposeful brands.

Part of David’s job is to position sustainability at the very heart of the Quaker brand’s story. Doing so aligns with pep+ (PepsiCo Positive), a fundamental transformation of how PepsiCo puts the planet and people at the center of everything it does.

“This is such a massively fertile area to work in,” he says. “I don’t see my role as a traditional, hierarchical marketing career. I’m really interested in the cross-functional facets of innovation, marketing and sustainability.”

David’s job gives him the chance to put on a pair of Wellington boots and visit growers’ farms. “It all starts in the soil for Quaker,” he says. “It’s such a privilege to get into the oat fields, get our hands dirty and observe how we nurture and harvest our oats.”

Then he gets to help tell the story of how they’re growing oats in new and better ways. “Going back into a corporate environment, working with a host of experts and fantastic cross functional partners to tell this holistic story is such a rewarding experience!”